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Making a Difference Mondays, March 26

Monday, March 26, 2012

Alumni Spotlight: Robert Clark
“A Product of Polk County Comes Full Circle”

Robert Clark is a program facilitator with the Polk County School District. In April of 1980, Robert was born in Winter Haven into a family with backgrounds in education, law enforcement, and the military (his grandmother was a Marine). Community service has been in his blood since day one.

A true product of the Polk County School District, Robert graduated from Lake Region High School in 1998, and was awarded a Community Service Scholarship from Polk State College. While at Polk State, Marianne George, former Student Activities Coordinator, encouraged Robert to join the Student Activities Board (SAB). During that time, Robert and the SAB broke ground by spearheading events such as ice cream socials, movie nights, and spring dances. In his sophomore year, Robert became the Student Activities Board Vice President and landed the lead role in the College’s production of “The Idiots Karamazov.”

After graduating from Polk State in 2000, Robert’s continued desire to bring students together carried over into his junior and senior years as he transferred to the University of Central Florida. At UCF, Robert joined the Pride and Tradition Committee and was a contestant in the “Mr. UCF Dream Guy” pageant. To this day, Robert claims Marianne George as a mentor. He cites her as his inspiration to become involved in the college community as a student, and these early leadership experiences continue to serve him in his career and have ultimately directed him to take on the role of President of the Polk State College Alumni Association.

Robert holds a special place in his heart for Polk State College. He acknowledges that while he originally considered going straight into a state university, he decided to attend Polk State to save money and explore his options before choosing a major. He made several life-long friendships at Polk, including Foundation board member Brian Knowles and Katy Hitchcock-Martin (former PGTV host). Robert also met Erica Merritt while attending Polk State, and they were married in 2004. According to Robert, “My AA degree established a smooth and successful pathway to UCF, and I am proud of the quality education I received at Polk.”

After graduation, his family encouraged him to pursue a career in education, following in the footsteps of his mother and grandmother. As a program facilitator, he works with students to increase their success through a “team” approach – parents, teachers, other support members, and the students themselves unite around the goal of achievement for the student.

In 2010, Robert received his master’s in Educational Leadership. He continues to be involved in his community by providing professional development training for his Polk County School District colleagues, facilitating after-school tutoring programs, and networking with the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce and the Church of the Redeemer to increase student achievement.

Donor Spotlight: Lynda Ford
Business Operations Coordinator

I have always loved learning and have long wanted an education. My dream was finally realized in December 2011 when I graduated from Polk State College with my Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management degree with a specialization in Business Administration.

Luckily, my tuition for this was paid by the Employee Education Fund (EEF), a benefit provided to employees of the College and their dependents.

In considering going back for a bachelor’s degree, I could not help but recall how hard it had been for me to pay for my associate’s degree in 1989, long before I came to work at the College. This was at a time in my life when I was a single-income parent, trying to improve my earning power for myself and my children. After becoming an employee of Polk State and receiving the benefits of assistance through the EEF, I made a decision that I would love to help others who yearn for education but may not have the benefit of financial assistance through their workplace or other options. This led me to become more interested in the mission of the Polk State College Foundation.

I appreciate the work the Foundation does to help students who need assistance. I participate each year in delivering the Fancelli Family Future Leaders Scholarships to the County fifth graders and this serves as an emotional encouragement for me to give what I can to help the Foundation team reach more students. It is so touching to see these hopeful young faces receive these awards, and I am reminded that scholarships so often allow promising students, who may be otherwise unable to afford college, live out their dreams. I became interested in endowed scholarships and the requirements to establish one, but since I did not have the available funds required at this time, I knew the next best way to help would be through the employee and alumni giving programs the Foundation has established.

I have 14 grandchildren in Polk County. Four of them have attended and/or graduated from Polk State and one is currently attending. All have needed some form of financial assistance in order to realize their dreams for education. I still have three grandchildren who will be students here in the near future. Without financial assistance, these dreams may not be possible. I believe that education will prepare the next generation of leaders, and these are the people who will be instrumental in making our community and our nation a better place to live. As Henry David Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” I believe education is the foundation of a better tomorrow.

I want all my grandchildren and great grandchildren to be able to go to college and make a difference in the world they live in. I believe that by accomplishing my goal, albeit late in life, I will serve as an encouragement to my family and to others. I would like to leave a legacy because I believe that there are two things no one can ever take from you: your integrity and your education. I would love to be a small part of making educational dreams come true.

Student Spotlight: Kayla Curran
Cancer Survivor Finds Career Path From Childhood Experiences

Every child eagerly anticipates the annual tradition of picking out his or her costume for Halloween and spending a memorable evening trick-or-treating with siblings, friends, and family. But on October 31, 1995, at just six years old, Polk State College student Kayla Curran received a diagnosis that changed her life – cancer. Explains Kayla, “I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia that day and my parents immediately took me to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg where I stayed for a week.”

One of the most common cancers found in children, acute (or sudden onset) lymphoblastic leukemia is a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells where the patient cannot fight infections. Kayla immediately began a month long intense regimen of chemotherapy and thankfully entered remission. She continued with chemotherapy for the next two and half year period to keep the cancer from returning. Now 22, Kayla notes that she is fortunate that the cancer was found in time. “My hemoglobin count was 4, and that should normally be in the 10-12 range. Had my mom not taken me to the doctor when she did, I very well could have died the following week.”

Today, Kayla is a student in Polk State’s Nursing Program. She received her Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 2009. She will graduate with her Associate in Science degree in Nursing in May, and expects to receive her licensure as a Registered Nurse (RN) as well. Through the American Cancer Society Scholarship, Kayla has been able to focus her efforts on her studies, rather than on the stresses of paying for classes or purchasing the supplies needed for the Nursing Program. As she explains, “The local individuals working for the American Cancer Society believed in me enough to award me the scholarship throughout my entire time at Polk State, even when I was facing challenges with my studies.”

Growing up in Winter Haven, Kayla attended the Kids at College Program in 1998 as a child. After graduating from Winter Haven High School in 2007, she made Polk State College her first choice to continue her education. According to Kayla, “I’ve known since I was a teenager that I wanted to study medicine. And since Polk State College has such a well known Nursing Program, it just made sense to stay at home with my family while I pursued my degree.”

As part of the scholarship, Kayla was required to perform community service. She has participated in the Relay for Life event in Winter Haven for two years, and at the urging of local event co-chairs and Polk State employees Melissa LaRock and Tammy Villanueva, created a video for this year’s Relay kickoff event.

Kayla also worked as a volunteer for two summers at Camp R.O.C.K. (Reaching Out to Cancer Kids), a camp that she attended the summer after her diagnosis. According to Kayla, the experience provided much more than the fulfillment of service hours. “I first volunteered at camp in 2009, and then in 2011 I had a dream about camp and realized that I needed to go back and volunteer again. I felt the call to go into pediatric oncology and wanted to see if I could handle working with kids battling cancer.”

At camp, she was able to connect with both parents and campers. “Parents come to drop off their children—many of whom are currently battling cancer—at camp, and they are scared. I was able to tell the families – ‘I get it’ because my parents brought me here when I was sick too.” Kayla was also able to connect with the campers by sharing her story. She became an inspiration to many and believes that her time at camp was confirmation of her decision to work in pediatric oncology.

Kayla dreams of working with her pediatric patients and their families from diagnosis to recovery, and to be a living example of hope and survival. After graduation, Kayla hopes to be accepted into the Pediatric RN Residency Program at All Children’s Hospital. Her ultimate career goal is to work at All Children’s on the same floor where she was treated for cancer as a child. “Being a cancer survivor has made me more grateful for what I have, and I wouldn’t change any part of my childhood.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

Thank you, thank you, and thank you! We continue to receive a very favorable response to the Employee Giving Campaign and we are most grateful for your generosity, as it gives so many of our students the ability to attain their dreams for a college degree. The Foundation Board and Team sincerely appreciate gifts at all levels–the positive impact we make as employees is truly notable.

The majority of employee donors allow the Foundation and College leadership to determine the greatest need for gifts to be applied toward. These undesignated funds are primarily awarded for emergency scholarships given during spontaneous situations of student hardship. An emergency scholarship often gives a student the ability to remain enrolled in Polk State when unforeseen life circumstances get in the way of studies and basic necessities at home. Undesignated gifts are also used to award book scholarships, which can be of immeasurable assistance for so many students who earn their finances for college, but are right on the edge each semester. Let me also thank those of you who direct your philanthropy toward your passions at Polk State – the arts, athletics, technology enhancement, memorializing or honoring a loved one, and other specialized gifts. These gifts are essential to offering the programming, scholarship support, student activities, educational quality, and the varied opportunities that require special funding.

Whether you donate the amount of a cup of coffee, pot of coffee, case of coffee, or year’s supply—know that your sipping sacrifice is making a genuine difference in the lives of our students! On their behalf, thank you so very much for your incredible generosity!

All the very best,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director