Take Stock in Children’s track record of providing scholarships isn’t the only perk for local high school students pursuing their career dreams. As program coordinator Chuck Licis notes, “I like to describe it as a mentoring program with a scholarship opportunity.”

Without funding streams such as those generated from the Upper Keys Gigantic Nautical Flea Market, the chance to attend college might be limited for students who face challenging situations outside the classroom. 

Money from the Upper Keys Rotary Club’s signature event to Take Stock alone helps fund two to three scholarships a year. With $40,000 received from the club, Licis said Take Stock is able to purchase scholarships through the Florida Prepaid College Foundation, which offers an avenue for eligible organizations to purchase tax-deductible scholarships. 

Dollars are matched dollar-for-dollar through the Stanley Tate STARS (Scholarship Tuition for At-Risk Students) program. And just like that, $40,000 turns into $80,000. 

“We identify students in grades 7-10 who are excelling academically and have a minimum of a 2.0 grade point average,” Licis said. “They’re crime- and drug-free, have good attendance and good behavior, and they also meet the income guidelines, 185% below the federal poverty level.”

Nearly 300 students throughout Monroe County are currently in the program, and each has a mentor they meet with once a week. Before the pandemic, mentors and mentees would meet in person during lunch time. Now, they meet virtually. 

Licis describes the mentors as caring adults who listen and guide students through life skills, problem solving and self-advocacy skills as they work their way through school and prep for college. 

“They’re not tutors, counselors, ATMs or Uber drivers,” he said. 

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Among the many students guided and assisted by Take Stock is Evelyn Betancourt, first-year chemistry teacher at Coral Shores. Following graduation, the 22-year-old, who lives in Key Largo, attended Florida International University where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology. 

Aside from the scholarship, Betancourt discussed the role her Take Stock mentor played in her development and readiness not just for college, but life. She had many conversations with her mentor over health and books. 

“My mentor really helped me understand that I wanted to help people and that there were many ways to do it,” Betancourt said. “One thing I took away from all of our conversations was that she taught me to always find time for myself and to not forget to love and enjoy nature. We are part of the world and we need to protect it.”

One of her fondest experiences came from youth camp in Inglis during middle school. 

“I still remember how cold it was and how the counselors made us line up outside the cafeteria and yell ‘H2O’ after telling us what was for dinner,” she said. “What I took from this experience was learning to step out of my comfort zone and how kind people can be.”

Betancourt said she never thought she’d enjoy teaching as much as she does. 

“Now that I am doing it I can’t see myself doing anything else,” she said. “I always try to make sure that my students know that making mistakes is a part of life. I encourage wrong answers in class and I make sure no one ever feels bad or makes anyone feel bad over them. Wrong answers are opportunities for learning and I try to make sure that my students know this.”

Licis said Take Stock provides opportunities for students who are the first in their families to attend college. They come out of college with minimal or no college debt. 

“What we hear from students when they go to school and earn a degree, they are very thankful for the opportunity,” he said. 

Established in 1967, the Upper Keys Rotary Club is a vibrant part of the community that focuses on new generations. Through the annual Gigantic Nautical Flea Market, it raises around $200,000 for scholarships to support students in the Upper Keys. Many members are or have been Take Stock mentors, said Rotarian Frank Derfler. 

“We understand the value of this program and the match of funds from the Florida Legislature is a spectacular benefit,” he said. “The scholarship program of the Upper Keys Rotary club is broader than the Take Stock program in that we weigh and reward both achievement and need and then we re-evaluate the beneficiaries in each year of their follow-on education.”  

For the first time in 26 years, Upper Keys Rotary Club’s Gigantic Nautical Flea Market cannot be held in person, so Rotarians are reaching out to the community. The need remains to raise much-needed funds for scholarships for graduating seniors, current college students and those pursuing career technical education.

The easiest way to donate is online at www.keysrotary.us or send a check payable to Upper Keys Rotary Foundation to P.O. Box 1514, Tavernier, FL 33070.

In addition, on Facebook @ Upper Keys Rotary Nautical Flea Market, viewers can watch video appeals from current and past scholars, as well as graduating seniors and others.

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