By Kristen Livengood

When Chuck Licis moved to the Keys, “there was a tremendous level of need for students with economic disadvantages,” he said.

Licis moved to the Keys with an extensive background in rural education. In his third year as Take Stock program coordinator, and as a success coach at Key West High School before that, he said the most important thing is for the students to have an opportunity to earn a degree.

Students are chosen based on financial need and having a “C” or above grade point average. In the program they are matched with a mentor who meets with them weekly, and when they finish high school, they receive a “two by two” scholarship, good for two years at a community college and two years at a four-year Florida institution.

Some $650,000 in scholarships will be awarded to Take Stock in Children Monroe County students this year, which means about 36 new 2018 scholarships for local students. Since Take Stock owns the scholarships, should a student decide not to use it or have credits left over after graduation, the scholarship or credits are also returned to the lot for another student.

The funding comes from a matching program with the state, which targets at-risk students, and the rest is raised through Monroe County Education Foundation.

“When they complete the program, students are far more likely to go to college than their peers nationwide in the same income bracket,” said Licis, who is a major advocate for the program’s model.

Monroe County’s program started with the graduating class in 2001 – the statewide program started six years earlier – and Monroe County has graduated more than 600 students since then.

As a premier gold standard program in the state, the program is evaluated on certain key factors, which it exceeds in every category, from mentors to the financial aspect. There 15 “gold standard” programs in the state.

This year, 54 Monroe County students taking part in the program will finish high school.

“I hope that many of them will come back to this community to open businesses or work with local companies,” Licis said, though he doesn’t know the percentage of graduates who actually return. “Anecdotally there are a handful who do come back, but we have found that a lot of kids down here want to live in a bigger city and with the affordability of the housing in the Keys, it makes it difficult for them to return.”

He added that it doesn’t matter where the students end up after they graduate. Take Stock in Children is here to help students attain their dream of a college education no matter where it may take them. “Most children are born into their situations; we want to give them an opportunity to get themselves out of that cycle,” he said.

For more information on how to be a mentor, visit monroecountyedfound.com or call 305-293-1546.

Chuck Licis is program coordinator for the Take Stock in Children scholarship program in Monroe County. KRISTEN LIVENGOOD/Keys Weekly

Take Stock in Children graduation takes place on Saturday, May 27 at 11:30 a.m. at Marathon High School. Fifty-four students will receive a “two-by-two” Florida Prepaid Scholarship good for two years at a community college and then two at a Florida university. 

Take Stock in Children By The Numbers

This year, Monroe County is graduating 54 Take Stock in Children students.

2001 – First graduating Monroe County class. The program started statewide in 1995.

44 programs across Florida’s 67 counties.

#1 – Monroe County’s program is a premier gold standard in the state.

May 27 at 11:30 a.m. Take Stock graduation at Marathon High School.

617 Monroe County graduates since 2001.

$650,000 in 2×2 scholarships this year.

28,417 Take Stock graduates statewide

9,674 mentors statewide.

271 mentors locally.

60 percent of Take Stock students earn something post high school – either an associates, bachelors, or a trade certificate.

Take Stock students are 4 times more likely to go to college than their peers in the same income bracket nationwide.


Graduates keep it local

By Kristen Livengood

Yomar Hernandez spent the first seven years of his life in Cuba, during three of which his dad was a political prisoner jailed by Castro’s regime. Looking for political asylum, the family made it to the United States and Hernandez started third grade in Key West knowing zero English, but with family and teachers who were willing to put in an extra push to help him start fresh.

Now as the I.T. technician at Key West High School, Hernandez is a proud Take Stock in Children graduate with two associate’s degrees from Florida Keys Community College and a bachelor’s degree in computer systems administration in the works.

“College would not have been feasible for me without Take Stock in Children,” he said in the midst of working on everything technical at the high school. “In addition to the scholarship, the most important thing was being held accountable by my mentor.”

Local realtor and consultant Phil Wilson met with Hernandez weekly from seventh grade through his senior year. “He was a great mentor. He taught me a lot and kept me motivated,” said Hernandez. “Having a mentor was literally the best part of the Take Stock program.”

Wilson says he’s the one who benefited from the mentor sessions. “It really helped me better understand the challenges facing young people today,” said Wilson, who mentored two Key West High School students. “I think kids need a mentor in any case to help them navigate through high school.”

At Key West High School for the past year and a half, Hernandez says it was a hard transition to go from calling his past instructors “Mr.” and “Mrs.” to seeing them as co-workers. “I think they are proud to have me back,” he said, holding up an award for being support person of the year last year. “I am very lucky to have been a part of this program and am happy to be working in this community.”

Yomar Hernandez, I.T. technician for Key West High School and a Take Stock in Children graduate, says college wasn’t an option for him without the Take Stock scholarship.  ALEXANDRA DE LUNA/I.T. assistant at Key West High School


Good Grad

From first TSIC class to doctorate

By Sara Matthis

Christina Belotti, 34, graduated with the first class of Take Stock In Children scholars. There were only six in Monroe County, two at Marathon High School. Today, her students at Marathon Middle School call her “Doctor Belotti” and she’s finishing up her 10th year of teaching.

“In the first year, we had mentors just as they do now,” said Belotti. “But the program was very bare-bones; they were just figuring it out. The international living opportunities and things like dorm scholarships evolved over time.”

The lack of dorm funding in TSIC’s beginning years led Belotti down a different path. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees without leaving the Keys.

“I started out at Florida Keys Community College, and then I found the ‘2+2’ program from Barry University, taught at the FKCC campus,” she said. Belotti’s involvement in the program pre-dated the TSIC dorm scholarships.\

“I was set to go to college, but when I started looking at dorm fees … The newer TSIC dorm scholarships are so important,” she said

Belotti received her degree in elementary education and then sought out advanced degrees from Walden University in secondary literacy and teacher leadership.

“It’s real. My mom shows my dissertation to everyone who walks in the office,” said Belotti, laughing. Not only do Christina and Tina Belotti work alongside one another, Christina also teaches alongside her former TSIC mentor, library specialist Cathy Lancaster.

Belotti credits TSIC with helping her focus. By ninth grade, she was diligent about maintaining a high grade point average. She said she was fortunate to have the support at home, “but support of a mentor is another piece in keeping it together during high school so you can get to college.” As a teacher at Marathon Middle School, and a former TSIC scholarship recipient, she is in a unique position to advocate for the program that has done so much for her. In fact, she is the keynote speaker at the upcoming TSIC graduation ceremony.

“They are not being given a scholarship; they are earning an education.”


Regardless of content area, I want to pass along a love of learning in and outside the classroom for a lifetime.” -Christina Belotti

Scholarship and Sacrifice

Take Stock in Children puts belief into practice

By Gabriel Sanchez

It was two months after I separated from the Navy that I found myself walking onto the University of Central Florida’s enormous campus. After five years, it was time to become a student again. While normally, you hear horror stories from students attending college and struggling to finance their studies, I thankfully didn’t have that problem. A large part of that is thanks to the staff at Take Stock in Children. It’s a long story – but worth telling, as it serves as an example of how special a program it really is.

You see, around the time I was on the verge of graduating from Marathon High School, I was completing the requirements needed to earn my Take Stock in Children scholarship, but had still not heard back from the universities I had applied to. I was a solid student, and for all intents and purposes, college was an obvious goal. But then I did the unthinkable. I told my parents I was going to join the military.

Gasp. But they didn’t flinch.

“If that’s what you want to do, we support you,” they said.

Uh, ok. So I did just that, finally signing “my life away” on a brisk day in April. The very next day, I arrived home to find two acceptance letters sitting on my night table. I open both and read the first word, “Congratulations…,” before quickly closing them. As tough a decision as it seemed at the time, I decided to stick to the plan, and began to search for a way to preserve my scholarship.

In the final months of the 2006 school year, Marathon’s Take Stock in Children student advocate Gina Hipson was able to work an agreement with the county leadership to extend my Take Stock in Children scholarship offer for 10 years. Six years later, they honored that agreement. When the time came to utilize the scholarship at Central Florida, I made sure I used it in conjunction with other scholarships I earned along the way. Finally, in December 2015 I graduated with my bachelor’s in criminal justice.

Saying you believe in supporting the next generation’s academic endeavors is far different from putting that into practice. Thanks to Monroe County Education Foundation and the caring staff of Take Stock in Children, I was able to pursue my dreams and ultimately represent a special group of graduates among my community.



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