Take Stock in Children pays benefits toward students’ futures

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 6/2/21

CLAY COUNTY – Take Stock in Children is a nonprofit changing the lives of children – literally.

It’s doing that by setting aside college scholarship money for students who complete the …

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Take Stock in Children pays benefits toward students’ futures


CLAY COUNTY – Take Stock in Children is a nonprofit changing the lives of children – literally.

It’s doing that by setting aside college scholarship money for students who complete the program. It’s one part the carrot at the end of the stick for students who keep good grades with good behavior, and another part the work of local fundraising that sends students to college each year.

“People who want a better future, there’s a place out there for you,” Take Stock in Children senior graduate Jayla Fisher said. “Do your research and find what that something is for you. For me, it was Take Stock. I wouldn’t be going to college if it wasn’t for Take Stock.”

Fisher joined the program in seventh grade, which is the first year that a student can join, although a student can join the program any year beyond seventh as well. She had just transferred from the Duval school district to Orange Park Junior High and things weren’t easy.

Her homelife was chaotic, she said, but despite that, she always knew she was great in school. She said she was always confident in her academic abilities. It was the stuff going on around her that acted as a barrier – never her intellect. She was on her way to the principal’s office one day, set to be expelled, when she was told about the program.

“They told me I have an opportunity to write an essay and I knew I’d get it,” Fisher said. “I always knew I’d be going to college. I just had to figure out how I’d get there.”

The essay and the subsequent entrance into Take Stock was that “how.” Fisher graduated last Friday, May 28, and she’ll be going to Daytona State College later this year. She’s going for architectural technology and next month, she’ll take her electrician apprenticeship test. She said she’ll be going to school and working her way through an electrician apprenticeship at the same time if everything goes according to plan. Take Stock is why all of this is a possibility, she said.

A student enrolled in Take Stock has to meet with a mentor on a monthly basis, maintain a 2.5 GPA, stay out of trouble and crime, and have good attendance, Take Stock senior program director and student service coordinator Leslie Cook said.

“Like I said, we make that investment in them once we accept them into the program...and we do everything as a team to give them all the tools necessary to be successful,” Cook said.

Cook said they get hundreds of applications each year and she have to narrow it down to 30 to 50 applications. Those 30 to 50 people are interviewed and then Cook must narrow that group down to about 12 to 15 students who will be accepted into the program. Acceptance means they’re guaranteed a $5,000 scholarship purchased by Take Stock that can be used to pay for tuition directly. The scholarships are funded by local fundraising efforts, Cook said.

From there, the Take Stock program routine takes life and a mentor meets with their student each week to ensure school, homelife and everything else is going well. Cook says the mentors are the lifeline of Take Stock, which has been in Clay County for more than a decade.

“I had been teaching high school and retired after 30 years,” mentor Marie Galin said. “I felt like I needed to do some kind of volunteer work with students and Take Stock was the first thing that came to mind.”

Galin was the mentor of a senior student shortly after that and she said it was great working with a senior for her first year as a mentor because it gave her the chance to see what it looked like for someone at the end of the program. She began with a freshman the following year and she mentored that student up to the end of their senior year.

“It’s very rewarding to see them through their challenging years in high school,” Galin said. “To watch them grow from where they begin this program to the end, it’s very special. You’re building this relationship with them and you of course want the best for them, and you see that happen in real-time each week.”

The mentors meet regularly and while Galin was previously a teacher, it’s not a requirement at all to have an academic or educational background. That’s because mentoring is not tutoring. It’s more of a holistic approach to keeping tabs on a student to help them with anything they need. If they need to talk about what they want to do in college, that can be a topic for one week’s roughly 45-minute meeting.

They might discuss homelife during the next meeting. It’s all about being there for the student, Galin said.

“I would encourage anyone who is even thinking about it to at least look into it,” Galin said. “It’s very rewarding and I think I get as much or more out of it as the student. You’re a part of their journey and it’s nice to know you’re helping guide someone down a path of success.”

Cook says the program’s success lies in every piece of the puzzle.

“It’s a multi-team approach,” Cook said. “They have a mentor, they have myself as the program director, they have their college coaches, some have their parents at home and they have their guidance counselors. We’re all working as a team to make this student successful. That’s really all it is: this great support network to help a student make their dreams possible.”

Take Stock in Children can be found in all of the state’s counties, but the county’s program is the only one in the state partnered with the YMCA, specifically, the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast.

“Take Stock is a state-wide program that offers mentoring, scholarships and hope to deserving students so they can escape the cycle of poverty through education,” official YMCA of Florida’s First Coast wording reads. “The program is based on the idea that through motivation, education and accountability, students will become inspired to work harder in school and aspire for education beyond high school graduation.”

Cook and Galin encourage anyone curious about mentoring to reach out to Cook at 904.279.9622 ext.212 or lcook@FirstCoastYMCA.org.



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