A weekend interview with Take Stock in Children president Emilio Alonso-Mendoza
Emilio Alonso-Mendoza recently took over as president and CEO of Take Stock in Children, Florida's mentoring program for college-bound low-income children. Before making any program changes, he is spending time visiting with leaders throughout the state to learn about the organization's local operations. Alonso-Mendoza recently visited Pasco County, where he spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek.
Have you got a new direction that you are planning to take the organization?
Well, the organization has been around since 1995, as you know. We have had tremendous growth. My first big thing that I want to do is make sure I listen during visits throughout the state of Florida in the next 60 days and go to the major areas where our program is being served and make sure I listen to their needs and from there create an agenda for future needs and to increase their funding, etc. But the most important thing is that we have graduated over 17,000 students and we presently have a 9 percent penetration rate in the state of Florida in high school mentees. We would like to increase that by 10 percent every year.
How would you do that?
First of all, again, more funding from the Legislature and from private individuals. The program is tried and true. We're in initial phase of an i3 grant. 1,900 applicants throughout the United States applied for this grant and we were one of 49 that were granted. ... As students go through the program we have 92 percent success in graduating from high school, and 86 percent of those 92 go on to college.
Are you looking at changing the qualifications for students to get into the program?
No, not really. Because after all these years we have the right mix and the right sort of student. ... Actually, what we are doing with this innovation and technology, the i3, grant, is quantifying everything so the program can be replicated at all levels. We are testing in a metropolitan area, in a rural area and a remote urban area. So that then we are recording their outcomes... Hopefully at the end of that we will be able to use the data to replicate the program faster. No. 2, to hopefully obtain more funding. And No. 3 to perhaps take the program nationwide.
So this is not really done nationally?
No. And we are really the only mentoring program in Florida that has post-secondary education as its mission for its students. ...
You don't take students in elementary school. Is there any thought of maybe taking fifth graders?
well, maybe in the future. But right now it works so well. At that age - sixth, seventh and eighth grades - we are still able to influence the students and get them, if they are astray, to get their act together. The mentorship piece is very important. The fact that they meet every week for one hour with this person. As I go around the state I hear all these stories that are wonderful. Not only have the mentors changed the students' lives, the mentors have been changed because of the students. If no one has tried mentorship, I urge them to try it because the rewards are priceless.
You've brought up two things you need more of - money and mentors.
Students we have plenty of. (laughs)
How do you get more mentors? And second, how do you get more money?
Well, the money, of course we work very closely with the legislators. The Legislature has been very good to us. Hopefully they can do more. And then we have great individuals across the state. We have a wonderful board. And each committee has its own group of people that do fundraising and recruiting mentors. This is a great example. A corporate partnership with this Toyota store and the potential to recruit mentors from their employee base. ... The thing is, in corporations such as this one it's a great HR project. It unites the employees. It gives them a common goal. And the community sees how the company is giving back to the community. Hopefully there are more corporations like this one. Once the student graduates, maybe one of the executives is their mentor, who knows? Once they leave college they may come back and work for them. So in a way they are working and recruiting their own future work force.
What are the questions you are trying to get answered for yourself as you're touring around the state?
Basically I am trying to understand the program and its nuances, and finding universals. We know what is unique. Every place has its own flavor. I don't want to make it all the same flavor. But I want to take the flavors from all the different places to make a better taste, to make a richer recipe. I am trying to see how we have been helping before and what else we can do in terms of the state to give them the resources that are not only financial. For example, I went to a place and they have a great fundraising program. It's been tried and true. We are now analyzing to see if it can be tweaked and given as a template statewide so that people can follow it. It's also energizing me to find the students from the different minorities that we represent and find out how they got here and what it is that they've done. It helps me to create an agenda and it helps me with all the information I've gathered from these placed translate a future vision for the organization.
What were you doing before you took this role?
Three things. I was president and CEO of the National Parkinson Foundation. I took it from being a local organization in Miami to being an international organization. Then after that I was president of the Children’s Home Society Foundation, and my last job was the president of the Archdiocese of Miami [Development Corp.], which takes Broward, Dade and Monroe. It's the largest archdiocese in the state. ... I was familiar with the [Take Stock in Children] program through friends and all that, and I had actually mentored - not for the program but for other things. Life has been good to me and I think only because of the education my parents afforded me and the mentors that came through my life, that I didn't know were mentors but they were. That makes a great difference.
To participate in Take Stock in Children, call 352-797-5027 in Hernando County, 813-574-0260 in Hillsborough County, 813-794-2134 in Pasco County and 727-588-4816 in Pinellas County.