Brendan Gorman and Alexander Yohn dreamed of gaining college degrees despite limited finances. Gorman, 25, is now a Pasco attorney. Yohn, 17 and a Wendell Krinn Technical High School junior, hopes to earn a technology degree. Pasco Education Foundation's award-winning Take Stock in Children program has touched both young people.
"I see Brendan as an amazing success," said Yohn.
Rosanne Heyser, executive director of the program, nodded in agreement. Gorman recapped his journey.
"My mom didn't want me to have the life we'd had as I grew up," he said, which included frequent moves until he settled at Bayonet Point Middle School, and then moved up to Ridgewood High. He received information about Take Stock in Children from the middle school guidance department.
Gorman was hopeful. He met the program's qualifications and signed a contract to maintain good academics, remain crime- and drug-free and meet regularly with a mentor. That role was filled by Bob Memoli, a local realtor, who guided Gorman as Gorman now helps Yohn.
"He saw my passion for history and suggested law," Gorman said. On a Take Stock scholarship, he zoomed through Saint Leo University in three years, graduated from the Barry University law school in 2016 and passed the Florida bar exam.
Memoli, there every step, introduced Gorman to Craig LaPorte, a Pasco attorney with whom Gorman now works at LaPorte, Mulligan and Werner-Watkins, PA.
"I wanted to come back to the community that has supported me," Gorman said.
Yohn is his first student to mentor. Yohn also plans to mentor one day, but college is first.
"Without TSIC it would be hard for me to even go to college. I'd probably end up in a low-end job," he said.
Gorman also helps with Take Stock fundraising, and Heyser reported that at a recent Cinderella Ball, Gorman raised $7,000 in 15 minutes.
"What local donors pay is matched with dollars from the Florida prepaid college program," Heyser said. "Everything raised in Pasco stays in Pasco."
The local Take Stock program has grown for 22 years and recently was one of seven districts in the state to receive the Luminary Award.
"It's for going above and beyond the state office and Department of Education's deliverable policies. It means we deliver more to at-risk students than what's required," Heyser said.
Pasco students received 37 scholarships in 2017. The program currently has 127 student participants, all mentored by volunteers like Gorman. Pasco has a 96 percent Take Stock graduation rate and a 67 percent college graduation rate. A five-year goal is to bring the college graduation rate to 95 percent.
"This is how we are breaking the cycle of poverty in Pasco," Heyser said. "I see miracles every day."
Take Stock In Children's statewide impact: 30,242 students served since 1995 with 10,616 mentors. To learn more about the program or to become a mentor, visit takestockpasco.org
Times Correspondent Gail Diederich is a retired teacher. She has 32 years of experience, including 28 years in Pasco County Schools, where she taught gifted students and was a reading specialist. She also taught education, general studies and business leadership at Pasco Hernando State College and at Saint Leo University.