MANATEE -- Two fifth-graders from Samoset Elementary will receive a belated Christmas gift from a Lakewood Ranch church -- a college education.
Harvest United Methodist Church dedicated its Christmas Eve offering to Take Stock in Children of Manatee County, providing a $17,200 donation.
The gift will fund two Samoset Elementary fifth-grade students to join the Take Stock in Children college scholarship and mentoring program. Each student will receive a mentor from sixth through 12th grade, college and career planning and a four-year college scholarship upon high school graduation.
Harvest United Methodist Church partners with Samoset Elementary School. Church members mentor and read to students.
The church presented the donation to Take Stock in Children last week.
"We are really excited to be able to link this to a partnership we already have," said Steve Price, Harvest United Methodist Church co-pastor.
Harvest United Methodist Church donated its Christmas Eve offering last year to allow each student to buy a book at the Scholastic Book Fair and to provide basic needs such as school supplies, clothing and food.
The church has also started a school food pantry.
Price said the two students in the Take Stock in Children program will be chosen through an application process with the help of Samoset school administrators.
"It is a combination of need and recognizing where students have shown ability academically," Price said.
Price said Harvest United Methodist Church members dedicated the Christmas Eve offering to Take Stock in Children because of the doors it opens for children and their families.
Participants in Take Stock in Children sign a contract
to remain drug- and crime-free and meet with a mentor weekly from sixth grade through high school graduation. If they maintain the agreement, they are awarded a complete four-year college scholarship.
Take Stock in Children partners with the Florida Prepaid College Foundation to provide scholarships to any of the Florida public colleges and universities.
"It has the potential to bring about systemic change for these kids," Price said. "It lets them know people care about them and are invested in their lives and their success. It offers support, encouragement and accountability."
Diana Dill, executive director of Take Stock in Children, said the program relies on donations such as the one from Harvest United Methodist Church.
"Scholarship donations are critical to our success," Dill said. "There are so many students who would like to participate, and a limiting factor is the amount of scholarship dollars we are able to raise."
Dill said providing mentors for students contributes to greater success in college.
"Mentoring is a powerful aspect of program. Many of the kids are the first in their family to attend college, and some are also the first to graduate high school," Dill said. "Mentoring helps them stay on track and make the right choices that will prepare them for college. Many times, the mentor becomes a lifelong friend."
While the donation is specifically for two Samoset Elementary students, Take Stock in Children is open to all Manatee County students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, which equates to the national poverty level.
Take Stock in Children is now accepting mentorship applications for next school year. Mentorship applications can be found online at takestockinchildren.org. Dill said mentors are asked to commit to the program for one full school year at a time.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.