By the time Emmanuel Leon stepped down from the microphone Thursday morning, the case for the value of mentoring had been made clear.
Leon, the son of immigrants without formal education, was mentored by local architects Michael Bryant and Rick Fawley when he was in high school. Leon described how his mentors bought him his first drafting table and pencils.
Leon is now an architect, helping design the proposed Atlanta Braves spring training stadium in North Port and the South Florida Museum in Bradenton.
Gathered to hear Leon’s story and others like it were more than 800 supporters of Take Stock in Children of Manatee County, a provider of college scholarships and mentors to students in need. On Thursday morning, Take Stock held its 10th annual Leadership Prayer Breakfast at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
I didn’t have much, but I felt like a rich kid. I was surrounded by people who loved me.
- Take Stock in Children former scholar Emanuel Leon
“I never had brand-new clothing, the latest toys or the luxury to eat at the Olive Garden,” Leon said. “I didn’t have much, but I felt like a rich kid. I was surrounded by people who loved me.”
Take Stock Executive Director Diana Dill said the organization hoped to raise $35,000 in donations through the breakfast. Donors had promised to match up to $35,000 in donations, and the state matches whatever Take Stock raises, so Dill said $35,000 equated to $140,000 toward scholarships.
That $140,000 will provide 14 tuition-only Florida prepaid scholarships for two to four years at a public state college in Florida.
Students involved in the program receive a mentor who meets with the student regularly. Students sign a contract promising they will remain drug-free and crime-free, and they must have a passing score on their standardized testing to qualify.
The organization is aiming to bring in 100 new children to the program each year. Dill said even if they were able to get to that number, they still would not be meeting the demand of roughly 300 annual applicants.
Leon’s testimony to the power of mentoring was one of several.
Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, the event’s keynote speaker, also shared with the crowd how beneficial mentoring was to him as a child, describing his childhood relationship with an uncle.
“I thought we were just fishing, but really he was mentoring me,” Wells said. “He would make sure I was walking on the right path.”
Once I saw I could earn A’s instead of C’s, my confidence increased, and I was able to take more and more advanced classes.
- Take Stock Scholar Kevin Townsend, Manatee High School
Wells said when he was growing up in Manatee County, his support system was extensive. Many children growing up today in Manatee County do not have that same support system, and he encouraged those in attendance to fill that role.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child; well, my village never left,” Wells said. “We are the village.”