MANATEE -- Take Stock in Children of Manatee County has awarded 400 scholarships worth more than $3 million since it started in 1996 to deserving young people who may not have been able to go to college without financial and emotional support from the program.
The mentors encourage students through tough times and scholarships enable them to earn degrees and jobs they could have only dreamt about beforehand.
Korey Kinder, Mariela Carrillo and sisters, Cayla and Ariana Miraglia, told their personal stories Monday during a Take Stock in Children Celebration event attended by 125 at the E.R. Beall Center.
The celebration brought students, mentors and friends of the program together to celebrate the kickoff of Take Stock in Children's new website, takestockmanatee.com, and the organizations' two new alumni associations, including one for students and one for mentors, said Diana Dill, Take Stock in Children executive director.
Korey, who will be 18 Thursday, told the audience he lives by a quote his moth
er once told him: "There will always be rocks in the road ahead of us. They will be stumbling blocks or stepping stones. It all depends on how we use them."
Korey is now taking college calculus classes at Palmetto High School and tutoring students himself.
It wasn't always this smooth sailing, he told Take Stock in Children mentor, Lt. John Murrell of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
"Before I was born, I was surrounded in turmoil," Korey said. "My mother was a senior in high school. She was at the top of her class and college was in her grasp."
But her pregnancy was hard and she missed 38 days of school and lost 40 pounds. During the fourth month of pregnancy, Korey's father was arrested and charged with robbery. He was sentenced to three years in jail, Korey told the audience.
To his heartache, his father is still in prison, Korey said.
"He was released four times during the course of my life," Korey said. "I was 2 when he was released the first time and he was only out for a month. The second time my father was released, I was 5. He only lasted two weeks. The next time he lasted one month and four days. My father was released from prison again when I turned 17. For seven years I wrote him and he wrote back saying all he wanted was a chance to be home for my high school graduation."
His father will miss the graduation, Korey said.
"I still don't want anyone to know the effect that it had on me that he only remained free for exactly two weeks, three days and seven hours," Korey said.
He finished on an up note.
"I don't let circumstances define who I am," Korey told the audience. "My mother works, and I have to work as well. Hard work builds character. I am resilient. I am strong. I am reaching for the moon, for even if I miss, I'll land among the stars."
Mariela gave birth to her son, David, now 5, when she was 15. But through the help of her mentor, she finished high school and graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee. She has been a teacher at Bashaw Elementary School in Manatee County for 52 days and is a mentor herself.
"We have been blessed," said Greg Miraglia of Take Stock in Children's scholarships for his daughters, Cayla, 16, a Braden River High School junior, and Ariana, 18, who graduated from Braden River High School and is part of the first four-year freshman class at USF-Sarasota-Manatee.
Cayla plans on being a pre-natal nurse and Ariana wants to teach art history or world history.
Lakewood Ranch business consultant Rob Hendrickson also told a powerful story of his relationship with student Giancarlo Gamboa-Barrios of Braden River High School.
"There is nothing I am more proud of than being Giancarlo's mentor," Hendrickson told the crowd. "He means the world to me. I am sure all of you mentors know the feeling. Thank you for all you do. Thank you Take Stock for this amazing opportunity. I know we are making a difference, and I know with complete certainty that we can do even more if we band together and help kids like Giancarlo achieve the lives they so deserve."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or via Twitter @ RichardDymond.