BRADENTON — The cost of college scared Fernando Valbuena.
The Colombian native moved to Manatee County about a year-and-a-half ago and although his father worked hard to support his family, money was tight. But when Valbuena learned he was eligible for the Suncoast for Kids Foundation scholarship, he became determined, applied for it and got it.
“I remember how happy I was the day I opened the letter,” he said Friday with words of appreciation and hope. Thanks to the scholarship, the recent Bayshore High School graduate said he was able to enroll at State College of Florida and continue his education.
“You’ve made the dreams of a student who never thought he could go to college a reality,” Valbuena told Suncoast representatives Friday.
Suncoast was one of 20 area businesses honored for their contributions to education during the third annual Manatee Education Foundation’s Marjorie G. Kinnan Partnership Luncheon at the Bradenton Country Club. It’s named for the late Marjorie G. Kinnan, who founded the Manatee Education Foundation. She was a former school board member and long time Manatee educator.
Her son, school board member Harry Kinnan, attended the lunch on behalf of his mother and applauded those businesses for their continued support in making programs possible through their monetary and in-kind donations.
“It was often said about my mother, her purpose — not her passion — was children,” he said. “Thank you for your continued support.”
The 2010-2011 Partners in Education recognized this year made contributions to the foundation of up to $100,000, said Mary Glass, the foundation’s executive director.
Those honored were:
n Platinum level — The Suncoast for Kids Foundation, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Bank of America.
n Gold Level — Pittsburgh Pirates and Bradenton Marauders, W.G. Mills, Inc., the Bradenton Herald, Bright House Networks and Verizon.
n Silver Level — Manatee Memorial Hospital, Mote Marine Foundation and Willis A. Smith Construction.
n Bronze Level — Blake Medical Center, the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation, Tampa Bay Rays, M&I Bank, Neal Communities, NDC Construction Co., Fawley Bryant Architects, Republic Services and SRQ Media Group.
Palma Sola Elementary physical education teacher Warren Bell said that if it weren’t for help from those businesses, some of his students might not get the chance to fight obesity or be as active.
“They’re involved because they have extra equipment to use. Without that extra equipment or funding, I couldn’t do it,” Bell said.
Then there were some students who could not afford to attend prom but were able to because a business helped buy them tuxedoes or dresses, MEF Chairwoman Debra Cooper told the group.
“If everyone gives a little, our kids will gain a lot,” Cooper said.