Making a Difference in Our Community: Realizing Dreams Through Valencia Promise

By Dani Moritz-Long

Whenever I hear people claim that their high school days were the best days of their life, I find it increasingly difficult to hold back my laughter (and, sometimes, an eye roll.) While I do credit high school for the foundation of some incredible friendships, personal development and the commencement of my career, those four years certainly don’t rank among my best.

That said, I do recognize the importance of those formative years, and I credit the mentors in my life for helping me survive those years of drama and self-doubt — which is why applying to mentor for Valencia Promise was an appealing prospect for me. It seemed the perfect opportunity to give to someone else what others had given to me: confidence, courage and empowerment.

With every ounce of my being, I’m glad I did because, through Valencia Promise, I learned that mentorship is just as enriching for the mentor as the mentee. For me, volunteering as a mentor has been so much more than bi-weekly chats about classes, homework and life; it’s been an active demonstration of the power of listening, compassion and empathy. It’s proved to me that each of us have the power to make a difference and that, through helping others, I can help change the world. Jerlian, my Valencia Promise mentee, will forever remind me of that, and I’ll always be grateful.

Partnering with Take Stock in Children, a national, non-profit organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty, Valencia Promise empowers Orange County’s low-income and minority students through scholarship, mentorship and advocacy. Students who complete the program, which includes maintaining good grades, attending mentoring sessions and workshops, and engaging in volunteer efforts, receive a scholarship to help make their dreams of college a reality.

“We have many children in our county who dream of going to college, and we are committed to making that dream a reality,” said College President Sandy Shugart. “This program will provide our children with a chance to obtain a higher education and will help them get there with the guidance of a caring mentor through middle and high school.”

Many Valencia employees have stepped up to answer Dr. Shugart’s call by volunteering as mentors for the program’s students — 33 Valencians, to be exact, volunteered as mentors during this past 2016-17 academic year. Click here to view a list of mentors.

Like me, many of them have found the experience profoundly enlightening.

“This program not only benefits students, but it has enriched my life beyond measures,” Molly McIntire, dean, behavioral and social science, said in 2013. “Jamisha [Molly’s previous mentee] has touched my life in such a way that she will always be a part of my family … I can only hope that I have positively impacted her life, the way she has positively impacted my life.”

Fortunately, the impactful program continues to grow. On Thursday, May 11, 2017, the program awarded 24 graduating Orange County high school seniors who completed the program a 2+2 Florida Prepaid $18,000 scholarship, paid for by local donors and corporate sponsors. Today, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, the program will induct 80 new eighth grade students into the program, bringing the total number of participating students to 155.

But this growth, of course, requires additional mentors, which is why we’re calling on you to join in the effort to make a difference. Take it from me, you’ll not only change your mentee’s life but they’ll change yours.

To become a mentor, please email valenciapromise@valenciacollege.edu, call 407-299-5000, extension 3008, or visit the Valencia Promise webpage.

Throughout Valencia’s 50th anniversary year, to celebrate the College’s service to our community, we will feature stories of Valencia’s community impact and the volunteer efforts of our colleagues. Whether you volunteer as a board member of a foundation or you serve meals to the homeless, we want to hear about it because every act of kindness is worth celebrating. To submit a Valencia volunteer story, simply email the_grove@valenciacollege.edu the following information:

  • Your name
  • Your photo (preferably of you volunteering)
  • Where you volunteer and a description of the organization
  • How long you have volunteered with that organization
  • Why you choose to volunteer with that organization
  • What you enjoy most about volunteering with that organization

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