a closer look – valencia’s first one campaign

Our First One campaign ended on Aug. 31 with $200,495 raised for student scholarships. This amount includes the dollar-for-dollar match that is the result of a challenge grant. 100 percent of the amount will go directly to scholarships for those that are the first in their families to attend college.
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We’ve had a lot of fun during the campaign, reaching out via social media and tracking progress on WWW.VALENCIA.ORG/FirstOne.

Keith Houck, Valencia’s vice president of operations and finance, was the top fundraiser with $2,254 raised. And coming in second with $1,289 was donor Sarah Kelly.

There was some competition between Osceola campus president, and first-generation scholar, Dr. Kathleen Plinske, and West campus president Dr. Falecia Williams and both made the top fundraiser honor roll. And kudos to our very own Donna Marino!

Valencia alumna Michele Nichols and foundation board member Sue Foreman also made the list. And there was a strong showing among Valencia faculty and staff: Dr. Paula Pritchard, Annmarie Wise, Katie Shephard and Carol Millenson all made the list of top 15 fundraisers.

Foundation board member Rebecca York joined forces with Sue Foreman and their One Valencia team was at the top!

There were top teams throughout Valencia, including ones from the leadership team, West campus, graphic design, nursing, purchasing and OIT. Student government rallied and raised $1,105, surpassing their $500 goal.

You were introduced to Patti Riva in the above story and now you know she and Carol Millenson were behind the top producing AAWCC Prima team. Valencia retirees had a strong showing with $655 raised.

Professors Diana Ciesko and April Raneri joined top fundraiser Katie Shephard for the Speak Up team and Valencia’s very own house band, Rogue Scholars, raised $479.

Valencia alumni teams filled out the rest of the top 15 teams with Julie Bennett and the Gladiators in Wingtips team and Team Zia led by alumnus Zia-ur-Rehman Ansari.

Another great thing about the campaign was hearing all the “first” stories and meeting some of our first-generation students. This campaign afforded all of us at the foundation a chance to learn more about those we work with and the students we serve, truly a valuable outcome of the First One campaign.

Last month we learned that Dr. Kathleen Plinkse, Osceola campus president, and Dr. Joyce Romano, vice president of student affairs, were both first-generation students. This month we hear from Belen Caba, assistant director of admissions and records at Osceola campus, and Debra Hodges, associate professor of speech and instructional assistant for the Writing Center on West campus.

Belen was the first in her family to obtain a degree beyond high school. She completed her bachelor’s degree in business administration, while at the same time managing a business and raising three children with her husband. She recently obtained her MBA with a specialization in information technology. Both of these accomplishments are very proud moments in her life.

Belen grew up in an urban community, where it was a struggle to make ends meet and the dangers of violence and drugs were always present. She credits her mother with making her the person she is today and instilling in her the belief that “education will take you farther than you can see.”

She feels she is living proof of that sentiment and through her work today, she hopes to spread that same passion for learning. She feels this passion and zest regarding education is especially important when students are facing what seem to be insurmountable obstacles. “I always tell them that working toward this goal is hard, but the rewards of completing a degree are worth it in the end.”

And it is not just in the workplace, on the home front too she promotes education, and it has worked. One of her children will be completing a degree in civil engineering this fall and another has a goal of being a computer engineer.

She credits education with getting her where she is today. “If it were not for my pursuit of higher education, I could not have made it to the position I currently have. I could not be in a better place to help the next generation attain the goal of being first in their family as I was. I hope to serve as a role model to others that education is attainable no matter your circumstances.”

Debra Hodges grew up in a family of five children, four girls and a boy. Her earliest memories were of the joy she experienced at school. Her favorite doll was “Suzy Schoolteacher,” with a little student desk, chalkboard and chalk. Though her sister was five years her senior, it was Debra who was always the teacher when they played school.

Her parents were proponents of higher education and Debra heard their message. While her sisters and brother dropped out of high school, Debra was determined to continue her education and become an educator.

It was at church when she was just 9 years old that she chose her school. The famed concert choir from Trevecca Nazarene University performed and she whispered to her father, “Daddy, I want to sing in that choir when I go to Trevecca!”

And she did. She graduated from high school a year early and auditioned for the concert choir at Trevecca Nazarene University, a small, liberal arts college in Tennessee. She traveled and performed with the choir in eight countries in Europe and throughout the southeast United States.

She completed college with honors after just three years and immediately began to pursue her master’s degree in preparation to teach college. She received the coveted master’s degree and remains the first in her family to gain a higher education.

She happily shares that her daughter is a Valencia alumna who went on to receive her degree from UCF. Debra is hopeful that her daughter will continue on with her education. “Who knows, maybe she will achieve a doctorate!”

Belen and Debra certainly paved the way for their children. Valencia students Taisha and Bianca had to navigate their journey on their own. They agreed to share their stories so that we can better understand the true impact of investing in first-generation students at Valencia.

Taisha Imani is expected to graduate in May 2014 with a degree in medical office administration. She wants to start her career immediately and is open to the possibility of continuing her education to advance in her profession.

As to why she chose Valencia, she says, “Valencia is an amazing school that gives many people, young and old, the opportunity to seek a degree and better their lives.” She is also grateful that tuition rates have stayed constant, unlike other institutions that have raised costs over the last few years. “I don’t know of any other school that cares about their students that way.”

She is the first in her family to go to college and acknowledges that is important. She sees herself “breaking the cycle of poor education in my family and hopefully beginning a new one that my children will follow.” She hopes to make life better for her family and wants to be a role model for her children so that they too will pursue a higher education. Her actions reinforce the belief that education is important and valuable in life.

She feels that scholarships are important because, simply put, college costs money. Not everyone can afford it and there are so many that may not qualify for financial aid. She echoes the sentiments of both Patti and Fleck from the story above, it is not just the gift of funds, but the fact that someone cares. “Scholarships, in my opinion, not only help out students financially, but it tells the student that someone believes in them and wants to invest in their education without any expectation of having to pay it back.”

Bianca Maldonado is also a first-generation student. She chose Valencia “because of all the great things I heard about it.” Even though they did not attend college, her parents raised her with the belief that she would have a higher education. “Even when I was younger, going to college was always something that was planned for me.”

Bianca Maldonado

Bianca Maldonado

Her father is very successful now, but she admits it was hard for him to get to that point without a college degree. Now she serves as an inspiration to the younger generation of her family. They can look up to her and say, “I can go to college too!”

Bianca will graduate in the summer of 2014 with an AS degree in nursing. She plans to go on to UCF and attain her bachelor’s degree.

She has met many other Valencia students who struggle with paying for education, working more than one job and juggling family responsibilities. She feels that scholarships offer a sense of relief and it is a great achievement to be chosen. “It makes you feel that all of the hard work that you have been doing is for a reason and someone out there thinks you are doing a great job.”

I asked both Bianca and Taisha what they would say if they could meet their scholarship benefactors. For all of you who donated to the First One campaign, these words are for you.

“I would tell them how grateful I am for the opportunity. This scholarship has offered me a way of focusing on my studies and not on how I am going to pay for it, so thank you!” – Bianca

“I would tell the kind people who donated the scholarship money how thankful and appreciative I am that they chose to donate this money for my future. I would let them know that they have not only invested in helping my life, but also the lives of my three small children. Their generous support will help me to be the role model I so desperately want to be, to show them that no matter where they come from or what people say, you can always make something of yourself if you put in the work and dedication.” – Taisha

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