If you would like to help the future, consider donating to Take Stock in Children

Chuck Licis-Masson, the Executive Director of the Monroe County Education Foundation, which is involved in Take Stock in Children, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM yesterday morning to talk about the program.

A number of people are incredibly grateful for Take Stock in Children.

Licis-Masson said, “I like to call it a mentorship program with a scholarship opportunity for our most deserving kids. Our students who are eligible, they have to be academically eligible, meaning they have to have A’s, B’s and C’s, a 2.0 minimum grade point average, good attendance, good behavior and we look at those students in grades six through 10 to come into the program, but they also have to meet economic guidelines as well. We have some thresholds for, for coming into the program, a family of four cannot earn more than $70,000, for example.”

Tax returns and other documentations will be required.

Licis-Masson explained, “The reason that we do that is we purchase Florida Prepaid scholarships that are 50 percent state subsidized, so for every dollar that we raise the state matches that dollar for our scholarships. So we have to make sure that our students are economically eligible to come in.”

When a student enters the program, they are assigned a volunteer mentor.

Licis-Masson said, “That mentor is from the community. That mentor can be someone who was retired and settled in the Keys and would like to give back, they could be someone who’s currently working in the Keys as well in various industries. To give a shout out to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Ramsey is absolutely amazing with his men and women volunteering for Take Stock in Children. I think he provides the most number of mentors for our students right behind FWC and other entities as well in the county.”

The mentor meets with a student one day a week for about 30 to 45 minutes during the school year from September through May.

Licis-Masson said, “They meet on campus during the school day and usually it’s during lunch. They discuss a variety of topics from studying, organizational skills in the beginning when you’re in middle school, to get ready for high school. They talk about career exploration, and then on and on towards preparing for college admissions. We help them with the financial aid process and then exploring different university and college options for them as well as those career technical education opportunities. If they’re interested in doing a trade, whether it’s diesel mechanic, marine mechanic, nursing, cosmetology, firefighting, you name it, we’ll help them on that pathway as well.”

The income guidelines were recently adjusted to make the program more available to people in Monroe County.

Licis-Masson said, “Take Stock in Children programs is a statewide program and they have a partnership again with the Florida Prepaid College Foundation, which provides those tuition based scholarships. In order to be eligible for that, the Florida Prepaid set a standard across the state of Florida that they have to be eligible for free and reduced lunch, which is approximately 85 percent of the federal poverty level. For us in Monroe County, that number was down to about $30,000 or $40,000 for a family of four. So think about it, two parents and two children living down here on $40-some odd thousand is nearly impossible. It’s unheard of, with the cost of living down here.”

So Take Stock in Children board members went to Florida Prepaid in Tallahassee, and basically said with the high cost of living in Monroe County, it’s not equal to other counties in Florida.

Licis-Masson said, “We argued for an increased threshold because we were leaving families behind, we were leaving kids behind because of that threshold. So they agreed to look at the thresholds and we settled on 65 percent of AMI, which is between low and very low for those who understand the affordable housing parameters, and it has opened the door for a lot of families who continue to struggle. If you’re familiar with the Alice report from United Way, we’re still below the Alice survivable income in Monroe. It may sound high, 70,000 for a family of four, but, boy, once you look at rent, utilities, you’re really living paycheck to paycheck at that point to survive here in the Keys.”

While all students are matched with a mentor at this point, more mentors are still needed.

Licis-Masson explained, “We do have some students who applied and we put them on a waitlist. We want to make sure that their grades are where they need to be and their behavior is where it needs to be for them to come into the program. So we’ll reassess those students in February, after the end of first semester, we’ll look them in January and bring them in in February. So we’ll need more mentors at that point. So what we’re doing right now is we’re not only supporting our current mentors, we have some mentor coffees planned throughout the Keys to recognize our mentors and we’re leading up to National Mentoring Month, which is January, after the holidays. We always look for mentors to have on reserve and also to be ready for those students who are coming into the program. We still have more students who are applying. It’s amazing, a lot of families don’t know about Take Stock in Children in the county, especially new families to the county or those who are from other countries. They’re here working and they have their legal status, but they’re just not aware of the scholarship opportunities that our state and our county provides.”

So new mentors are always needed.

Licis-Masson said, “I’d like to thank our mentors. Honestly, we couldn’t do this. We were a small mighty staff of five, to run this program. With college success coaches, myself and my administrative assistant. We couldn’t do this without our mentors. Our mentors are really the boots on the ground, if you will. They are meeting with our kids every week. They log their sessions, they guide their students through and when you talk to previous mentors, they just love the experience. They in fact, they feel guilty because they feel like they’re getting more out of it than their mentee is getting out of it. I talk to mentors, regularly. They say, my mentee graduated six years ago, and she got her degree and now she has a family and the mentor was a part of that process of that that student going to college, getting a degree, getting married, having children and then starting a career. They’re part of the family. So that that is what is so special about our program.”

The students are also amazing.

Licis-Masson said, “I always think of a word that pops into my brain when I think of our students is resiliency. They’ve been through so much, many of our students are seniors, think about that year and a half, two years of interrupted education during the pandemic and to see where they are today coming out of that. As adults, we adapt, and we complain a little bit, but we get through it. But our kids are just completely resilient. It’s one of the reasons why I continue to be in education to this day, and for over 30 years. It’s just being around that optimism and resiliency of our kids. It can teach a great lesson to the adults as well to be patient and persevere and work through things. So our kids are amazing. They do great things. When they go off to college, 100 percent of our students will enroll in college or a post secondary institution or career technical education institution. Of those students, 75 percent of them are graduating with a degree, which is four times higher than the national average of the same demographic group. So our kids are doing phenomenal things.”

If anyone would like to help, but can’t be a mentor, there are ways to donate.

Licis-Masson said, “It’s for Monroe County Education Foundation, that’s our 501c nonprofit that we fundraise through that organization. It supports the school district and supports Take Stock in Children. We are entering our fundraising year now as we get into November and December. Those of you who are listening if you have to do a minimum deduction or withdrawal from your retirement accounts, and you’re looking for a wonderful place to park some money to donate money for a tax credit, we will welcome your donation because it is matched by the state. It goes to a scholarship and that scholarship is used by one of our students. The beautiful thing about that is we don’t write checks to kids, we provide them an access to an account and we own that account. When the student finishes, if there are credit hours still remaining on that plan, we can reinvest those credit hours or give them to another student who needs those credit hours. So it’s, it’s a win win on both sides.”

For more information, click here: https://monroecountyedfound.com/