The tagline for Take Stock in Children has always been ‘we break the cycle of poverty through education’ — and YOU can be a part of that

Chuck Licis-Masson, from Take Stock in Children, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the new school year. 

For the last 25 years, Take Stock in Children has been helping low income, at risk students in Florida achieve their dream of a college education and a career. 

Licis-Masson said, “With a two plus or two year college scholarship through Florida Prepaid as the reward for graduating high school and going through the program, and it covered the tuition for an associate’s degree. It has grown since then. Mr. John Paget brought the program here in Monroe County in the mid to late 90s. We have been going strong since our first graduating class in 2001. We’ve graduated over 1000 students in Monroe County, through Take Stock in Children.”

The application process opened at the beginning of the school year in August. 

Licis-Masson explained, “We look for students who have a minimum of a 2.0 grade point average, A’s, B’s and C’s in previous grading periods. They have good attendance and good behavior. So they don’t have excessive behavioral infractions or high absences. They also need to commit to being crime and drug free while they’re in the program and meet with a volunteer mentor.”

There are also economic guidelines. 

Licis-Masson said, “A family cannot earn over a certain threshold. That was the free reduced lunch levels, which is about 85 percent of the federal poverty level. Over the past five years, we’ve worked with Florida Prepaid to increase those thresholds in Monroe County to better reflect our income here in Monroe versus the cost of living, since we are a very expensive county in which to live. So we are at about 65 percent of AMI, which is the area median income. A family of four roughly now cannot earn more than 70,000. So that may sound like a lot, but when you’re looking at a family of four, two parents, working parents and two children, and paying rent and living expenses here in the Florida Keys, it’s still a very challenging income level. So we managed to get that up and as a result, we had about 160 to 180 applications come through when we open up the process in August.”

Next week about 95 new students from Key Largo to Key West will be signed into the program. 

Licis-Masson said, “Which is a phenomenal number.”

That great number means more mentors are needed. 

Licis-Masson said, “We need mentors. Every child coming in next week will have a mentor but we do have students on the waitlist. They’re waiting for a mentor. So we’re looking for mentors in the Upper Keys, the Middle Keys, and the Upper Keys. So we’re looking for mentors. A mentor, you give up basically 30 minutes a week during the school year. It’s not much time. You meet with a student on school grounds during the school day, typically during the student’s lunch period and you are not a tutor. You are a confidant, a guide, an advocate. You help that students navigate middle school and high school, whether it’s getting ready for high school, study skills, test taking skills or looking ahead to colleges and figuring out what the right path would be. Basically, as a mentor, you are helping that student ask the questions and find the answers. You’re not necessarily answering all the questions for the student, but you’re helping them learn self advocacy skills, so they can be successful when they do graduate high school and have access to our Florida Prepaid scholarship.”

Students also have access to a two-year dorm plan. 

Licis-Masson said, “So if they do go directly to a state university, we can also assist with housing, which is a tremendous cost, even more expensive than tuition alone, the housing aspects. We try to remove as many barriers as possible so they can earn their degree and graduate relatively debt free. Not all of our students go to college. Some of our students will go to a career technical education facility and we help them on that process as well. Because we need those mechanics. We need the carpenters, we need the plumbers, electricians, and we have students who are interested in those fields as well. So we will help them on that path.”

Those fields are as necessary as they are lucrative. 

Licis-Masson said, “Sometimes I think if you look at your trades people, they can earn more money than some of your traditional white collar workers in the county and in the state or the country. So absolutely. I always tell my students, if you want to a job that you know has sustainability, go into HVAC and air conditioning repair, because here in Florida, what is vital is air conditioning, and when it goes out, you are the most popular person on the planet.”

Students can enter in sixth through ninth grade. 

Licis-Masson said, “All of our students graduate high school and a vast majority, I would say close to 98 percent of our students do enroll directly into college. The other 2 percent, they will go into military service, and they’ll defer their scholarships, so they don’t enroll directly in the university. They’ll serve our country, whether it’s in one of the armed forces and they can defer access to our Florida Prepaid scholarship for up to 10 years. Many of those students will go through basic and then get into their military career, and also access our scholarship once they go through that process. Of all the students that do enter, we’ve just done a study from our graduating classes of 2006 through 2017 and nearly 75 percent of those students have earned an Associate’s, a Bachelor’s or a career certificate, which three quarters of those students earning a degree it’s four times greater than the national average of the same peer group of those students who did not have Take Stock in Children. It’s a tremendous achievement and we’re really changing lives here in our community.”

If you are interested in becoming a mentor for a student, click here:

A phone call can also be made to 305-293-1546. 

Fundraising is also imperative for the program. 

Licis-Masson said, “If you want to double your money, the best thing to do is to donate to Take Stock in Children because it’s state matched. Every dollar we raise is matched by the state of Florida. So it’s a one for one and you can double your money. So $1,000, automatically becomes $2000, $10,000 becomes $20,000. That all goes towards the purchase of Florida Prepaid scholarships for students who are coming into the program. We see a continual need in our county. We have students, families who are struggling here, and those parents really want the best for their kids. They are unable to afford a college education because of their income status. That’s where we come in, we help them through that process. The tagline for Take Stock in Children has always been we break the cycle of poverty through education. That is our mission, to provide those opportunities to our low income kids. So they can go to college or go to a career technical education facility and have a career and be a productive member of our community.”