Gadsden County has a special place in my heart. It was where my career at Tallahassee Community College started – at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy, now part of the college’s Florida Public Safety Institute, back in 1999 – and it was where I began to fully appreciate the role that the College plays in transforming people’s lives.
I spent eleven wonderful years at FPSI before becoming president. While there I had the privilege of working with elected and appointed school and government officials on a variety of projects involving the college’s role in helping students and residents in Gadsden County, a county with some of the most challenging obstacles to success. In addition to creating a dual enrollment program that led high school seniors to jobs, I oversaw the Educational Talent Search federal grant and other initiatives that provided college services to students in hopes of providing them a bridge to a better life.
In all cases, I saw clearly and at a very personal level how TCC was changing lives and, by doing so, many times changing families. I will never forget a mother’s words to me as she thanked me for our work that “moved her daughter into the middle class.” That had a profound effect on me and it was at the center of the very reason I sought the presidency of the college.
This past year during our 50th anniversary, our College’s foundation conducted the most successful campaign in our history, bringing millions of dollars in new scholarship monies into the college. As we discussed the possibilities this presented us with, I asked our foundation staff and volunteer leadership to join me in an effort to do something bold, something of significance at a completely different level.
We know scholarships can change lives. We know that changing lives can change families. Our goal in Gadsden is now to help change an entire county.
In doing so, the TCC Foundation announced the Gadsden LEARN Promise. It is a tuition-assistance program providing “last dollar” scholarships for all students who have graduated from an accredited high school/GED program in Gadsden County with a 3.0 GPA or higher to earn a workforce certificate or AA/AS degree. This will allow these students to fill the gap between financial aid and tuition so that they do not have to pay for classes out of pocket. In a county where one in every four residents is living in poverty, every student willing to work for it can get a college degree or workforce credential. It is the first and only program of its kind in any county in Florida, and it has the potential to break the cycle of poverty in Gadsden. It’s a game changer.
The Gadsden LEARN Promise would not be possible without the tremendous generosity of our donors, all Gadsden County residents themselves, and the hard work of Vice President Heather Mitchell and the TCC Foundation staff. The donors provided the means and the Foundation will work with all accredited schools to identify students who meet the criteria of the program so that they we do not have to wait for them to come to us.
I am so proud of our team and grateful to our supporters for making this happen. This is work of significance. This is work that changes lives, families, communities.