CLEARWATER (Dec. 5, 2018) – It was a moment that washed spontaneously over the packed ballroom of the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater, instantly connecting some 250 guests at the Pinellas Education Foundation’s first-ever ChangeMakers Breakfast with the young woman at the podium.
Angelina Kincy’s words had been strong and steady in describing how the Foundation’s Take Stock in Children program had made a profound difference in her life – leading to an invaluable relationship with a mentor, Tava Wilson, to guide her through Osceola High School and a close friendship that developed at Osceola with Mrs. Wilson’s daughter, Christina.
She spoke of her athletic pursuits in varsity track and soccer, as well as academic successes as a member of the Spanish and National Honor Societies and standing as senior class president, followed by earning a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. But then, after crediting Take Stock for the doors the program has opened in her life, Angelina’s voice cracked with emotion when the subject suddenly turned again to her dear friend from high school, a class valedictorian who had been awarded a swimming and diving scholarship to MIT.
“During my second year of college, my mentor, Mrs. Wilson, lost her daughter, my best friend, to suicide from dealing with sickness and depression,” she said, powering through her tears. “That was a very tough time, but I used it as motivation. … Christina had always dreamed of going to college and changing the world. I owed my degree to her as well.”
Seconds later, Angelina delivered a heart-felt “thank you” for the chance to share her story, and attendees rose to their feet in a standing ovation – one of the highlights of an event that underscored the impact of not only Take Stock in Children but the many transformative programs created and overseen by the Pinellas Education Foundation to support Pinellas County School students and teachers.
The breakfast, which brought together businesses, school district officials and a wide spectrum of Foundation supporters from the community, offered numerous other highlights as well. There was Meridien Research founder Cathy Collins, inducted into the Pinellas Free Enterprise Hall of Honor, established in 2005 by Foundation and Enterprise Village founder Gus Stavros. He created the Hall of Honor to recognize those in the community who epitomize the spirit of free enterprise in starting and growing Pinellas County businesses.
“Cathy is a force of nature who gives nothing less than her very best to everything and everyone with whom she is involved, whether in business or this community she loves so much,” Doug Bishop, the Foundation’s chairman of the board told the crowd, prior to a video tribute honoring her contributions, including to the Pinellas Education Foundation, as a board member.
In addition to Collins’s honor, Pinellas Education Foundation Business Partner of the Year awards were announced, with Greater Ridgecrest YMCA winning the Small Business category, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital named top Large Business partner, and a rare tie in the overall District Business Partner category between Achieva and United Way Suncoast for their longstanding initiatives to support Pinellas County Schools.
The awards showcased a central theme of the event summed up by Bishop in his opening remarks about the Pinellas Education Foundation’s mission. “Our success is built on the foundation of partnership and collaboration – which involves many of you in this room,” he said. “This event today is about the value of collaboration. We know that what we want to accomplish for students won’t and can’t be done alone. Collaboration is at the core of our work.”
That collaboration ultimately supports Pinellas County Schools, and Bishop singled out the Foundation’s partnership with Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego, along with the school board, administrators, teachers and principals as key players in the mission. “A big thank you to Pinellas County Schools – and especially our teachers and principals – for being on the front lines and being ChangeMakers every day in the lives of our students,” Bishop added.
Dr. Grego reciprocated with gratitude directed at the Pinellas Education Foundation, “for their tremendous partnership throughout the years. They have shown their support to the district and students through scholarships and mentoring, through career training programs, Enterprise Village, Finance Park. It has been remarkable.”
Among the other notable elements of the ChangeMakers Breakfast was the down-to-earth, humorous emcee style of Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper – and a show-stopping performance of For Good from the Broadway show Wicked by Palm Harbor University High school student Sarah Duren, the 2018 vocal winner of Walker’s Rising Stars, a Foundation program geared to helping young artists refine their skills.
Pinellas Education Foundation President Dr. Stacy Baier closed the program by talking about the ideals that fuel the foundation’s work.
“I hope you have enjoyed learning more about the Pinellas Education Foundation – and the many people and organizations that propel us on our mission. It’s worth sharing the nature of that mission with you now: In short, it is to accelerate educational achievement for ALL students though the effective mobilization of innovation, relationships and resources.”
She also introduced the new logo and linked it to the gift of candles provided by Duke Energy for all of the guests. “We’re very proud of it and how it symbolically mirrors the heart of our work – like a burst of light reaching out continuously to touch others in its path, with each new diamond-shaped piece building upon the other. It signifies every individual’s journey to achieve greater understanding and enlightenment through education. … You’ve also seen candles at your table. They embody the flame of learning, light and knowledge that fuels all we do, and light the road forward.”
Yet for all the scripted elements of the morning, it was an unplanned moment that brought an entire room to tears, and then to its feet, with the graceful honesty of a Take Stock alumna paying tribute to a late friend – and to the Foundation that forever changed her life.