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An Unexpected Blessing

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Just a few short years ago, sixteen-year-old Juan Collazo’s life was adrift. He had himself swathed in a cocoon of indifference, with no sign of any bright future ahead of him. But young Juan felt invincible – until the day that would change his life forever. In the face of circumstances that could have been daunting, Juan instead found a compassion, determination and purpose within himself that he could not have imagined he possessed. Learn how this inspirational Polk State College student’s dreams of helping others are taking flight, due in part to the power of philanthropy!


Juan Collazo

At the youthful age of twenty-one, most young people haven’t yet had many days that stand out for their life-altering importance. Juan Collazo can recall very clearly the events on July 20, 2006, the day that forever changed his life.

In 2006, Juan was a sixteen-year-old high school dropout who was living in Puerto Rico. He reflects that during that time that he was very “street smart,” and made many bad choices. He did not graduate from high school and did not heed his mother’s advice. On July 20, she asked him not to join his friends at the river, but he went anyway. Juan had been cliff diving many times before, but on this day, he had an accident that left him a quadriplegic.

“After the accident, I had a lot of time to think about my life,” remembers Juan. “I took responsibility for my actions and realized that I could stay in bed and do nothing, or I could better myself and go to college.”

Juan, along with his mother, younger brother, and sister, moved to Florida in search of a better life shortly after his accident. Juan had lived in Tennessee as a child, so he was able to speak English. He earned his GED in 2009, and started taking classes at Polk State in the spring of 2011. He received the Tucker Construction and Engineering Scholarship and finished the fall semester with a 4.0 grade point average. “The scholarship helped with tuition and books, so my family didn’t have to worry,” said Juan.

With the generous help of another, anonymous donor, Juan will be able to continue his studies in the coming year.

After finishing at Polk State College, Juan plans to get his bachelor’s degree in Psychology, with the long-term goal of going to law school. “My accident changed my life for the better. College was not part of my life plans, but now my desire is to help others through the justice system.”

Juan’s journey of self-reflection, discovery and courage is an enormously inspirational one. There are many students such as Juan at Polk State College who face challenges to fulfilling their educational potential.  While each student’s story is unique, one element that so many have in common is facing financial roadblocks to attaining the higher education needed to transform their lives.

Imagine if Juan had made such a turnaround in his life and was poised to set on a new course, only to have his opportunities shut down forever because he was unable to afford the education that meant so much to him. It is situations like these that make the Polk State College Foundation so grateful to generous individuals and companies that create and contribute to scholarships, such as the Tucker Construction and Engineering Scholarship and an additional anonymous donation which helped make Juan’s success possible.

Larry Tucker, the founder of Tucker Construction and Engineering and a native of Winter Haven, had a passionate commitment to uplifting individuals and communities through the power of education. Through his close friendship with the late Bill Ryan, former Polk State Foundation Executive Director, he established the scholarship in April of 1991.  Bruce Scamehorn of Tucker Construction, who was in the College’s first graduating class in 1968, said Larry always held the College in high esteem and wanted them to succeed.

“It’s always unfortunate when you see students with ability and desire, but not the financial means to attend school. He wanted to make sure no students are left out,” said Bruce.

In addition to his support of Polk academics, Larry had a strong affinity for the athletic programs at Polk, and has helped them enormously over the years.

Every time Polk’s baseball team converges to practice or play a big game, every occasion where crowds gather to cheer them on and every triumph of the team, big and small, are due in no small part to Larry and his company’s generosity. That’s because the original baseball field and dugouts were built by Tucker in 1983 and 1984 – entirely funded by the College’s Baseball Booster Club, of which Larry was a founding member.

When tragedy struck the College, Larry and his company extended their hearts and reached into their pockets. As Polk State Athletic Director Bing Tyus recalls:

“We had apartments for our students in athletics, but in the early 90s, they burned down in a fire. Tucker Construction came in and refurbished them for free. Larry had everything to do with it – he took it on himself and did it!”

“He always supported our fundraising efforts. Every time we asked Larry to help us, he did. The more successful he became, the more he gave,” he added.

Since Larry’s passing in 2009, Tucker Construction has continued his legacy of generosity, thanks to the commitment of dedicated individuals such as Bruce Scamehorn and Chip Tucker, Larry’s son. This included building a baseball clubhouse, and in 2011, the company constructed a wall and remodeled the baseball field and the dugout.

Tucker Construction epitomizes the heartfelt and personal bond that is forged over the years between the College and its donors to scholarships. Polk State College and its Foundation is immensely proud and grateful to have this longstanding connection with a company that cares so deeply about helping individuals and communities grow through the power of a higher education.