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Making a Difference Mondays, February 15

Monday, February 15, 2016

Donor Spotlight: Mary Westgate
Coordinator of Student Services, Winter Haven


I am the youngest of seven children. I grew up in a family without much money but with tons of love. My father was a high school teacher, and my mother was a school secretary. For most of my formative years, one or both parents worked two jobs just to put food on the table. My father umpired baseball and my mother worked nights and weekends for a caterer. Because my parents were often gone from the home, my older brothers and sisters helped raise me. We have always been (and still are) a very close family. Family is a big part of my life; I am truly blessed to have parents who instilled in me the desire to help others in need and to give without any expectation of return. Without their sacrifices, I don’t know if I would be where I am today.

The only way I was able to afford college was on an Academic Merit Scholarship and the philanthropy of others that allowed me a small scholarship. Despite barely making ends meet at home, my parents made too much money for me to qualify for the Pell Grant, so I worked at Polk State College as a registration operator. This job allowed me to have a few dollars in my pocket for gas and food. I was also dependent on the generosity of others who gave to help me through college, and that experience has engendered a wish to do the same for the next generation of students. When I donate to the Foundation, I cherish the satisfaction of knowing I helped someone else’s dreams come true.

I give to the Polk State College Foundation because I know what it is like to be a student without much money. I can remember the fear of wondering how I was going to afford my tuition and books for the next semester. In my role as Coordinator of Student Services, I see many students struggle with the same issues I did many years ago. I give because I want to support my alma mater, and give a piece of myself to the community and students I serve. I want them to learn by example to pay it forward when they experience good fortune, just as I am doing. I give because it is what my parents taught me to do—to give to those less fortunate. My mother always used to say, “If you see someone in need, do whatever you can to help them.” So, in everything I do, I try to honor God and my parents, and provide others with the same kindnesses and opportunities that have helped me reach my goals.


Alumni Spotlight: Wayne Durden
Alumni Association President


Wayne M. Durden was appointed as a Circuit Judge to the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court in August 2010. This court serves Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties. He currently acts as an Administrative Judge in the Felony Division in Bartow. Prior to his appointment by Governor Charlie Crist, he was the Felony Director for the Polk County State Attorney’s Office, a position he held for 18 years. While acting as Felony Director, he oversaw the efforts of up to thirty Assistant State Attorneys simultaneously while they prosecuted felony crimes in six felony divisions, including child abuse, economic crime, drug trafficking, manslaughter, and murder cases.

Durden was born in Michigan but graduated from Auburndale High School in 1976. He received his Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 1977, his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in 1979, and his Juris Doctorate from Stetson University College of Law in 1982.

Prior to becoming the Felony Director for the State Attorney’s Office in 1992, Durden was Chief of the Child Abuse Division and prosecuted child abuse cases exclusively for nearly four years. During that time, he developed a deep concern for children’s issues. He became a member of the local advisory group that started the Children’s Advocacy Center in Bartow, which provides a safe and child-centered location for alleged victims of child abuse to be interviewed and examined, and also to receive psychological assistance. Wayne later served as chair of the Board of Directors for the Center before expanding his outreach by becoming a member of the Executive Board of the Florida Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers.

In addition to his legal and personal service to benefit victimized children, Wayne has also prosecuted major economic crimes in Polk County, including multimillion-dollar investment scams and school voucher fraud. Additionally, he was part of the team that won the 2004 Davis Productivity Award from Florida Tax Watch for its efforts toward the creation of the Rape Recovery and Resource Center in Lakeland. This center provides a compassionate and time-sensitive alternative for adult sexual assault victims to be interviewed and examined, and assists with the beginning of psychological treatment. Together, the team created a better way to help rape victims receive more personalized and expedient services, while also using resources and funding more efficiently.

Durden received the Polk State Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2007. He currently serves as President of the Polk State Alumni Association.

The connection to Polk State College runs deep in the Durden family. Wayne’s wife Tammy is a graduate of the Polk State Nursing Program, and his daughter, Jennifer, also graduated with her Polk State Associate in Arts degree .

Student Spotlight: Yessenia Abarca
A Heart for Giving Back to Her Community


For Yessenia Abarca, giving back and helping others is a passion. Some of her volunteer activities include serving as the Outreach Assistant at Farmworker Ministry (Centro Campesino) in Auburndale and working with young girls in a Girl Scout troop. “This is the first year that my troop sold cookies,” notes Yessenia. “They are so excited to have the new experience of selling door-to-door in our community.”

A 2015 graduate of Auburndale High School, Yessenia has also been on the receiving end of help from others. In fifth grade, she received the Fancelli Family Future Leaders Scholarship while attending Caldwell Elementary. “I remember feeling excited and nervous as my name was called,” recalls Yessenia. “No one in my family had even graduated high school, so this scholarship motivated me to work hard and stay in school.” Yessenia graduated among the top twenty students in her class, participated in seven clubs, and logged over 700 community service hours.

With one semester already completed at Polk State, Yessenia plans to major in Business while pursuing her AA degree. She hopes to discover her specific area of interest within the field during this time, and continue her education in the Polk State Bachelor of Applied Science degree program. Her goal is to stay in Auburndale after receiving her degree, and give back to the community that means so much to her. “I hope that the young girls I work with and those at the Farmworker Ministry can see through my example that with hard work and determination, it is possible to go to college and have a career.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

As we cut the ribbon on the new Center for Public Safety in January, it made me think of the parallel between what our public safety servants do for our community and our own important role. We are both in the business of saving lives. Through the vital training our students receive in the Public Safety and allied healthcare programs, as well as the innumerable degree and certificate programs offered, we assure that students can build a better life for themselves and their families through education. We are helping them lift themselves and live their dreams. What transpires in classrooms, offices, and hallways every day makes a transformational impact on the students of today and enduring reverberation for future generations. Beyond your actions and commitment to our students, your donation to the Employee Giving Program is a lifeline for many students who need a hand-up to stay on the pathway to earning a degree.

Last week, you received our annual appeal for your continued participation in the Employee Giving Campaign. I respectfully request that you once again give consideration to making a donation at your comfort level to the Polk State College Foundation. Whether you continue your generosity through a payroll deduction, make an annual gift, or donate for the first time—every single dollar is important to meeting the goal of having a scholarship for each student who truly needs one to complete the journey and find success. Please know that your thoughtful contribution is greatly appreciated.

All the very best,

Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director