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Making a Difference Mondays, February 6

Monday, February 6, 2012

Alumni Spotlight: Kathryn Koch
Determination and Hard Work Pay Off for Community Leader

Kathryn Koch is a Vice President at Lanier Upshaw, an independent insurance agency in Lakeland. Originally from Sioux City, Iowa, she moved with her family to Florida in 1978. An active member of the community, she belongs to the Citrus Center Kiwanis club and holds positions on the boards of many other organizations, such as the Polk Education Foundation and the Florida Insurance Association (FAIFA). Additionally, she serves as an ambassador for Girls Inc. of Lakeland, and is the current Vice President of the Polk State College Alumni Association.

As the oldest of six children, Kathryn dreamed of going to college, but knew that in order to achieve that goal, she would need to fund her own education. Kathryn recalls paying for classes on her credit card each semester, then paying the balance in full by the time registration started for the next semester. She often worked three jobs just to make sure that her tuition and book costs were covered.

Originally, Kathryn chose to attend Polk State College with the goal of becoming a nurse. However, she later changed her major to pursue an Associate of Arts in Business, and graduated in 1987. Later, she moved to Orlando where she worked full time and attended school at night through a satellite program with Warner University. Although the journey was tough and she was told many times by others that she would not finish, Kathryn proudly notes that she completed her bachelor’s at the age of 30 and paid for everything by herself.

Kathryn has a heart for education in Polk County. Last fall, she competed in the “Stepping Out for Education” event, a fundraiser for the Polk Education Foundation. Similar to the popular “Dancing with the Stars” television show, Kathryn practiced for months to perform the fox trot and cha cha during the event. She placed second for the amount raised individually for the event, and helped to raise $70,000 for scholarships. Many of the students who are helped through the Polk Education Foundation come to Polk State College after high school, so this inspiring alumna is now helping others to achieve their goals to attain college degrees as well.

Donor Spotlight: John Anderson
Music Department Coordinator

When I was 15, my Dad’s long battle with cancer came to an end. My mother and I were left with little money and no savings. By this time, I already knew that I had a passion for music. After auditioning and testing, I was accepted into college and was thankfully offered a full scholarship. I was informed that my scholarship was made up of contributions from numerous donors. Those anonymous benefactors literally changed the course of my life.

Now, almost 40 years later, I have the honor to work with some of the most amazing young musicians I have ever known. As Music Department Coordinator, I have the opportunity to get to know our music majors quite well. We spend hours in class, rehearsals, and performances together. During these experiences, I hear more than music; I often hear about students who can’t afford books or who can’t afford even a 1-credit-hour class.

When I came to Polk, I was introduced to the Foundation and subsequently was honored to serve on the Foundation Board of Directors. There I learned that although I didn’t personally have a great deal of money to share, I could make a profound difference by being one of many donors. I saw that through the Foundation, a group of donors could combine their funds to afford many Polk State College students the opportunity to earn degrees–an opportunity just like the one I had been given so many years ago. New to the College, I began donating by giving a little to the Foundation each month through payroll deductions. I learned that I could designate where the money was spent, so I chose music scholarships. After the many years I have worked here, I know that my contributions, along with the many others they have been combined with, have helped countless students. If you don’t currently contribute to the Foundation, won’t you please consider giving just a small donation monthly? It’s a simple process and you can designate your gift as you wish.

To me, what makes Polk State College stand out from other places I have worked is the strong sense of family that we enjoy. It is clear that what we do changes lives. Your contribution to the Polk State College Foundation can help make the dreams of a college education attainable for more of our students. The life you change may someday touch your heart through music– or literally hold your heart in an operating room. Let’s join together to help more Eagles to soar!

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

In the almost six years that I have been working for Polk State College, I have always been amazed by all that we have consistently accomplished together and the tremendous difference we have made in the lives of our students. We have, indeed, taken flight and it’s incredibly exciting and rewarding to witness our students spread their wings and soar through our work.

I want to extend to you my heartfelt gratitude once again for your generous support of the Polk State College Foundation. In 2011, Polk State employees donated more than $27,500 to support many critically needed scholarships. These contributions were primarily directed toward emergency scholarships that helped approximately 100 students remain enrolled when unexpected life circumstances interrupted their educational pathway. The pain of being forced to choose between dreams for a college education and working additional hours to cover unforeseen financial challenges for survival—these sorts of situations are where your generous donations have allowed us to intervene and change lives. I truly cannot thank you enough!

It is now the time of year when we kick off our employee giving campaign. You will soon be receiving more information in your home mailboxes, and I respectfully request that you give positive consideration to continuing your donation through a payroll deduction, donating once again through a planned gift, or contributing to our important work on behalf of students for the first time this year. In these difficult financial times, we each hear daily about the hardships of those in the community. If you are so fortunate as to be able to increase your gift from your last year, this would be most welcome. Whatever the amount, give until it feels good, and help us create The Big Buzz!

Thank you so very incredibly much!
All the very best,

Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director

Student Spotlight: Juan Collazo
Life Changes Lead to the Goal of Helping Others

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 helps with tuition and books, so my family doesn’t have to worry,” said Juan.

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.”