Journey's journey includes volleyball, an education choice scholarship and now college

May 17 2024 • By Roger Mooney

PINELLAS PARK – The workers involved in the adoption process in Guatemalan called her Viaje, which translates to English as Trip or Journey because her adoptive parents from Idaho had settled on the name “Journey” for the toddler.

What’s in a name? Well, life has been a journey for Journey Hinz, who graduated this month with honors from Center Academy Pinellas Park in Pinellas Park. Journey was born in Central America and lived in Idaho before moving with her mom to Pinellas County before she entered the sixth grade. She and Natalie recently moved from Seminole to Port Richey.

Journey will be on the move again when she heads across the state to Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, where she has a spot on the volleyball team. Summer classes and volleyball practice begin in June.

An honor student in high school, Journey is headed to college where she will continue her volleyball career.

That Journey is headed to college makes her mom, Natalie, smile. For years, Journey, 17, didn’t think a college education was for her. But now she talks about possibly majoring in sports management and moving on to a four-year college. The change began when Journey entered Center Academy as a sophomore.

“School choice made her more interested in school,” Natalie said.

Journey attended Center Academy on Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options. The scholarship is managed by Step Up For Students.

“It’s great that you have a choice where you can send your children to school,” Natalie said. “I think all parents should have that choice.”

Center Academy, a grades 5-12 private school, serves 80 students. The smaller class sizes allow for more one-on-one instruction from teachers and enables students to learn at their own pace. Journey enrolled as a sophomore after attending her assigned schools from sixth grade through ninth grade.

“She needed a better setting, a different system to get her through high school,” Natalie said. “Center Academy set her up for success.”

Center Academy Director Bill Kruppa said Journey’s transformation as a student since she began attending the school has been “night and day.”

“She was not the same person she is now,” he said. “I think she found the right school, and it helped change her mindset about herself.”

Journey received the Super Senor award at this year's Rising Stars Awards event.

Journey’s favorite subjects are economics and personal finance. She liked how some classes at Center Academy were lessons designed as discussions.

“And they help you out when you need it,” she said. “They don’t just give you the work and say, ‘Here, do it.’ ”

Journey was recently honored at a Step Up For Students’ Rising Stars Awards event, which celebrates select scholarship students around the state. Center Academy director Bill Kruppa nominated Journey for the Super Senior Award, noting that she was determined, enthusiastic, and open-hearted.

Her determination is found in her schoolwork.

Her enthusiasm is found on the volleyball court and her after-school job.

Her open-heartedness is found in the four cats she owns, including Gracie Cat, who was rescued from the top of a trailer home while trying to evade the flood waters caused when Hurricane Ian made landfall near Fort Myers in September 2022.

“She was a mess,” Journey said. “The people at the rescue shelter kept asking, ‘Are you sure you want her? Are you sure?’ I was like, ‘I’m sure.’ ”

Natalie watched her daughter nurse Gracie Cat back to health, and how she cares for all her cats in general, and wonders if Journey should pursue a career as a veterinarian technician.

“She’s so dedicated to her cats and takes very good care of them,” Natalie said.

Journey managed to stay on the honor roll despite a busy schedule outside of school. For the past year, she worked at least 20 hours a week as a server assistant at the Clearwater Yacht Club. That followed a three-year stint serving ice cream at The Candy Kitchen.

“That’s her choice,” Natalie said. “She likes to work.”

Journey often spends her weekends traveling around the country with the St. Pete Volleyball Club, where she is a member of both the Under 17 and Under 18 teams. This season Journey played weekend tournaments in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and New Orleans.

Because Center Academy does not have an athletics program, Journey was able to play volleyball at her assigned district school, Seminole High. She was team MVP as a junior and senior and was voted best defensive player and most inspirational. She also earned all-Pinellas County honors as a senior.

Natalie (left) used the education choice scholarship to place Journey in an academic setting hoping it would ignite a love of learning, and that's what happened.

Journey wears No. 34 to honor her late father, Jeff Hinz, who passed away at 45 from lung cancer in July 2013. Jeff had been a teacher and football coach at Post Falls High School in Post Falls, Idaho, and his three-year fight with cancer ignited the community.

That Journey is an athlete is not a surprise since she was raised in a family of athletes. Jeff played high school football, and Natalie, a Southern California native, played college soccer. Journey’s older brother Parker and older sister Wednesday ran track in college.

Wait … Wednesday?

“I like unusual names,” Natalie said.

On her Instagram account, Wednesday gets out front of any questions about her name with the words “Born on a Tuesday.”

Journey doesn’t have it that easy. She is often asked about the origin of her name.

“People want to know if my mom was a fan of the band Journey or if I’m named after the movie, ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth,’ ” Journey said.

The answers are “no” and “oh my gosh, no!”

Natalie and Jeff named their daughter after the four trips they made to Guatemala City before the adoption was finalized.

“It was a journey,” Natalie said.

And thanks to a school choice scholarship and her ability on the volleyball court, Journey’s journey will include a college education.

Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at [email protected].

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Roger Mooney