Step Up scholars receive key advice from business professionals

JANUARY 21, 2019 |

Volunteer boards are critical to the success of an organization, particularly a nonprofit. Garnering advice from a cross-sector of business professionals can enhance and strengthen the organization and those it impacts. The Step Up For Students Advisory Board knows this first-hand. 

The 15-member board is comprised of business professionals from around the country who meet throughout the year to provide support and guidance to Step Up For Students. This year, the Step Up For Students Advisory Board spent countless hours fundraising, providing insight, and advocating on behalf of Step Up For Students and the children served. One of this year’s most impactful meetings was held at Academy Prep Center of Tampa with some members joining from as far away as Texas.

Joined by two eighth-grade students, Javaris Williams and Jasmine McKinnie, the board members listened intently as the students shared their academic transformations.

Javaris Williams shared that at first, he was intimidated by the amount of work and longer school hours at Academy Prep. Fast forward two years, and you will find a student that is thriving. In fact, it was the culinary program at Academy Prep that led him  aspiring to become a chef.

Jasmine shared her goals of attending an elite private high school, followed by medical school.

After the students shared their visions and goals, Jasmine paused and turned to the volunteer board who advocate for educational choice for Florida’s disadvantaged students, like Jasmine and Javaris.

“What advice has anyone given you when you were younger that made a difference in your life?”  Jasmine asked. “And can you please share it with me?”

Without hesitation, Gary Andresen, Florida market manager for US Bank’s Commercial Banking Division, chimed in.

“I grew up as a competitive swimmer and my coach, who could be tough at times, said to focus on yourself,” Andresen said. “Don’t look to your left or your right and compare yourself to anyone else but focus on being the best version of yourself.  Focus on incremental change and focus on making yourself better. If you follow this advice, pretty soon you won’t have anyone to your left or right because you will be out in the lead.”

Jasmine and Javaris shifted back into their seats and nodded as they absorbed Andresen’s advice. Leadership advice from a man who volunteers his time on the Step Up Advisory Board to ensure students like Jasmine and Javaris are provided access to an education that best meets their learning needs.

Step Up helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, allowing recipients to choose between a scholarship that helps with private school tuition and fees, or one that assists with transportation costs to out-of-county public schools. The program is funded by corporations through dollar-for-dollar tax credited donations. For the 2018-19 school year, Step Up is serving nearly 98,300 students throughout Florida and Jasmine and Javaris are two of those students.

Academy Prep sixth-grader J’London Bivens and Step Up For Students Founder and Board Chair John Kirtley exchange advice while enjoying a friendly game of chess during the Step Up For Students Advisory Board meeting at the Academy Prep Center of Tampa.

Members of the Step Up For Students Advisory Board present new books for the Academy Prep library which is being renovated. Left to right, Brian Lukasik, Step Up Advisory Board member and partner & Southeast market tax leader with PWC, Academy Prep eighth-grader Javaris Williams, Academy Prep Head of School Lincoln Tamayo, Academy Prep eighth-grader Jasmine McKinnie, Academy Prep Program Director Tina Gutierrez-Brewster, Michele Cavallo Step Up For Students Advisory Board member and director of small and medium business solutions at Duke Energy.

The business community’s involvement is key to Step Up’s success. The experience and expertise offered by the advisory board is incredibly valuable to the organization and in this instance, two eighth-grade students. But it is not just advice that is provided. The board members represent companies that partner with Step Up to provide tax credit contributions which have funded nearly 6,950 scholarships this school year for K-12 Florida students.

“We are honored to have such talented and dedicated members on our advisory board, said Anne Francis, vice president of development for Step Up For Students. “This board plays an important role in providing support and guidance to our organization as we continue to impact the lives of Florida’s schoolchildren.”

About Step Up For Students 
Step Up For Students is a nonprofit organization that helps administer the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Students who qualify for the national free or reduced-price lunch, or those who are homeless or in foster or out-of-home care, may qualify. The scholarship program provides tuition assistance to the private school of their parents’ choice or financial assistance to offset the transportation cost to an out-of-district public school. Since 2001, Step Up has awarded more than 680,000 scholarships.

A first-of-its-kind study on the long-term effects of the scholarship program by The Urban Institute found that students who use the scholarship four or more years are up to 43 percent more likely to go to college and up to 29 percent more likely to earn an associates degree than their peers.

Step Up also helps administer the state-funded Gardiner Scholarship for Florida students with certain special needs, plus two new scholarships, the Hope Scholarship for public school students who are bullied and the Reading Scholarship Accounts for third- through fifth-grade students enrolled in public school who struggle with reading.

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