Updated 6 months ago
As a child in foster care, LaToya McKinnon faced plenty of challenges. With no parents to lean on for financial and emotional support, she felt insecure and rejected.
Despite attending four different high schools, she did earn her diploma. After high school, the Foster Care Program provided independent living assistance to help with rent, and LaToya began life on her own.
After a few years of working odd jobs for little pay, LaToya decided she needed a plan for her future security, so she began taking classes at the College of Central Florida [CF] in Ocala to become a nurse. She qualified for federal financial aid and need-based scholarships that required a minimum grade point average.
When her rent assistance ran out at age 23, LaToya had to find a way to earn some extra money. She took a job with a home health agency as a caregiver, but the work schedule got in the way of her classes, and she lost her scholarships. It appeared she would have to choose between a job to support herself or an education to secure her future.
But LaToya didn’t give up. She talked to Dr. Timothy Wise, vice president of student affairs, and Dr. Henri Benlolo, director of the career assessment center at CF. They helped her apply for a Dreamkeepers scholarship to help pay for textbooks and rent.
Based on a career assessment and counseling she received from Dr. Benlolo, LaToya adjusted her educational goals. It turned out that the radiology program was a better match for her academic interests and timeframe for getting into a career. She should be able to complete the radiologic technology program in about three to four years.
Then LaToya turned to the Patriot Job Connection, a One-Stop Career Center that had just opened at CF’s Ocala campus. There she received help on her resume and interview coaching and was registered in the Employ Florida Marketplace. Within a few weeks, LaToya had a customer service job at a local call center that fit with her class schedule.
The team at CF and Patriot Job Connection believed in LaToya and had the resources to help her be successful, but she first had to reach out to let them know she needed help. It was a winning combo.
Will Ober is also no stranger to adversity. As a child he endured a medical crisis and was later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a developmental disorder similar to autism. Just as he was starting high school in Maine, financial struggles and an abusive relationship forced Will’s mom to move them to Florida for safety and a fresh start. Having to live in their car didn’t seem like a fresh start for Will.
However, living in that car turned out to be a good thing. Help came in the form of an informational flyer placed on the windshield. It was from the Drop Back-In Academy in Orlando.
Will and his mom were curious about this new approach to high school that would allow him to work at his own pace with a flexible schedule. They drove to the academy’s nearby campus to learn more.
Will enrolled and quickly excelled. He worked hard on his studies and completed all his required credits in three years with a 3.9 GPA — valedictorian of his class. He applied for the Bridges to Success scholarship, a national program that works with colleges and universities to provide scholarships to diverse students in their community who want to pursue a degree. Will was awarded four full years of tuition and is now in his first year at Valencia College’s West Orlando campus with plans to become an environmental engineer.
When life seemed pretty hopeless, Will found hope in a way he hadn’t imagined. Thanks to opportunities provided by the Drop Back-In Academy, hard work and scholarship assistance, Will now sees a promising future ahead.