For the past year, young professional Katie Rhyne, community affairs coordinator at Neal Communities, has mentored Amajai Kirksey, a Manatee High School student, through a program set up by Take Stock in Children of Manatee County.
Take Stock in Children’s mission is to break the cycle of poverty for low-income, academically qualified students by providing opportunities for a postsecondary education. The students, from middle to high school age, are matched with a volunteer mentor, provided college readiness services and a dedicated college success coach. Each student is awarded a college scholarship and provided with postsecondary support through degree or certification attainment.
For Rhyne and Kirksey, the mentoring journey began near the end of Kirkey’s junior year of high school and continued throughout her senior year. Rhyne provided guidance as Kirksey filled out college applications and made decisions about how she would like to continue her education after high school. They spent at least 30 minutes a week together.
It was Rhyne’s first experience as a mentor, and it won’t be her last. She is already paired with another student, this time a high school freshman, who she’ll mentor through graduation. “Being able to share helpful pieces of advice and see Amajai make decisions for her future has been rewarding,” said Rhyne. “Take Stock in Children has an incredible impact. It makes college or technical school an affordable and attainable option.”
Rhyne is supported in her mentoring by both her immediate supervisor, Ivory Matthews, Neal Communities’ vice president of community and governmental affairs, who has volunteered with Take Stock in Children of Manatee County for more than 10 years, and by the company itself.
Neal Communities donated $10,600 to Take Stock in Children of Manatee County to provide a tuition-based college/technical college scholarship to a student in the Manatee County program. That scholarship was awarded to Kirksey, and Rhyne was proud to present it to her during the Take Stock in Children of Manatee County graduation ceremony held on May 6 in LECOM Park in Bradenton. They were joined by two other Neal Communities’ employees who also volunteer with Take Stock in Children of Manatee County, Neal Communities’ Finance Director Pamela Curran, who was named Take Stock Manatee Mentor of the Year this past January, and Neal Communities’ Sales Associate Sarah Toedman.
For Anne LeBaron, CEO of Take Stock in Children of Manatee County, the graduation ceremony is a yearly highlight. “We had 38 students graduating this year throughout Manatee County. That’s a 100 percent graduation rate for our mentoring program, and each one of them receives a scholarship upon high school graduation,” said LeBaron. “Many of these students have no one in their family that finished high school, much less college. They can start in our mentoring program as early as sixth grade or as late as ninth grade, and they must pledge to stay drug-, alcohol- and crime-free and spend 30 minutes a week with their mentor. For mentors, showing up in the lives of these students is a game-changer – you’re an encourager, a supporter, helping them be successful. Mentoring is my favorite 30 minutes of the week.”
For Pat Neal, founder and president of Neal Communities, it’s one of many ways the company gives back. Neal Communities has been a community partner and supporter of Take Stock in Children of Manatee County since 2011. “The Take Stock in Children program offers our employees a way to directly enrich a child’s life and prepare children for the future,” said Neal. “We are happy to support a program that focuses on helping our youth succeed.”
In total, Neal Communities has donated $29,200 to the organization. With a core belief that “Where You Live Matters,” Neal Communities has given more than $7.5 million to local charities throughout Southwest Florida and is committed to the communities where they live, work and build.
“Neal Communities is a huge supporter of mentoring. Ivory has been mentoring for years and has expanded that to many of her colleagues,” said LeBaron. “We currently have eight mentors from Neal Communities and could not be more grateful for their time and for the scholarship donations.” In addition to Rhyne, Matthews, Curran and Toedman, additional Neal Communities employees who serve as mentors are Steve Abraham, president of Neal Funding; MaryAnn Koops, area sales manager; Christine McKelvey, marketing manager; and Mike Storey, who retired in January and continues to mentor.