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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Ribault High School students were honored Thursday morning at a scholarship presentation that recognized their dedication and perseverance through their involvement in the Big Brother Big Sisters “Beyond School Walls” workforce readiness-mentoring program.
The 11 seniors received scholarships valued at a total of nearly $44,000.
“Today is a day that we are celebrating seniors that have matched with mentors from Availity — some for three years, some for as long as six years,” Sara Alford, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Northeast Florida said. “In total, in partnership with Availity and Florida Prepaid, each of the students is going to be receiving a two-year full Florida college scholarship.”
Big Brother Big Sister Northeast Florida is about “inspiring and igniting potential” in the youth. Alford said the organization helps to remove those barriers that students can encounter in life by replacing them with a “post-secondary vision that can become reality.”
“Beyond School Walls” is a school-to-work program that helps students navigate the next steps for what comes after high school. Students are matched with corporate mentors and receive job training, learn skill development and participate in job shadowing.
“What’s amazing is they do it all with a mentor by their side and a friendship that’s really going to last them a lifetime,” Alford explained.
News4JAX spoke with three graduating seniors who received scholarships and have been in the program since middle school.
“They helped me achieve and be prosperous through middle school,” Emeril Jones said.
“They left a good impact on my life,” Arnez Riley said.
Their former middle school principal Angela Williams, who Chiyone Simmons described as someone who was adamant about their futures, voiced her admiration for the boys’ growth through the years.
“I would say job well done. I’m seeing you guys now and knowing where you were in middle school, I’ve done the job as a principal for 20 years,” Williams said.
Duval County School Board Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene had encouraging words of gratitude to share with the recipients at the ceremony as well.
“You all not only reignited my why but you gave me hope. Hope that what we do each and every day matters, and we’re going to continue to fight for you. So he is right, he did not give you a scholarship. They are investing in not only you but they’re investing that you’re going to make this world a better place.” Greene said.
Greene also acknowledged the parents and their efforts in ensuring their children actively participated in the program, and she also talked about getting the program into other Duval County schools.
She left the students with this challenge:
“I challenge each and every one of you to take those scholarships, become the best version of yourself and then come back here and make Jacksonville the very best community it can be,” Greene said.
Students like Simmons and others said they already plan on paying it forward for the youth coming up behind them.
“Just like our generation pours into us, I want to pour into another generation. Just by setting an example, stepping outside of my comfort zone, joining this program and taking risks, it was a great opportunity, and I feel like more should be granted with that opportunity,” Simmons said.
The students received scholarships and special cords that can be worn at graduation.
Availity workforce mentors were also honored at the event.
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