- March 7, 2022
Converting the Flagler County Senior Scholarship Ceremony from an assembly to a "Drive and Surprise" event two years ago was a matter of necessity.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was how successful the new approach would become. Instead of high school seniors receiving their awards on stage, the scholarship sponsors, teachers and administrators drove to the recipients' homes to personally present them with their scholarships and yard signs announcing their achievements.
"The Drive and Surprise is the best thing that came out of the pandemic. It gave so much more meaning than walking across a stage," said Christy Butler, the Ed Foundation's student services coordinator.
Foundation executive director Joe Rizzo, who died in March, came up with the idea, so the class of 2020 would not be denied a scholarship ceremony. Now, the Drive and Surprise is the permanent model, only bigger and better.
The 36th annual ceremony was held on Monday, May 2. Ed Foundation assistant director Rebecca Bower organized the event, which began with a barbecue picnic and debriefing for about 250 drive participants outside of the Government Services Building.
Scholarship representatives and Flagler Schools employees then had a shotgun start, taking 29 district vehicles and five personal vehicles to distribute 162 scholarships worth a total of about $380,000 to the homes of Flagler Palm Coast and Matanzas high school seniors. Each vehicle made about six to eight stops.
"The excitement we had with the teachers, organizations and with the families was amazing," said Dr. Jennifer Thornton, the Ed Foundation's executive board president. "It is inspiring to watch a community come together to celebrate our 2022 graduating seniors."
Scholarships were provided by 59 business and organizations, including Take Stock in Children, which the Ed Foundation facilitates in Flagler County. Seniors began applying for the scholarships in October on an online platform. After answering questions, they were matched up with the scholarships they qualified for and then they could complete the application process on the same platform.
In most cases, the organizations selected their scholarship recipients. About one-third of the scholarship sponsors had the Ed Foundation's scholarship committee choose.
Sunshine State Heating & Air Conditioning sponsored the Always Sunny Scholarship, which will cover full tuition and books for Daytona State College's two-year HVAC program. Erick Delgadillo Bermudez was awarded that scholarship. Quantum Electrical Contractors provided two scholarships, to FPC's Vivian Pull and Sophia Mikos.
"The excitement we had with the teachers, organizations and with the families was amazing. It is inspiring to watch a community come together to celebrate our 2022 graduating seniors."
JENNIFER THORNTON, Flagler County Education Foundation executive board president
Former Flagler Schools Superintendent Jim Tager and his wife Jodi provided two scholarships, entitled "Dream Big & Work Your Dream Scholarships" to FPC's Charles Nelson and Matanzas' William Sisk. The Heiser Foundation provided two scholarships with increasing value to Ethan Drost of Matanzas and Hailey Bovino of FPC. The Flagler Tiger Bay Club and the Flagler Palm Coast Kiwanis also sponsored multiyear scholarships.
Nineteen FPC and Matanzas seniors graduated from the Take Stock in Children program this year. Students are admitted into the program in eighth or ninth grade. Each student is provided a mentor. The Take Stock in Children's scholarship pays for 60 college credits at a state college or university.
The African American Mentoring Program also provided a scholarship for one of its participants — Schneald Castor of FPC — and the African American Mentoring Program for Girls provided scholarships, to Samira Renee Taite-Headspeth of FPC and Sofia Curtain of Matanzas.
The Rotary Club of Flagler Beach and the Rotary Club of Flagler County provided a total of 14 scholarships.
Some organizations sent large groups to the students' homes. High school teachers, administrators and guidance counselors, and even middle school and elementary school teachers who surprised their former students, participated in the distributions. Students were told to be home between 5:30 and 8 p.m., but they weren't told what scholarships they would receive.
In some cases, the students had conflicts. For example, Matanzas' Bailey Russell had a district baseball game at St. Johns River State College in Palatka, and FPC's Preston Roberts had a district baseball game at Creekside High School in northern St. Johns County.
Matanzas athletic director Jordan Butler presented Russell with his scholarships — Take Stock in Children and the A1A Burrito Works Kimball Family Scholarship — at the baseball field. And Christy Butler, Teresa Rizzo, FPC principal Greg Schwartz and Ed Foundation board president-elect Ann-Marie Zweifel presented Roberts with the Joe Rizzo Memorial Scholarship.
"The Drive and Surprise brings the community, the families and the schools all together with a reason to celebrate," Ed Foundation operations specialist Shelley Wheeler said.