Two long tables were set up on the deck at Loopers Par & Grille at Palm Harbor Golf Club for the Take Stock in Children Mentor Mixer. The annual gathering on Jan. 25 honored the 75 men and women who mentor Flagler County high school students in the Take Stock in Children program.
Seventy-seven students are currently participating in the program, which is administered by the Flagler County Education Foundation. Peter and Sue Freytag’s financial support have helped the county’s Take Stock program receive an Excellence Award for the past two years at the state Take Stock in Children conference. Ed Foundation Executive Director Teresa Rizzo said the program would not succeed without the Freytags’ help.
Take Stock in Children provides mentors and college success coaching for four years to students who qualify and whose families would have trouble paying for college. The program pays for tuition for two years at state colleges and universities. The students could then receive two more years of paid tuition upon approval of the program’s leadership committee.
“It’s a wonderful program,” said Sue Freytag, who attended the mixer with her husband, Peter. “The state matches every dollar we give. We came from Illinois and this became our home, and when you mentor students, it becomes a great investment for the community. We hope they’ll be successful, come back and make Palm Coast a better place.”
Flagler County Commission Chair Andy Dance is a former member of the Flagler School Board and the Ed Foundation’s Board of Directors. Oddly, he said, this is only his second year as a mentor.
“I promised Joe Rizzo (former executive director of the Ed Foundation) that as soon as I got my three kids off successfully that I’d be a mentor for Take Stock. And when he passed (in 2022), it tugged on my heart. I had to fulfill my promise. So I started mentoring last year.”
Last year, Dance mentored Rodney Hill, who has earned a full football scholarship at the University of South Florida. This year, he is mentoring Flagler Palm Coast High School International Baccalaureate student Brendan Wang, who is looking at MIT, Georgia Tech, Florida and Michigan as his top college choices.
“He’ll have his choice of schools but he wants to do it the right way too and not get into excessive student debt. He wants to be able to kind of pay as you go,” Dance said.
But for every Hill, Wang and Chloe Long — an FPC senior who joined her brother Dylan as the only Flagler County Take Stock students to win a Leaders 4 Life Fellowship — there are students in the program who likely would not be able to go on to college without the support Take Stock in Children provides.
“A lot of these children have home lives in at-risk situations and they don’t have the guidance at home,” said Cheryl Tanenbaum, who has been a Take Stock mentor since 2009 and is now mentoring her fifth student.
“They need guidance,” Tanenbaum said. “They don’t know how to make the proper decisions, how to even budget for college, what the expectations are, doing community service. A lot of their parents are in a bad economic state. I’m on the leadership committee, so I see their applications. They might have parents in jail or who died or they’re being raised by family members other than their parents, and some of the stories are really heartbreaking, and I just love to be able to guide them and be able to help them succeed.”
Tanenbaum continues to stay in touch with all of the students she has mentored. One of them, Tanenbaum said, is married now and has three children. Tanebaum said she tells them when they are freshmen that their relationship will not end when they graduate high school.
“I set that up right up front,” she said. “I say, ‘You're stuck with me, You have to get used to me, and I have to get used to you, but I never leave.’ I'm always there, and they reach out all the time.”
Brent Woronoff is the associate editor of the Palm Coast and Ormond Beach Observers. He has been in the business more than 41 years, nearly 30 with the Daytona Beach News-Journal. He is a former assistant sports editor at the News-Journal and former sports editor at the St. Augustine Record.