Alumni of the Year
Melkevia Morris became a Take Stock in Children Scholar in the 5th grade. She was the youngest of 6 children, and the only one to attend and graduate from college out of those six siblings. This accomplishment demonstrates the immense influence TSIC has had on her life. The requirements and support from the TSIC program, her dedicated mentor and family, and her faith in God have collectively afforded Melkevia the opportunity to partake in, and excel at, an array of challenging experiences. These experiences have helped her to develop a unique skill set and build a level of perseverance that has allowed her to surmount every obstacle that has presented itself. It also allowed her to surpass the negative stigma sometimes found in her community, thus allowing her to avoid the common mistake of being a product of her environment.
Melkevia graduated from Jean Ribault High School in 2005 with Honors, all while juggling her responsibilities as the senior class president. She then continued to further her education at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, where she obtained her Bachelors of Science Degree in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude. Her hunger for education did not cease there. She received a Master of Taxation Degree from the University of Central Florida in 2010. At the age of 25, Melkevia is now a Certified Public Accountant in the State of Florida and is currently employed at PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP as a Tax Associate. Not only has Melkevia successfully represented the foundation of TSIC, she is also giving back to her community by serving as a mentor to a student at Paxon School for Advanced Studies. In the words of Melkevia, “I am forever grateful for such a prestigious organization that stood behind me 110% during the critical times when it matter the most.”
Before, I was just a boy with a dream. Now, I’m a man with a plan.
My dream in life was to build a snowboarding shop in Alaska, just to let all of my friends snowboard for free.
Now I am a well-educated UF graduate pursuing a career in biomedical engineering. It was my mentor, Sheldon Friedman, who helped make my way of thinking – my way of living – more realistic. Our 11-year adventure through life together has been a unique journey for both of us. I have matured well beyond my years because of his guidance and wisdom, and still – for some reason – he claims to have gained just as much from me. My parents divorced when I was six and I stayed with my mother, a wonderful and loving woman. She always made sure that the bills were paid and that my two younger brothers and I were well fed. At the age of 11, I was enrolled in Take Stock in Children and assigned Sheldon as my mentor. When Sheldon’s wife read the letter saying that her husband would be mentoring Jake Rosenzweig, her heart dropped a few feet – her maiden name was also Rosenzweig! We were off to a good start.
I met Sheldon once a week at school, where he brought me lunch. Oh, how I savored those Subway subs and chocolate milk! It was during these meetings that he would ask about my life. What I liked most about our meetings is that he never tried to make me into something I didn’t want to be. He knew I wanted to be a scientist. As he always says, “youth mustn’t be molded, but unfolded.”
Sheldon gave me the momentum I needed to achieve my academic goals. I dual-enrolled at FSCJ while attending my senior year of high school, and earned my associate degree soon thereafter. I transferred to UF and graduated cum laude with my B.S. in chemistry and minors in education and
A few months after I graduated, my mother became very sick with brain cancer. She passed away earlier this year – in the slowest and most deteriorating way imaginable. Sheldon and his wife visited me and my mother in hospice during the roughest of times, and made all the difference. My mentor gave me the confidence I needed to tie up all unfinished legal business: guardianship of my brother who has cerebral palsy, refinancing the mortgage, managing hospital bills, child support, SSI, utility bills, etc.
Through all the changes in my life, Sheldon helped me cope. He made me realize that not just anyone has the strength or optimism to carry on. But, I made him realize that it was he who instilled those qualities in me. As he always says, “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”
In sixth grade, I was assigned a mentor through the Take Stock in Children program to help children in low-income families push towards the unthinkable scenario of being able to attend college. Around this age, I also became fascinated with meteorology. From then on, I knew what I wanted to do when I reached college, now that college had become a possibility. I continued to meet with this same mentor, Russell Hamrick, weekly through three years of middle school, four years of high school, and two years of community college, right up to the time I transferred to Florida State University in the fall of 2012 to begin my meteorology major, and we still keep in touch.
While I grew up, the people surrounding me had given up any hope of going to college. If it were not for Russell who instilled within me the drive and motivation I now carry, I also would have given up hope on furthering my education. During high school, I had to contribute to the family income. I got my first job at age 16 at a fast-food restaurant and worked roughly 20 hrs/week during the school year and as much as possible during summer. As I worked to help my family, I saw others letting life pass them by. I did not want that to happen to me. Education was my window of opportunity to escape the walls of poverty.
Beginning college was another huge transition for me and my family, since I am the first of anyone in my entire family to go to college. Life in college is also difficult because I have to work 25-30 hrs/week to support myself and pay my college expenses. With the encouragement and help of my mentor, I have been able to keep my focus and determination.
My goals now have been pushed to higher and achievable levels, which I never thought possible six years ago. Along with finishing up my Bachelor’s of Science in meteorology from Florida State, I received honors and gained experience that would’ve been unthinkable without the Take Stock program.
I am now currently working on a Master’s degree in atmospheric science at the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology. Take Stock gave me the opportunity to do something that would’ve been otherwise impossible and I am forever grateful.