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Mentoring program teaches more than academic success

Washington High School Senior Anna Steffanini is thrilled!

She just got accepted to the University of Florida.

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Anna Steffanini/Take Stock Student: “I’m pretty sure I was like born to go to college. My biggest life goal up until now was to get into the University of Florida and having that accomplished is just blowing my mind. I’m so ecstatic for my future and everything I can get involved in next year.”

The Take Stock in Children mentoring program gave Anna the support and financial help she needed to pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian.

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Anna: “I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian. And one day when I was in the 5th grade, my brother brought home a snake and I was like, ‘Oh that’s cool!’ So I definitely fell in love with reptiles and amphibians. My grandfather is really into frogs. he collects tadpoles and I have some tadpoles of my own now. So I learned there’s a type of veterinarian called a herpetologist, who specializes in reptiles and amphibians. So that’s kind of been my goal. I found something unique to branch off from being a veterinarian.”

Take Stock carefully matches mentors to students with similar interests.

Anna and Kathy built a friendship, Anna will carry with her to college.

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Anna: “Sometimes we had some workbook things we worked on, but we moved past that once we got closer. We just talked about my life, her life. I would bring her cookies. She would bring me trail mix so it was wonderful. It was just like having a friend you could talk to about things that normally I can’t talk to my peers about or can’t talk to my family about. She has just always been there…to confide in, to share my struggles or accomplishments and I don’t feel like I’m bragging. I know she’s proud of me and she told me to be proud of myself, too.”

Kathy Dutremble is the Director of Enrollment at Pensacola State College.

She has mentored Anna since middle school, spending an hour each week with her.

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Kathy Dutremble/Take Stock Mentor: “Anna was the first student that I mentored and she’s really been the only student that I mentored. I’ve worked with Anna since she was in the 7th grade. I’ve watched her grow up. We’ve learned a lot about each other. We’ve gone through mostly good times but it’s just been a great opportunity for me to spend time with somebody else. I don’t have children so it’s a neat opportunity for me to experience what goes on in the lives of young people. She’s bright, she’s easy to work with. I don’t feel like I have to do anything. We listen, we have lunch together, we talk about things. But it’s a real sense of accomplishment for me to see how much she has grown and how far she has gone.”

Getting this far hasn’t been easy.

The pressures of school and growing up are tough on any teenager and Anna was ready to quit last year.

She credits Kathy for helping her stay focused.

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Anna: “It was really stressful and very dramatic. ‘I’m not going to college,’ is what was pretty much going through my mind at that point in time because it was just so much. And she was just there and she sat with me while I cried and she was like, ‘It’s okay, it’s going to be okay. You’re doing perfect, you’re doing fine. So what if you don’t pass this one test, because there’s a really stressful year of tests for AP courses. So she helped me overcome that because that was really, really a stressful time.”

That’s exactly what the Take Stock program is designed to do, help students make a better life for themselves through education.

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There are a lot of societal issues that sometimes impact these young people from being able to succeed. Sometimes when you’re in middle school or high school you kind of get lost in the shuffle in day to day. So a mentor is really somebody who can be a voice for students that might otherwise not be able to say, ‘I need help with this. I’m not sure how to deal with this. I don’t know what direction to go.’ And I think that’s where the mentors have been able to make a significant impact in the lives of some of these folks.”

Anna says Kathy’s impact has changed her life for the better.

Now she not only wants to be a vet, she also wants to cure cancer.

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I’ve had some recent life events happen. I went down to UF actually to have my dog receive a CT scan. We found that half of his cranial is filled with a tumor. Half to two/thirds of it. So I was a little shocked, haven’t thought about animals getting cancer as much. And then I found out one of my aunts recently was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has to go through chemo and everything but thankfully she is going to overcome it and we’re praying for her. But I’ve just kind of been taking these as signs from the universe that maybe I should look into oncology b/c when I toured the UF School of Veterinary Medicine, we walked past an oncology department and I was like, ‘You guys have an oncology department?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah.’ And so I was like, ‘What?’ So I think that might be something that once I get my bachelor’s that would be something I could specialize in. Because I do feel like if we find a cure for cancer, it will probably start with animals.

Kathy hopes others in the community will also see the value in mentoring.

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Kathy: “I think it’s a unique opportunity to have a significant impact on a young person’s life. I think it helps you look at what’s important in your life and I think it helps provide another outlet for young people. Sometimes they may feel like they can share things with another person besides the family member. And I think it’s good for them to get perspectives from other people. I think it’s a great opportunity whether you decide to be a mentor or whether you contribute financially to provide some of the scholarship money. I think it provides an opportunity to impact a young person’s life because that person then will be more likely to mentor and to have a significant impact on their community wherever they decide to settle and live.”

Kathy has little doubt Anna will accomplish her goals and use her talents to give back to the community.

This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise.