Tell readers a bit about yourself and how you discovered Palm Coast.

Both my husband (Dave) and I were born and raised in Vienna Virginia, which is 20 miles outside of Washington DC.  Dave worked for the FAA, and I worked for Saab Aircraft in Sales and as a Program Budget Analyst with a government contractor for 13 years.  Working for both companies allowed me to travel the globe and learn about other peoples and cultures.

Once retirement started sneaking up on us, we began looking for other locations to retire to, and we knew we wanted to move away from the Virginia winters.  On one of our trips to FL we were driving south on A1A from Jacksonville.  As we were driving, I noticed there was a sign for a surfing school at one of the motels North of Flagler Beach.  The traffic stopped to let the students cross the road and I said to Dave pull over and let’s watch.  Here were these adorable kids ranging in age from 8-12 carrying these huge surf boards crossing the road to learn how to surf.  They were so cute and determined, that’s when I knew this was the spot to retire in.  Just driving down the road and pulling off to go the beach, who could ask for anything else.

As part of a very active group of women who work to help our community.  Why is this work important to you?

I’ve always said that education is the key to your dreams and success, and I was fortunate that I worked for a company that paid for my higher education, and allowed me to get my master’s degree, so I wanted to pay it forward.  I googled local clubs and organizations to see what would pique my interest.  I found the Grand Haven Woman’s Club, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the Garden Club of Palm Coast, and I became a Master Gardener with the University of Florida Flagler County Extension Service.  All these organizations benefit the community and provide support, education, and scholarships for the Flagler community.  I loved the concept of providing scholarships and grants to young girls and women.  I knew I had to be involved.

You selected students from our community for the Girl Up Scholarships this year with a unique approach.  How did you come up with the idea and why?

How did Girl Up Scholarships get started.  Over the past few years, I’ve sat on many scholarship committees with other organizations, and in following the organization’s parameters for selection, the seniors with the highest GPA and SAT/AP scores were receiving the scholarships.  Please don’t get me wrong, these students work hard keeping their GPA up and doing extra curriculum work, volunteering in the community, participating in sports, and they absolutely deserve their scholarships.   But we were missing other deserving students in the process.

What I saw in reviewing the scholarship applications were girls that were doing the same schoolwork, community service, sports, etc., but their GPA/SAT/AP scores were on the cusp of the organization parameters and would never be considered for a scholarship.  I saw an opportunity here for these students.

I wanted to learn more about the Flagler County Education Foundation (FCEF) and asked if private citizens could provide scholarships.  The FCEF said absolutely, and they welcome all contributions to help the students of Flagler County.   I asked our friends Sam and AJ Brunetti if they would like to help and participate, and with Dave’s support, Girl Up Scholarships was born.  We are not a 501c3 or 501c4, but private citizens who want to help.

Our goal is to provide at least four if not more scholarships, in STEM and ARTs field.  Our first year, 2022 we gave out four scholarships of $500 each, and this year 2023, as more people heard about Girl Up and donated, we were able to give four scholarships at $1000 each.  I ask people to make their checks/donations to Flagler County Education Foundation and note it’s for Girl Up Scholarships. This way they can use their donations for tax purposes since FCEF is a 501c3.  I collect the checks and then deliver them to FCEF in March with the list of the chosen applicants.

Please share a bit about those selected this year that stood out for you.

We had 51 applicants this year and chose four.  In reviewing the scholarship applications, we look at the girl’s family finances and situations, their community services, work history, academic scores, advance courses taken, and their goals.  I look at the girls in the mid-range scores, where they are at the cusp of the top tier.  And if a girl is a little more under that line, I look at why she may be at the level she’s at.  Is she working to help support the family, is she a caretaker, etc.  All the factors come into the formulation.

What made these four young women stand out, their personal resumes went into more detail about themselves, their family, and their goals and dreams.  Like all the applicants they work hard, but these four young women stood out more to me than the others.

For AJ and me, the scholarships are so rewarding, and the scholarship drive is such a joy.  These girls and their parents are not expecting anything and are so surprised and grateful when we pull up and knock on the door with the scholarship sign and packet.   There are tears of joy and hugs all around.

As part of the AAUW you also help select young women for STEM scholarships.  Are you noticing any trends as far as young women going to college and why is supporting their opportunities key to the success of a community?

Unfortunately, I was not on the AAUW Scholarship committee this year, but the trends I believe relate to what is happening in America and the World at that time.  The past few years, more women were going into medicine, and then one year they were going into law and criminal justice.  I remember one young woman wanted to become a lawyer, then a judge and then sit on the supreme court.

Why should we support their opportunities, society has always rewarded the best of the best, but what about the ones who have tried, and tried, but never seem to make it?   I’ve always said that education is the key, and if we can open more doors and minds, then I’m all in.  I had an opportunity to advance my education through my employer.  That one act of assistance advanced my career and I hope to do the same with other deserving girls.

Girl Up Scholarships is all about giving girls and young women a helping hand up the ladder to success.