FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – As the traditional end of school year events take place, tucked into this year’s ceremony for the Take Stock in Children Program hosted by the Flagler County Education Foundation was an unexpected surprise.

Gifting each of the 21 Take Stock in Children recipients with $500, Brian and Jacki Unger wanted to provide the students with additional support as they close out their high school years and head into college. Zapping a QR code, the students can select a laptop, funding for meal plans which can be quite costly, and in some cases required, or a shopping spree to furnish or decorate their dorm rooms.

“We believe that the best thing that you can do for the future is help educate our future leaders,” said Jacki Unger.

“They’ve earned these wonderful scholarships, but now what? They get off into this next chapter, and we felt like they all might need a little bit of help in one direction or another of their choosing. So just to help know that there is continued success and support behind them.”

“The education foundation is an amazing organization. They take it all to heart and have so many programs that are so beneficial in our county. We’re so lucky. They have so many avenues just to help students reach their goals and become better people,” she said.

Surrounded by the students, their mentors and families, Brian Unger’s powerful message about life lessons resonated with those listening.

“Don’t procrastinate. Opportunity has been one of the keys to success and seeing you here tonight, and the mentors, and all of your families, what you’ve accomplished as students, get ready. It’s about to accelerate. You earned that opportunity from the first day you started with the mentors as the students in Take Stock. Thanks to Peter and Sue (Freytag) thanks to Selena, thanks to Teresa, thanks to everyone who put so much into this program.”

“Opportunity are those doors that you say yes to that allow you to end up as a senior vice president of that company then allow you to go on and run three other quick service restaurant brands. I share this with you because life is so darn exciting and you’re right on the doorstep. You’ve done everything right and you’re heroes for what you represent within the community. When you hear mentoring, think networking in this next step because that’s the opportunity you have going into these colleges and universities,” he said.

The Take Stock in Children program holds a special place in the hearts of the Flagler County Education Foundation and supporters, working to help break the cycle of poverty through education.

Heading up the program, Selina Hernandez, Assistant Director of Student Services for the foundation has been on the job about a year and said it was her prior experience of helping others, namely her brother navigate the system, that made her an ideal fit to oversee the program’s operations as the Take Stock in Children Student Success Coordinator.

“I think it’s been an amazing experience. I was like a true mentor for my brother and helped him. I was that person for him that I needed when I was younger. I helped him with financial aid, staying out of college debt, checking in on him every year, and he actually got a scholarship that was similar to what Take Stock is, as well,” she said.

“It’s definitely a very rewarding job.”

Helping to match up students like Tabitha Barbier with educator Mitzi Martinez, the mentoring relationship has helped grow a lifelong friendship between the pair.

“They match your strength and weaknesses. I remember the first day I met her she was so shy. I love this kid right here. She’s like my daughter,” said Martinez. “She’s come out of her shell, she talks to people now.”

Barbier shared how Martinez’s support and encouragement has helped her.

“She’s given me confidence in myself and in talking to people,” said the future vet tech.

Flagler County Education Foundation employee Shelley Wheeler stayed committed to her mentee after a career change, and her motivational message during the ceremony was a testament to her commitment to the program.

“I wasn’t going to stop the program, so we talk every week and we still do our meetings. It has been amazing over the last three years getting to watch her grow and blossom,” said Wheeler of her mentee Olivia Wolpert.

She said being able to help and watch her grow has been Wheeler’s greatest accomplishment.

Flagler County Judge Andrea Totten’s mentee Chloe Long was selected as one of this year’s Learners 4 Life Fellowships, a prestigious honor that makes her one of only two in Flagler County to ever win a fellowship. The first was her brother Dylan Long, who spoke as the evening’s keynote speaker.

Totten was humbled by the hardworking teen’s example, and teared up as she placed the medallion on the young woman’s neck.

“It’s been a learning experience and both so valuable for me and I think her. I love meeting with her every week. She’s so calm, bright and driven, it’s a real joy for me, and to be able to play some role in her success just feels really good,” said Totten.