A Spark is All it Takes

Operation Graduate Student is Living Her Dream

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If there’s one thing you can say about most teenagers, it’s that they have big dreams for the future. Turning those dreams into reality can be another story. But, for teens in United Way Suncoast’s Operation Graduate program, the reality can be more than they ever imagined. Just ask Sophia.

A typical teenager, Sophia had big dreams of going to college one day. But, like thousands of other high schoolers across the nation, she had no idea how she was going to get there. While she had the motivation and determination, she was lacking the resources and mentorship she needed to navigate the college process. Fortunately, she was surrounded by adults that could help her.

Sophia’s Assistant Principal knew about her goals and introduced her to United Way Suncoast’s Operation Graduate program. Located in the North Greenwood Resource Center, Operation Graduate is a partnership between United Way Suncoast, the Clearwater Police Department, Pinellas County School District and St. Petersburg College. The program focuses on students in the academic middle – those who often are forgotten about because they don’t have the best, or worst, grades. The program works to ensure on-time graduation and introduces the students to college and work experiences to prepare them for life beyond graduation.

Through the program, she took a summer course offered through St. Petersburg College. This introductory college course exposes students to college course work while teaching time management, study and presentation skills and much more.
Additionally, through Operation Graduate and the North Greenwood Resource Center, Sophia:

  • Had access to SAT prep workbooks and computers.
  • Completed a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) class and got her CNA license.
  • Participated in a bus tour of colleges from Miami to Tallahassee.

She learned skills imperative to her success in college while also gaining the confidence she needed to fill out college applications and believe in her own success. She attributes part of that confidence to the mentoring she received from Paula Kay, Senior Manager of Neighborhood Initiatives and leader of the Operation Graduate program. Ms. Paula encouraged her, kept her on track to reach her goals and encouraged her to apply to a variety of colleges. She credits the Operation Graduate program as “the spark to her academic career.”

The first-generation college student is a newly minted graduate of the University of Florida, having received her bachelor's degree on April 29, 2021. Next, she’ll be attending grad school to become a physician’s assistant with the plan to work in public health. 

We couldn’t be prouder of Sophia and all the Operation Graduate students who are working hard to make their dreams a reality.

Please consider a gift to United Way Suncoast to give more students the helping hand they need to achieve their goals.

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