award-winners-john-hak-web.jpgMIAMI GARDENS — There were stars on the field at Sun Life Stadium Sunday but this time it wasn’t the players who garnered all the recognition. Instead, it was four South Florida students and nonprofit organizations being honored by the Miami Dolphins and Sun Life Financial at a special on-field ceremony as part of the Sun Life Rising Star Awards program, the education cornerstone initiative of the Miami Dolphins Foundation.

Those receiving a total of $220,000 in scholarship grants were students Sephora Dubreuze of Boca Raton Community High School, Kimi Farrington of Pompano Beach High School, Candace Perez of Immokalee High School and Ashira Vantrees of Cooper City High School; and community organizations American Association of Caregiving Youth, The Guadalupe Center, HANDY and Women of Tomorrow.

The winning students for a $5,000 college scholarship each and the organizations received a $50,000 grant. Besides on-field recognition, the honorees were guests at a special breakfast reception hosted by Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dee and Sun Life Senior Vice President and General Manager, Employee Benefits Group, Mike Shunney.

The Sun Life Rising Star Awards program honors outstanding students who have overcome significant obstacles to succeed and recognizes nonprofits which address low high school graduation rates. The program also promotes financial literacy as a means to achieve life-long financial wellness and stability.

Since the program’s inception, Sun Life has awarded nearly $3 million to 54 students and 47 nonprofit organizations across the country. This year, it expanded the program to seven cities from five in 2011 and awarded grants and scholarships to students and nonprofits in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and South Florida.

A 10-person judging panel comprising athletes, education and community leaders, philanthropists, financial advisors, city officials and activists selected the winners.

The judges were Miami Dolphins star players Davone Bess and Mike Pouncey, Champion Services Group President/CEO James Champion, Consortium of Florida Education Foundations President Mary Chance, philanthropist Ada Cole, Florida College System Foundation President Judy Green, Corporate Benefit Advisors CEO Heather Leck, Sun Sentinel “Society Scene” Publisher Stacy Ostrau, Sapoznik Insurance & Associates Founder, President and CEO Rachel Sapoznik and City of Miami Protocol Officer Wallis Tinnie.