graduation_cap_and_book.jpgKEY WEST – Four young African-American women are among 51 winners in a program that provides full scholarships for youngsters who are the first in their families to attend college.
The four girls – Vanessa Lundi and Shawntell Delice of Key West High School and Mecca Seide and Jessica Forest of Marathon High School will graduate Saturday from Take Stock in Children when they receive their high school diplomas, said Leslie Holmes, program coordinator.

Most scholarship programs reward students in their senior year, but Monroe County’s Take Stock in Children program recruits participants as early as the seventh grade and mentors them through high school graduation and into college.
The students sign a contract when first recruited that requires them to maintain a “B” average, to stay out of trouble and to meet with an adult mentor once a week until they graduate high school.
The needs-based scholarship pays for all four years of college, including tuition, books and housing. Students may use the scholarships to attend two-year colleges.
“At the time of their contract signing, students had As, Bs, and Cs with passing state test scores, exhibited good behavior and their families are living at or below the federal poverty line,” Holmes said.
The students already know the disciplines they want to study. Vanessa, who has been in the program since the seventh grade, will attend Valencia College for two years and transfer to the University of Central Florida to study International Affairs. Jessica, who also joined Take Stock in the seventh grade, also plans to go UCF but she will study accounting. Her mentor is Celia Hitchins, who works at the Monroe County Government Center in Marathon.
Hitchins was a great role model, she said. “She told me how important it was to be on time for school,” she said. “She taught me how to maintain my time wisely.”
Besides studying, attending high school, and taking part in activities, Jessica works part time at Publix in Marathon.
Mecca, who signed her contract with Take Stock in the 10th grade, will pursue a  biology degree at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “My plan is to become a veterinarian,” she told the South Florida Times.
Before she was recruited into the program, college wasn‘t in the cards, she said. “I didn’t really think about going to
college when I was younger. I didn’t know there would be a way to pay for it,” she said.
Her mentor is Lois Giffen, an artist who lives and works in Marathon.
Shawntell will study physical therapy and sports medicine at Florida International University.
The Take Stock in Children program is funded through the Monroe County Education Foundation. The organization gets donations from private individuals and other sources. At least 250 students are active in the program, either attending college on scholarships or working their way toward graduation from high school.