rising-stars-award-winners_web.pngFour Florida students are closer to their dreams of attaining higher education.

As winners of the Sun Life Rising Star Award, LaGary Roberson, 20, of Fort Lauderdale, Warren Coley, 17, of Miami, Miranda Stackhouse, 17, of West Palm Beach and Kou A. Sua, 17, of Fort Meyers, each received a post-secondary education scholarship worth $5,000 from Sun Life Financial Inc.

Sun Life Financial also awarded $50,000 grants each to nonprofit organizations nominating the students: HANDY Inc., Urban Youth Impact, Boys & Girls Club of Lee County and College Summit Florida.

The groups got the nod for their commitment to youth and education, said Sun Life Financial’s senior philanthropy program manager Kaitlin Jaquez.

The students and representatives of the four organizations walked the orange carpet at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sunday and were honored for their achievements by the Miami

Dolphins and Sun Life Financial at a special on-field ceremony prior to the Dolphins-Pittsburgh Steelers game – which the home team lost 23-22.

The awards program received more than 70 applications from South Florida, Jaquez said. The program was developed to recognize and provide resources to at-risk high school students who wanted to further their education and the organizations that work on their behalf.

Now in its first year, the program also operates in Detroit, San Diego, New York City, Seattle and Boston, offering a total of $1 million in scholarships and grants. 

Each student was nominated for his or her active role within the community and ability to lead others. “They show a commitment to education, have the ability to overcome obstacles and have plans to pursue higher education,” Jaquez said.

LaGary Roberson’s youth was one filled with violence and anger, with higher education and the possibility to dream not on the horizon. That changed in 2006, when, on the suggestion of a friend in the foster care network, he joined HANDY’s LIFE Program.

“It was tough but I earned my GED and turned things around,” Roberson said. Now a freshman at Broward College, he is studying exercise physiology and maintains a 3.0 grade point average. He plans to pursue graduate studies at the University of Miami and later own a facility where he can offer sports training to inner city youth.

“LaGary had many negative obstacles in front of him but decided to pursue opportunity,” Kirk Brown, HANDY’s director of programs, said of the organization’s reason for nominating Roberson.

HANDY Inc. is a Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit with a mission to meet the fundamental needs of Broward County's foster care children and those who have been placed in the care of non-relative and relative caregivers under protective supervision. The LIFE program provides life skills, independent living, foundation building, education and employment.

Warren Coley was nominated based on his performance at a Barry University summer workshop, according to Raquel Figueroa, College Summit’s partnership manager. The senior at Miami Jackson High School plans to study information technology and computer engineering. He has not yet selected a college.

“He exhibited a lot of leadership qualities, stepped up and completed several tasks, in addition to completing his personal statement,” said Figueroa.

College Summit, headquartered in Washington, D.C., works to increase the college enrollment rates of low-income students across the country by building capacity within school districts to guide students through the college preparation and application process.

Miranda Stackhouse, a Forest Hill High School senior, plans to major in arts communications at Palm Beach State or Columbia University. She described her nomination by Urban Youth Impact as “the result of some negative experiences. Writing about it, telling my story, is how I was noticed and nominated.”

Kou A. Sua, a Cape Coral High School senior, has been an active member of the Boys & Girls Club of Lee County for more than four years and has volunteered 270 hours of service.  Her goal is to attend the University of Florida or Stetson University where she will major in Spanish and become an international lawyer.

“It’s really important to help out in the community,” Sua said. “We are what we are because they supported us.”

The students also qualify to participate in the Sun Life Rising Star National Summit, where attendees will be able to enter an essay contest which has a top prize of a four-year scholarship worth up to $50,000, Jaquez said.

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.


RISING STARS: Student recipients of the Sun Life Rising Star Award are, from left, LaGary Roberson, Miranda Stackhouse, Kou Sua and Warren Coley.