By Contributing Writer - May 17, 2019
Decked out in a blue cap and gown Francesca Acevedo practices flipping her 2019 tassel from right to left as she tries to commemorate her graduation with the perfect Boomerang video on social media. Acevedo is one of 21 Middleton High School students that will march to “Pomp and Circumstance” twice this spring. Not only is she graduating from high school, but she’s also graduating from the Big Brothers Big Sisters School to Work program at Moffitt Cancer Center. It’s a three-way partnership between Middleton High School, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Moffitt to provide one-on-one mentoring in the workplace for high school juniors and seniors.
It’s been two years since the students, also called “littles,” first walked through the doors of Moffitt. Each one was paired up with a team member from a variety of roles and departments throughout the organization. LaWanda Courtney, director of Volunteer Services, spearheaded the program. She says, “Many team members want to participate with Big Brothers Big Sisters, but it’s hard to find the time with a busy work schedule, so the School to Work program is a perfect fit.”
The students are called “littles” and the team members are referred to as “bigs.” Once a month, the “littles” would spend a morning at Moffitt. The first hour was spent taking part in a formal curriculum, which included basic job skills such as learning about appropriate work attire and the importance of getting an advanced degree. The rest of the time was spent shadowing their “big” and developing a relationship.
In addition to coordinating the program, Courtney also participated as a “big” to Makyla Brown. She admits she may have scared Brown because she has a big personality and Brown is a bit shy and reserved. It took perseverance and patience to build a bond. Courtney says, “I never imagined I’d form this relationship with Makyla and her family to be able to make a difference in this young lady’s life. Even when I thought I wasn’t having an impact, I was.”
The “bigs” are mentors who offer stability, support and guidance in their “little’s” personal and professional life and are encouraged to stay in touch with them outside of the once a month visit to Moffitt.
Nurse practitioner Jessica Bay was Acevedo’s “big.” She says she always wanted to give back and mentor. “When I was in high school I didn’t have a stable environment and it’s something that I wanted to provide,” Bay explains. “I want to show students that you can still succeed without the perfect circumstances.”
Acevedo says Bay inspired her to participate in Moffitt’s Volunteen program and pursue a career in nursing. She received one of two scholarships from the School to Work program and plans on attending Florida Atlantic University.
Acevedo isn’t the only one who took advantage of opportunities for teens at Moffitt. Manjula Somanchi took part in the HIP IMO program last year. She wants to return to Moffitt in the future as an oncologist. She says her “big,” Mary Coffeen plays an important role in her life. “It’s nice to have a mentor who’s ready to support you and guide you no matter what,” Somnachi said.
Like Acevdeo and Somanchi, Cheyanne Eaton feels like the program gave her a head start on her career. She wants to be a doctor and even applied to be a patient access representative at Moffitt. She’s attending the University of South Florida in the fall, and she plans on meeting up with her “big” Jennifer Shankle for lunch when she’s on campus. “Time will tell how much of an impact I’ve had,” Shankle said. “As she goes to college and throughout life, it will come to fruition.”
Even though the “littles” are graduating, they plan on staying in touch with their “bigs” in college and beyond.