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Brightway Insurance CEO David Miller announces grant award winners at Thursday's Upstream initiative facilitated by United Way of Northeast Florida. Also pictured, from left, are Rena Coughlin, president of The Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida; U...
Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 5, 201612:00 PM EST

Finding a social weakness, then creating a solution

UNF students awarded $12,500 in Upstream grants
by: Kevin Hogencamp  Contributing Writer

University of North Florida junior Courtney Lynch says her mother has been a guiding light for her through the years.

That was especially the case as Lynch labored over college options during high school.

“My mother was always there and even researched my scholarship opportunities,” she said.

Not everyone’s so fortunate.

A social work major from Jacksonville, Lynch said that reality hit home with her in December. When speaking to a class of high school seniors, she learned how unprepared the students were for college.

“I said, ‘Raise your hands if you want to go to college,’ and everyone raised their hands,” she said. “Then I said, ‘Raise your hands if you’ve taken the ACT or SAT,’ and all of the hands went down.”

Lynch said she was confused and upset — and now she’s doing something about it.

Her upstart Embedded Within mentoring program to help 10th-graders begin preparing for opportunities after high school was among two projects awarded $5,000 grants Thursday through the new Upstream initiative.

Facilitated by the United Way of Northeast Florida, Upstream pairs UNF students with Stein Fellowship coaches to develop ideas for social change.

In a program at the Jessie Ball duPont Center, nine Upstream finalists gave 10-minute presentations to a panel of six community leaders.

In selecting three grant awardees, the panelists said they were awed by the students’ proposed solutions for challenges in the areas of education, income and mental health.

“A leader is someone who stands up for what they believe in … and we’ve got a room full of leaders here tonight,” said Brightway Insurance CEO David Miller.

Lynch’s Embedded Within will use college students as mentors at high schools with high percentages of students from low-income families.

“The idea is to help positively transition young adults to college through self-determination,” said Lynch, citing academic research that says introducing students to the college culture early is a key tool for academic success.

Senior nursing students Jessica Stephens of Jacksonville and Dayna Cohen of Boynton Beach were awarded a $5,000 Upstream grant for Mindful Friends, a monthly after-school program for sixth-graders.

The duo envisions the program, which addresses the stigma of mental illness, ultimately expanding to lower grades.

“There’s a huge gap in knowledge when it comes to mental health and this gap in knowledge leads to stigmas and stereotypes,” Stephens said. “Dayna and I felt that this was a perfect opportunity to harmonize our personal experiences with mental illness and our backgrounds in health.”

Also Thursday, seniors Katie Kilpatrick of Birmingham, Ala., and Katherine Sanchez of Key West received a $2,500 grant for another mental health program, Spreading Hope through Openness, Understanding and Truth (S.H.O.U.T.). Kilpatrick is studying public health and Sanchez is studying criminal justice.

The United Way launched Upstream in partnership with UNF’s Center for Community Based Learning and five community agencies as an opportunity for students to gain experience and create real social change.

The entries were judged on community impact, innovation, ease of implementation, scalability, marketability and quality of the proposals and presentations.

Thursday’s event culminated two years of planning and four months of project development.

Other finalists for the grants were:

• Mary Jane Malone, Maura Johnson and Nicole San Jose, Invisible Struggle, stigma of mental illness

• Brittany Humphries, The Garden U Project, community health disparities

• Javon Knight, Think$mart, financial security

• Sarah-Rose Stewart, Acting Out, transition to secondary education

• Adam Kohlruss, The Homeless Triage Hotel, community health disparities

• Amulya Mandavalli, I am Undefinable, stigma of mental illness

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