Each year, Saint Leo University alumni across the generations and around the world live out our core values and contribute to their communities, professions, and causes in a variety of ways. The Saint Leo Alumni Association seeks to celebrate the members of our alumni community and pay tribute to those who have reached remarkable goals either professionally or personally. Please join in congratulating the 2021 and 2022 recipients of the Saint Leo University Alumni Awards.
(Select a photo to view caption)
Gianfranco Pagan ’21 receiving the 2021 Global Service Award.
Roaring Onward recipient Benjamin Larison ’14 with his family.
Alumni 2021 Awards
Joseph Byrne ’74
Christine Gibree ’85
Gianfranco Pagan ’21
Jerry Blash ’14, Mercy Figueroa ’17, Seth Gross ’17, Anthony Santa ’12, Andrew Specht ’17, ’22
Alumni 2022 Awards
Natoy Baker ’11, ’20
Peter Mulry ’67
James Salgado ’07, ’14
Peter Mulry ’67, James Salgado ’07, ’14
Haywood Barnes ’93
Bobrenti “Brent” Patterson ’21, Mohammed “Ammar” Mohart ’17, Benjamin Larison ’14, Krystal Cox ’12, and Allison Baldwin ’15.
This past year the university welcomed home four alumni to speak at its Mission-Driven Leaders: Conversations On Purpose series. The goal of the program is to engage the university community and the public about the significance of mission-driven leadership.
During the program, leaders are asked to share how they are leading with purpose and making a difference in their professions and society at large.
Speakers have included Colin Bryant ’15, president of Max Deal Sports; U.S. Navy Reserve Rear Admiral Ingrid M. Rader ’14, ’21; Isaac Henderson ’17, division vice president in the Jacobs Critical Mission Solutions – Advanced Engineering, Research & Operations Business Unit; and Rose Mustain ’95, information management and solutions lead within NASA’s Gateway Program Planning and Control Office.
Sometimes dreams change. For alumnus Colin Bryant, his dreams of a pro basketball career were dashed by an injury. But now Bryant is a highly successful sports agent and executive, who not only helps college basketball players go on to play professionally, he also prepares them for life.
Helping young people succeed is Bryant’s mission in his career and in his life. Bryant earned his Master of Business Administration degree with a specialization in sport business in 2015, fulfilling a promise to his parents. He left college as an undergraduate to help his friend, NBA broadcaster and former player Antonio Daniels, when Daniels was drafted by the then-Vancouver Grizzlies. With that experience, he became a certified sports agent, but he also completed his degrees.
Bryant and Daniels were childhood friends growing up in Columbus, Ohio, playing basketball at St. Francis DeSales High School, a Catholic school in Columbus. “Growing up in Columbus, Antonio was my best friend,” Bryant said. “We played all the time with dreams of going to the NBA. We were on track for our dreams to come true.”
Both skilled players, Daniels earned a scholarship to Bowling Green State University in Ohio, while Bryant earned a full-ride basketball scholarship to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. But Bryant’s dream was derailed by a hip injury and a broken jaw his senior year at Cal Poly. “At the time, I was maybe a year shy of getting my degree,” he said.
Instead, Daniels was selected by the Vancouver Grizzlies with the fourth overall pick of the 1997 NBA draft. It was for Bryant, the “opportunity of a lifetime to help him. He wanted me to come.”
Daniels, now the color analyst for the New Orleans Pelicans, said he has been through “heaven and hell” with Bryant. “The Lord has blessed us to evolve together inside each other’s lives,” Daniels said.
Bryant dropped out of Cal Poly and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, accompanying his friend. “He signed a three-year, $8 million contract,” Bryant said of Daniels. “We were 22 years old, and off to fend for ourselves.”
While Daniels had one of the top sports agents at the time, he did not receive attention, and Bryant took over that role. He began marketing Daniels, and thought, “‘this could be something that I could do.’”
By end of the rookie year, Daniels was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in Texas. “That was a blessing in disguise for both of us,” Bryant said. “He went from the worst team in the league to winning the 1999 NBA championship.”
Bryant learned the business of the NBA from Spurs management and players, including Gregg Popovich, R.C. Buford, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan, and he eventually was certified as an NBA agent.
But Bryant never forgot the promise he made to his mother and father about completing his degree. He said, “Although I was practicing in the industry, I made it a priority to pursue my education.”
He enrolled at the University of Texas-San Antonio and completed a semester. Then Daniels was traded to the Portland Trailblazers. Due to the rigors of his career and travel schedule, it was impossible to be in the classroom, so Bryant decided to focus on his blossoming career. During this time, he signed more players, including Raymond Felton, Damian Wilkins, Acie Law, and his biggest client Rashard Lewis, whom he negotiated a $100 million-plus deal with the Orlando Magic.
“But through it all, that promise I made and the desire to get a degree was always on my mind. I felt empty,” Bryant said. “Although, I was achieving at a high level, I knew I could do so much more.”
In 2011 he was inspired by the birth of his daughter Bella. “I took my role as a father seriously,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and push education when I hadn’t completed my degree. I wanted to be someone she could look up to.”
As online education became more prevalent, Bryant completed his degree in management from the University of Phoenix. “But I had a thirst for more knowledge,” Bryant said. “I became more comfortable with online learning and better appreciated the value in the convenience that it afforded me. I had the hands-on experience [as a sports agent], but I wanted to add technical knowledge, case studies, and I was looking for the best school to attend.” He was impressed by Saint Leo’s curriculum, and the enrollment process was easy, but it was a busy time in his career and life.
At the time, Lewis was playing for the Miami Heat with Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. “I was studying on airplanes, in hotels, after games, and anywhere I could,” Bryant said of his Saint Leo studies. “I was a young father with a lot of responsibility, but I was committed to my studies at Saint Leo. I had late nights and early mornings. But I also had the support from my teachers and classmates. It was the community that I needed to fulfill my dreams.”
Bryant understood that earning his MBA with a sport business specialization was a way to sharpen his blade, add skills, and meet personal goals. “It makes me more efficient as an agent, a businessman, and an entrepreneur,” he said.
He completed his last 40-page paper after attending the NBA draft, rushing back to his hotel to finish it. “I earned this degree!” he said. “I have achieved a lot, but this was one achievement that I hold close to my heart and that brings me a strong sense of pride. I framed my degree right away.”
Bryant said Saint Leo improved his skills in communicating online with people around the world and working with others in business settings. “It was preparing me for pandemic life, five years later,” he said with a laugh. “I was connecting with people all over the world. I’m glad I got a chance to do it later in life and appreciate the information I learned. It helped to further develop my 40-year-old executive mindset.”
Daniels said Bryant’s greatest attributes are his work ethic and attitude. “Even though things have not always gone his way, he has not stopped working,” the NBA broadcaster said. “Most people would quit. He has bent, but he has never broken.”
Now, Bryant is the president of Max Deal Sports, a full-service sports management firm in Houston, Texas. In his role, he helps players navigate the world of professional basketball, preparing them for futures on and off the court. He talks to players and tells them it’s never too late to complete their degrees. “Basketball has an expiration date,” Bryant said. “You have to prepare for life after.”
He cites some of the players he represents, who have earned their degrees including Aric Holman (Mississippi State), Jordan Bone (Tennessee), and Jordan Bowden (Tennessee). He also represents Simi Shittu, who left Vanderbilt University after his freshmen year and is in the process of finishing his degree while playing professional basketball in Israel.
He gives back to the community by coaching Bella’s team and hosting a summer youth basketball camp with Daniels.
Bryant gives back to his community and focuses on the next generation by coaching his daughter’s sports teams, operating a youth basketball camp that he and Daniels created in San Antonio 20 years ago, and he is establishing a foundation to help urban city youth understand the importance of education while pursuing athletics.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saint Leo University faculty and staff demonstrated a commitment to our community in a variety of ways—from facilitating free educational webinars to help small business owners and first responders to offering complimentary, on-demand courses designed to help individuals relieve stress.
When news about the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine surfaced, Saint Leo University stepped up in another way by offering to serve as a vaccine distribution site for the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County. Since January, more than 25,000 members of the public have passed through University Campus to receive the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.
In April, the university was fortunate to offer its own vaccine clinic event for members of the university community. Faculty, staff, students, alumni, and their household members were able to come to University Campus and receive a vaccine through a drive-thru event.
Jessica Van Guilder ’12, ’15 was among the alumni who received a vaccine at University Campus. She lives in close-by Land O’ Lakes, FL, and still keeps in touch with fellow alumni and staff at the university.
“I decided it was one of the best chances for me to get the vaccine early,” she said.
Elissa Noblitt, who graduated from the university in 2020, also came to University Campus from Orlando to get a vaccine. “I drove down because I trusted Saint Leo, and I knew that the university would run the operation well,” Noblitt said.
Alumni of the fraternity start a new tradition in giving.
With the 30th anniversary of their founding approaching, members of the Rho Xi Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., wanted to do something special to commemorate the occasion.
The chapter was founded at Saint Leo College in the spring of 1989 by a group of 10 students. The organization would provide leadership and a brotherhood experience within the frame work of Greek life to minority students. On November 11, 1989, under the guidance of Terrence Hood, the Rho Xi Chapter became nationally recognized and chartered.
The fraternity places a strong emphasis on service and helping minorities and disadvantaged individuals achieve success. “Since its founding, the chapter has been providing educational and social opportunities to the campus and the local community,” said Stuart Hart ’98 ’15, who helped reinvigorate the chapter at the university in 1995.
“We wanted to celebrate our 30 years in a special way,” said James Cummings ’09, who was one of the alumni members who helped organize the effort. “We thought, ‘why not create a scholarship to help this group of individuals.’” Working in partnership with the university’s Alumni Engagement and Sustained Giving office, they did just that, establishing the Alpha Phi Alpha Outstanding Leadership Scholarship to benefit student leaders with financial need.
As part of the 2019 homecoming weekend, fraternity members came together and hosted a scholarship ball at University Campus. At the festivities, they presented the university with a check for $28,080, permanently establishing the fund and creating a new philanthropic tradition for the fraternity.
“It was a lot of hard work, but it was exciting, though,” Cummings said. “We were more than excited to start something we felt would leave a legacy at our alma mater.”
Hart said strong fraternities enjoy active engagement from alumni, so it is important for alumni members to stay connected with current students. “Celebrating this milestone reunion and establishing the scholarship would help in this area,” he said.
The reunion weekend brought together Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity members dating back to 1989, including members of the current chapter as well as friends, advisors, and family.
A Note from the President’s Corner of the Alumni Association
On behalf of the Saint Leo University Alumni Association Board of Directors, it is my honor to welcome the Class of 2019 as valued members of the Saint Leo Alumni Association. I also want to welcome all students who are beginning or returning to their studies at Saint Leo. It is important for you to get to know about our association, too. Whether this is your first or 15th year as a Saint Leo alumnus or alumna, I challenge you to get connected and get involved. There are a number of ways to meet this challenge. Join an alumni chapter in your area, come to campus for homecoming weekend, suggest Saint Leo to a prospective student, or be a part of the conversations on the alumni social media channels from the comfort of your home. With more than 95,000 alumni worldwide, the Saint Leo alumni community is a network worth your time.
As a note of interest, this year begins a new chapter in our alma mater’s history with the inauguration of Dr. Jeffrey D. Senese as our 10th president.
The strategic vision he has for Saint Leo is already becoming a reality with new academic programs, new education center locations, and the largest
freshman class ever at University Campus. I encourage you to stay informed of everything that is
happening across the university, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
John E. Holladay ’75
President, Saint Leo Alumni Association
New Alumni Chapters Established
We are excited to announce that two new regional alumni chapters are up and running. Welcome to the pride, Ocala and Jacksonville!
If there is not an alumni chapter in your area, we’ve got you covered. Check out our new virtual alumni chapter to connect with alumni from across the globe.
Details about all of our alumni chapters, along with a full calendar of events, are available online: your.saintleo.edu/chapters
Connect with your Saint Leo Career Services Office on Handshake
The Saint Leo Career Services office can be a resource to alumni well beyond graduation, helping you find new opportunities and connecting you with fellow Lions:
Services for Alumni
Whether you’re a recent graduate searching for that first job or a working professional looking to advance, Career Services offers a wide range of valuable resources online or in person. The team can help review your résumé, help you prepare for interviews, or provide you with access to job-search tools. Use the information below to connect with Career Services by phone or email, or come in for a one-on-one appointment. Career Services is located on the first floor of Kirk Hall at University Campus. Engage with Current Saint Leo Students
Give back to your alma mater by leveraging your network to help current students. Here are a few ways you can help them achieve their career goals:
Become a mentor and share your experiences, insights, and network.
Host students in your place of work for informational interviews, job shadowing, or credit-bearing internships.
Facilitate an information session or career workshop for a group of Saint Leo students.
Advocate that your organization’s Human Resources department recruit at Saint Leo.
Direct job and internship opportunities (student, entry-level, and experienced hires) through Handshake.
Learning is a lifetime endeavor. And at 81, Lottie Boone is a great example of someone who doesn’t let the years get in the way of her education.
Boone is a student at Saint Leo University’s South Hampton Roads Education Center. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology.
“Sitting around doing nothing is when you get old,” Boone said. “Take the time and study. Your brain is still working.”
Her grandson Nicholas Franklin graduated from Saint Leo in 2015 with a bachelor’s in criminal justice. “Then he went back and got his master’s [graduating in 2017 with a master’s in criminal justice-legal studies],” Boone said. “I told him, ‘I’m going back to school.’ And he said, ‘Baba, you’ve got to go to Saint Leo.’ ” Baba is what Franklin calls his grandmother.
“I had such a wonderful experience—finishing my bachelor’s and getting my master’s at Saint Leo,” Franklin said. “I knew that if I could do it, she could do it. She’s smarter than me; she has to be because she’s the one I always go to for advice—her and my mom, who I am working on getting her degree next! But everything I have done in life has aimed to make Baba proud.”
Franklin said he will be waiting when she someday crosses the commencement stage with flowers and a big, proud hug.
Boone’s higher education was delayed by life—a life that started on July 12, 1937, in Mobile, AL. Born at 2½ pounds and delivered at home by a midwife, Boone said she was so tiny, her mother placed her in a shoe box. “She fed me with a medicine dropper,” Boone said. “I must have been strong enough to say, ‘I’m not going to die. I’m going to stay here.’ ”
Following high school graduation, she enrolled at Alabama State University-Mobile and then transferred to Alabama State University in Montgomery to pursue a degree in home economics with a minor in sociology. She studied there for a year and a half and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
“Then I got married,” she said. “My husband promised that we were not going to have children right away.” But along came a daughter, Pamela. As her husband was in the U.S. Navy, they traveled, and his last assignment was at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach.
“I have three daughters,” Boone said with pride. “Pamela Franklin, Lottie Smith, and Jada Lee.”
Her love of home economics served her well as she worked as a manager for Sewing Circle Fabrics and a department store for several years. She also would go to schools and teach children how to sew.
“Then my husband became deathly ill and passed away,” Boone said. “I had three little girls to take care of. I had to work more than one or two jobs, and I still was taking in sewing [jobs].”
She started her own business, The Finishing Touches, creating crafts to sell. Then in 1978, she started working at the Virginia Beach Police Department, as a precinct desk officer. She retired after 28 years with the department.
“I did entering into the computer, searching women when the officers brought them in, fingerprinting, and taking photo IDs of the people who were arrested,” she said. “I did quite a bit to keep the people calm when they were brought in. They are not in the best temper. I spent a lot of time just talking to them and explaining ‘this isn’t the end of your world.’ ”
After she retired, “I became a wedding planner,” she said. “I make clothes, and I do flower arrangements. I’m quitting all of that so I can concentrate on all my classes.”
As for her girls, “Pamela went in the Army. Lottie got a scholarship to Virginia Tech, and Jada graduated from high school and now works in 911 communications,” Boone said. “I did not allow my girls to say ‘I can’t.’ They said, ‘I’ll try.’ ”
She said her daughters were not in favor of her returning to school at first as they thought it was too much for her to tackle. Two years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It wasn’t what I had planned to do,” Boone said. “I had to go through chemo, radiation, the whole works. I am now cancer free.”
She wanted to get that bachelor’s degree. “I wanted to go back; I enjoyed it,” she said. “It was so hard. But being my age at the time, I needed more help.”
Mathematics faculty member Edmond Frost assisted her by arranging for a math tutor. She had to take last semester off, but is back at her studies with some help from faculty and staff.
“I’m not too old,” Boone said. “I work out. I take care of me. But I can’t stay away from chocolate. I grab a Tootsie Roll in the morning.”
Her dream is to encourage other older people to become students. “I want to talk to seniors and let them know it’s never too late. I trust God. God is my source. I was a chaplain at Unity Church of Tidewater. Even when I go to church, people say, ‘I heard you were going back to school.’ You’ve got that right!”
What she may do with her degree remains unknown, but she does enjoy mentoring young people. One thing is for sure for Boone: “I am going to put my diploma on the wall by my family’s pictures and thank God every day that I finished.”
With most Americans spending the majority of their waking hours at work, colleagues can start to become like family. There are work wives and work husbands, brothers and sisters, and even second moms and dads in the workplace.
For some Saint Leo alumni, the definition of a work family takes on added meaning. At PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), many alumni continue to experience Saint Leo’s family-like culture by working together at the Tampa location of the multinational professional services firm, which focuses on audit and assurance, tax, and consulting services. The relationship started with one student about 10 years ago.
Dr. Passard Dean, professor of accounting and finance at Saint Leo, was looking for a way to provide more internship and job opportunities for students. When one student was able to secure a full-time position at PwC after graduation, he asked if she would be willing to help recommend other qualified graduates for jobs.
“All it took was one student who was willing to help make Saint Leo a better place,” Dean said. “Because of her willingness to help, countless students have benefited.”
Today Saint Leo participates in a unique internship program with PwC. Dean and Dr. Daniel Tschopp, professor of accounting, work with recruiters from PwC to identify students for its internship program, which often leads to full-time employment after graduation. Each year about eight to 10 seniors participate, receiving exposure to accounting work in a variety of sectors.
Kara Ennis ’18, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting this spring, is one of them. After graduation, her internship led to a full-time position working with several other Saint Leo alumni.
“It is nice because we were able to come into the organization and already know some familiar faces,” Ennis said. “I didn’t feel out of place. We have each others’ backs, and everyone is so willing to help.”
Ashley Dudney ’18, who also graduated with Ennis and received a bachelor’s degree in accounting, works next to Ennis in the office. She has a Saint Leo alumna as her supervisor, Johana Beltran-Cantu ’15.
“Having a supervisor who went to the same school as you is helpful,” Dudney said. “She knows the curriculum we learned and understands what it was like to go through the program. It’s also inspiring. I look at her and think, ‘That could be me in two years.’”
Beltran-Cantu, who has been with PwC for three years, agrees with Dudney about the value of working with other alumni. She says there’s something special about Saint Leo graduates when it comes to work ethic. They stand out in a crowd.
“If you earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Saint Leo, then I know you had to work hard to be where you are today,” Beltran-Cantu said.
While they may all have different job responsibilities at PwC, Ennis, Dudney, and Beltran-Cantu all agree that working with other alumni adds a special touch to their daily work.
“It’s very much like a community, which is a Saint Leo value,” Dudney said. “We’re all used to living the Saint Leo values and that translates to how we work together here.”
The natural desire for families to do things together makes it unsurprising that many often choose to learn together, too. Each year, Saint Leo serves as the choice university for myriad families. There are generations who have studied here and others who have gone to school together at the same time.
In this story, we profile just some of Saint Leo’s family connections.
Family overcomes obstacles to achieve education goals
Family plays a pivotal role in the lives of Mercy and Luis Figueroa, of Spring Hill, FL. The couple juggled military deployments, work, family commitments, and studying while earning their degrees at Saint Leo.
“My story starts rough, but ends in the American dream,” Mercy said.
Mercy was born in Havana, Cuba, where her father was held as a political prisoner. Helped by the Catholic Church, her family made their way first to Spain and then to New York, leaving Cuba when Mercy was a toddler.
“The Catholic Church has been involved in my whole life,” she said. “It’s pretty awesome I got to go to Saint Leo.”
She grew up in Brooklyn while Luis grew up in the Bronx. “I took a long train ride to find a boyfriend,” she said. “He was a tall football player with a lot of hair, but I destroyed all the hair!”
Luis joined the U.S. Army first and then encouraged Mercy to get involved. She served in the Army for four years until her daughter Gabby was born prematurely at 24 weeks with cerebral palsy and other health issues.
“She decided as much as she loved the military, she loved her daughter more,” Luis said, and Mercy left the Army to care for Gabby.
Mercy transitioned from active duty military to being a supportive military spouse. Luis, a staff sergeant, left active duty in October 2014, and retired from the military this summer. He was often deployed, and Mercy took care not only of Gabby, but also sons Isaac, who is a junior at Saint Leo, and Connor, a high school senior. “We adopted Connor from the foster care system,” Mercy said.
Luis was stationed in Fort Lewis, WA, and while deployed in Iraq, he read about Saint Leo. “It piqued my interest,” he said. “Then I came down here and realized the campus was close [to the family home in Spring Hill].” In 2011, he began his first semester at Saint Leo, but again was deployed on a high-priority mission and had to take a break. But in fall 2014, he started again and never turned back.
Mercy tried to go to college “a million times,” she said. “Once I got Gabby medically stable, I started.” Luis encouraged her to join him at Saint Leo, and she earned her associate degree in 2016.
The university felt like home. “Once I heard about Saint Leo’s history, the diversity and inclusion, at a time when they didn’t have to accept other races, cultures, that is what made me love it,” Mercy said. “There are people from everywhere at Saint Leo. It is such a great place.”
The Figueroas not only have son Isaac studying at Saint Leo, but Mercy’s sister, Heavenly Aguilar, graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice-criminalistics at the Tampa commencement ceremony on May 31. She now is pursuing a master’s degree.
Mercy graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice-criminalistics, while Luis also graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration-technology management.
For Mercy, what’s next is pursuing a law degree at the University of Mississippi School of Law, while Luis will complete his MBA at Saint Leo in December.
A family finds their home at Saint Leo
The U.S. Air Force brought the Blackman family to Florida, but Saint Leo University provided a home away from home for them. For Derrick and Kimberly Blackman and their son Elijah, Saint Leo offered the opportunity to study together, lean on each other, and cheer for each other—in the classroom and on the basketball court.
The family moved to Tampa from Colorado in 2000 when Derrick Blackman was transferred to MacDill Air Force Base. While on active duty with the Air Force, Derrick took a class at Saint Leo and enjoyed it. From there, it was on to pursuing a degree.
Derrick graduated from Saint Leo in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in religion. Next up was Elijah, who enrolled after Saint Leo representatives visited Wesley Chapel (FL) High School during his senior year there. It took a little while longer for Kimberly. “About two years later, my husband encouraged me to enroll,” she said. “He said, ‘You’ve already got your associate degree, and Saint Leo is an awesome institution for getting a quality education.’ And it was great! I’m so grateful.”
Not only did Derrick encourage Kimberly, but he also pursued a master’s degree in theology. In 2017, the Blackmans graduated with Kimberly and Elijah receiving their diplomas together at the Saint Leo WorldWide commencement. Derrick received his master’s degree the next day during the morning graduate program commencement, where he also performed the national anthem.
“It was a great honor and privilege to be able to graduate the same year,” Derrick said. “It was even greater for me as husband and father to witness both my wife and son graduate from [Saint Leo] at the same time. The experience was extremely humbling.”
Now, Derrick teaches at Saint Leo as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology.
Kimberly graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and now is working toward a master’s in human services administration at Saint Leo.
Elijah, who played basketball for the Lions and served as a University Ministry Mentor, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in sport business. After completing an internship at the University of South Carolina, he now is a graduate assistant for sports strength and conditioning at the University of Arkansas.
Graduating from Saint Leo with his parents made an impression on Elijah. “I thought it was incredible to be able to sit next to my mom during graduation and see my dad walk across the very same stage less than 24 hours later,” he said. “Graduating at the same time as your parents doesn’t happen too often.”
Derrick and Kimberly’s other son, Donovan, graduated from aviation school in 2015 and is working in Arizona. And while they tried to persuade daughter Kandice to attend Saint Leo, she did not want to attend college with her parents and brother. She is enrolled Trinity College of Florida in New Port Richey.
Twin brothers choose same major and graduate together
Two recent grads from the Class of 2018 are not only twins, but they also graduated with the same major and held equivalent jobs as residence hall advisors. In another family connection, they are the sons of Sandy and Dr. Okey Igbonagwam, a Saint Leo assistant professor of computer information systems in Virginia.
As an employee, Igbonagwam is eligible for the university’s tuition remission benefit, which is a big plus in helping families pay for college. While the financial benefit was certainly a factor in the decision, Igbonagwam said his sons were also drawn to Saint Leo by the appeal of University Campus. “First impressions matter,” according to Chidozie and Chigozie. They also liked the academics, and both have wanted to be doctors since they were small. That made the biology major with a specialization in biomedical and health sciences a natural fit. The major is offered only at University Campus.
So, the twins came to Florida and got involved with the Pre-Medical Club, the student-run fundraisers for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and research projects with faculty mentors. Since graduation, both have taken the Medical College Admission Test and are hoping to be admitted to medical school.
Despite deferring their dreams, couple graduates together
When Sherryl Johnson-Tandy and her husband Erik Tandy walked across the commencement stage together on the evening of Friday, April 27, it was a little out of the ordinary. Sherryl, a corporal in the Pasco County (FL) Sheriff’s Office, completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice. So she was grouped with the other adult learners receiving undergraduate degrees in the evening.
Her husband Erik was also graduating with a Saint Leo degree, but his was the Master of Business Administration. The MBA grads are a big group, and are scheduled for the Saturday morning ceremony of commencement weekend, along with those who have attained graduate degrees in other disciplines. But Erik was switched to Friday night at his request so that he and Sherryl could walk across the stage together to celebrate their joint accomplishment.
It was no easy road for the two. They had long wanted to reach these educational goals, but raised a family, so they waited for everyone to be grown and out of the house. It did not quite work out that way. As they went to school, and worked, circumstances required that they also tend often to three grandchildren, ages 5, 8, and 9.
Sherryl has a memory of both the adults studying at night, and then Erik “waking me up from sleeping on my computer.” And she often did the same for him. When their finals were over, she said, it was a blessing to don their robes and receive their diplomas together.
Whether you are among our newest alumni or have not been active within the alumni association, here are some details to know:
The alumni association is led by the board of directors, which holds open nominations every January. Eight to 10 positions open each July as current members’ terms expire.
Homecoming weekend is held the first weekend in November at University Campus and is a great opportunity to reconnect with former classmates or to expand your network.
A variety of alumni events are held throughout the country, including happy hours, professional networking, community service projects, and outings to local sporting events. Bring a friend or come on your own. Either way, you will be glad you came.
Regional alumni chapters provide a great opportunity to get involved with Saint Leo right in your own backyard. Don’t see your city listed? Contact the Alumni Engagement office to find out how to start a chapter.
Note from the from the Alumni Association President
A special welcome to the Class of 2018! You are now a valued member of our Saint Leo University Alumni Association family.
We encourage all 93,000 alumni around the globe to actively support our many activities and programs; stay connected with the latest news and happenings on our website and social media channels; join your fellow alumni during networking and chapter events; and give back your time, talents, and treasures in support of our university. Visit your alumni website—your.saintleo.edu—to learn more.
I also would like to recognize and thank this year’s Saint Leo University Alumni Association Board of Directors for their dedication to our mission. Together, we are working to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between Saint Leo University and alumni. We hope our leadership actions, volunteerism, and giving inspires all alumni to engage and support our alma mater.
Saint Leo Launches a New Online Career Platform
Saint Leo Career Services is excited to announce the launch of Handshake, the go-to career services platform for Saint Leo alumni and students. The new online site offers several resources for alumni and students who are looking for career guidance, seeking a new job, or looking to find that perfect new employee.
Schedule an appointment with one of our career advisors (phone, video conference, or in person)
Easily search for jobs using an upgraded tool
Read different career profiles
As a prospective employer, you can:
Share job postings
Announce internship opportunities
Connect with students and alumni as a mentor
Alumni Chapters are Growing
We are excited to welcome the Virginia Peninsula Alumni Chapter and the Virginia Southside Alumni Chapter to the pride! If you are in the Tidewater, VA, or Tampa Bay, FL, area, be sure to check out the alumni chapter events for great opportunities to network, participate in service projects, and have fun. Chapters will also be forming in Ocala, FL; Savannah, GA; and Jacksonville, FL, this fall.
Dr. Douglas M. “Doug” Astolfi, professor emeritus of history, passed away on June 14, 2018, at his home. He was 75 and had been ill with kidney cancer. He joined Saint Leo in 1997 as vice president of academic affairs, following a progression of administrative and teaching positions at other institutions.
He taught history courses at all levels and was a specialist in American history and modern Chinese history. At the end of April, the Saint Leo Board of Trustees awarded him the title of professor emeritus in recognition of his work elevating the stature of the university and enriching the lives of Saint Leo students.
Dr. Astolfi was known as a challenging but supportive teacher and mentor who kept in touch with many of his students.
Bill Shelden’s employment brings him to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, a place known historically for space exploration missions, and now more for rocket launches. Shelden, an Air Force veteran of 24 years’ service, continues as a civilian employee for the Air Force, working around technology and hardware.
Yet that is only one dimension of his work life on this coastal outcropping.
Shelden tends spiritually to the population laboring nearby at Port Canaveral (pictured below). They are people who work for luxury cruise ships, on maritime cargo vessels, in port operations, and sometimes for the U.S. Coast Guard at this deep-water berth. Their jobs are essential, not glitzy. Their means are few. They can be isolated from families, from houses of worship, and may be oceans away from their homelands. To these souls, Shelden (MA ’15, theology) is Deacon Bill.
He is part of the team at Space Coast Seafarers Ministry, a non-denominational Christian ministry that provides spiritual nourishment and many practical resources to an underserved population. Often, Deacon Shelden leads people in prayer either in groups or individually; he generally reads some Scripture and then provides reflection.
The encounters can be much more informal, just him and a person from the port. “The one-on-one interaction can be powerful as well. We pray together, talk, shoot a game of pool, I even help them fill out job applications or prepare for interviews,” he says.
If circumstances permit, Shelden would like soon to begin offering specifically Catholic services through his role with a professional Catholic association called Apostleship of the Sea. (Catholic Charities of Central Florida is helping this effort by seeking space at the port where Catholic services could take place.) As an ordained permanent deacon, Shelden can fulfill many functions important to Catholics. A permanent deacon may assist a priest during Mass (a priest is required to preside), conduct baptisms, be a witness to marriages, and lead wakes or funeral services so long as Masses are not involved.
Often, though, a lay public that is not accustomed to spending time with deacons can get caught up in formal particulars of the office and miss an essential aspect of this calling. And that is the way deacons can serve the Church by offering a compassionate presence in the secular world, beyond the confines and routines of their own parishes and neighborhoods.
As Shelden explains about his work at the port, “It is a chance to meet and interact with people who don’t have a spiritual home. My heart goes out to these people who work on ships. They don’t have a family, some of them.”
He is touched also by the young people he meets serving in the Coast Guard and carrying weighty responsibilities. “A lot of them are between 18 and 25,” says Shelden, who is 55. “They go out on law enforcement actions and they see things that would scare an older person.”
Shelden is quick to point out that he is not a certified counselor. His identity as defined by the Church is that of a faithful, caring servant, and he brings an appropriate demeanor to the mission. “I just try to be as authentic as I can. My wife [Wendy] says people gravitate toward me because I am natural and accepting.”
No doubt, those qualities would help make a faithful Catholic man a possible candidate for the diaconate, as the Catholic religious order of deacons is sometimes called.
There is much more required, though, to become a permanent Catholic deacon, and depending on the diocese, the process can take five or six years. (Men who are on the road to priesthood in the Catholic Church are ordained as transitional deacons.) Ordaining married men as permanent deacons is widely accepted, and the couples are generally expected to enter the formation process together. This involves years of spiritual discernment and reflection for the couples, with each member praying and thinking deeply about their own and their family’s relationship with God.
A deacon candidate must develop pastoral skills during the period, too.
For instance, Shelden served in the prison ministry at his county jail for a year. Inmates awaiting trial or serving sentences of one year or less could request individual pastoral services (as well as attend service or Bible study). Shelden still recalls visiting inmates and listening to their stories, and inviting them into prayer about their situations. “What they have been through is so disheartening,” Shelden says. “These are people who have a lot of problems but don’t have any avenue for getting things fixed.”
The training of deacons further includes an academic element so that they have the theological grounding they will need in their service. It is up to each diocese to determine how this will be done. Saint Leo University offers the Master of Arts in theology program to several dioceses in Florida and in some other states for this purpose. (While the MA is typically offered online, dioceses that enroll their deacon-candidate groups with Saint Leo are provided with classes taught at their sites by a faculty member.)
Candidates must complete the 36-credit-hour graduate program before they can be ordained. So far, 250 men in diaconal formation have completed the MA, and 140 more are enrolled.
As rigorous as that is, upon ordination into the clergy, permanent deacons may find life opening up to even more new and unexpected ways to walk in the spirit of Christ. Catholic permanent deacons are expected to be deacons all the time, so, at his paying job at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Shelden is expected to carry out his duties and work with colleagues in a manner reflective of his relationship with God. At his parish, he and fellow deacons sometimes fulfill other specific tasks at the request of the parish priest, such as delivering the homily (sermon) during Mass, or assisting with added Masses for holidays.
Life unfolds. Deacons are asked to help, or find themselves equipped and in positions to help. “That’s part of the excitement of living a life in service to Christ.”
Roaring Onward is a recognition program established by the Saint Leo University Alumni Association to celebrate outstanding alumni who have graduated within the past 10 years. Selection is based on professional success, contribution to their communities, and living the university’s core values. Recipients possess the qualities that embody the spirit of Saint Leo and a commitment to further strengthen their alumni community. They are Lions who are truly making a difference!
Michael Lydon ’07 is the director of North American Talent Acquisition for INC Research/inVentiv Health, a fully integrated bio-pharmaceutical solutions organization in the market. In his role, Lydon leads a department of 40-plus managers and recruiters who are responsible for hiring more than 1,500 employees in North America and 3,500 employees globally. He regularly participates in a number of local community charities, including the Pancreatic Cancer Center, Trinity Cafe, and Hope Children’s Home. His most memorable Saint Leo moment was when he first met his wife, Jamie (Porrevecchio) Lydon ’08. Given the university’s diversity, Lydon credits Saint Leo for helping him learn how to collaborate and communicate with individuals from all over the world. These invaluable skills have accelerated his success and enabled him to make a positive impact in the corporate world.
Latoya Gary ’11, MBA ’13 is a senior accountant for the Marion County (FL) Public Schools finance department. She plays a vital role in the day-to-day operations of the district—from handling budget preparations to analyzing financial data. She participates in United Way fundraisers hosted by the district and regularly volunteers at church by serving on the Hospitality Committee. Her favorite Saint Leo memory is the networking receptions. While she attended Saint Leo online, these receptions allowed her to network and meet new friends.
Sherman Milton III ’13 is a Realtor® for Florida Heritage Real Estate Group in Dade City (FL). Since joining the real estate world, he has helped many first-time buyers fulfill their dreams of becoming homeowners. Being one of the youngest agents in his association, he has a busy work schedule, but he still finds time to give back to his community. During his free time, he tutors at the Boys and Girls Club and mentors for the Pasco Education Foundation. Milton’s favorite memory of Saint Leo is his SERVE (Students Engaged in Rewarding Volunteering Experiences) trip to Ecuador during his freshman year. There he had the opportunity to teach English and computer skills at a local school.
Kimberly Patterson ’15 is a crime scene technician with the Lakeland (FL) Police Department. She works in all aspects of criminal investigation, including forensics, crime scene investigation/reconstruction, forensic photography, and courtroom testimony. Patterson has received numerous meritorious service awards from the Lakeland Police Department, and she actively participates in community projects sponsored by the department. She says that Saint Leo’s core values create a foundation upon which students can build to become morally responsible professionals and leaders.
Jeri D. Prophet ’13 is the founder and CEO of lntellecTechs, Inc., a Virginia Beach (VA) firm specializing in a full range of information technology products and services. Prophet has been recognized for numerous awards, including the 2015 Still Hope Foundation’s Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, the 2014 Entrepreneurial Excellence Honoree, the 2012 Women in Business Honoree, the 2012 Still Serving Award, and the 2009 Top Forty Under 40 Honoree. A service disabled veteran, Prophet started NowHiringVeterans.com, a free veteran/employer matching job placement service website. Her favorite Saint Leo memory is walking into Professor Elliott Seagraves’ music class and realizing Professor Seagraves was as passionate about music as she was about computers, and there would be no leaving early.
Jesse Suarez ’11 is a second-year internal medicine resident at Brandon (FL) Regional Hospital. Following completion of his residency training, he plans to enroll in a fellowship in cardiovascular medicine. Born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, he is engaged with community-based activities involving the American Medical Association and his residency program. He also volunteers frequently with the American Heart Association. Following completion of his training, he plans to return to the Tampa Bay area and serve his community as a cardiologist. Suarez says his favorite Saint Leo memory was being a member of the baseball team, through which he formed lasting relationships with his coaches and teammates, and served as captain during his junior and senior seasons. To Suarez, being a Saint Leo Lion means being a part of a collective that embodies the university’s core values.
Brendan Cahill ’10 is the senior manager for Payer Marketing and Strategy at Valeant Pharmaceuticals, in Bridgewater, NJ. He is an active member in Team Red, White & Blue, an organization whose mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. Cahill’s proudest professional moment is when he placed first in his class in Basic Training with the National Guard. In fact, he is still active in the Guard and serves as the executive officer of his unit, with the rank of first lieutenant. His fondest memories of his time at Saint Leo are playing on the lacrosse team and creating lifelong friends.
In 2008, at age 23, LaVita Rodriguez ’15, ’17 was paralyzed in a car accident. That transformative moment led her to change her outlook on life.
Today, Saint Leo University’s core values are an integral part of her. “I am a true believer,” she said of the core values such as community and responsible stewardship. “We studied that constantly. The core values guide me in life: I use them to stay on the right path and help others as a part of fulfilling both my personal and professional goals.”
After she graduated from high school, she worked for a law firm. “Something in me told me to go back to school,” she said. “That led to Saint Leo; you just get so much out of higher education because it provides you with the ability to make positive changes in the world around you.”
She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in business with a concentration in management in 2015 through the Center for Online Learning. She completed her MBA in December 2016 and officially will receive her degree on April 29.
The accident and her experience at Saint Leo fostered a desire to give back to her community. Rodriguez now volunteers at Tampa General Hospital (TGH) in pediatrics. It is the hospital where she was treated following her life-changing accident. “I want to give back to the hospital that saved my life that night in March ,” she said.
“Volunteering is my way of showing appreciation and gratitude for life and the doctors and nurses who continue to keep me healthy so that I may continue to pursue my dreams and spend time with my supportive family and close friends.”
Rodriguez is at TGH with the pediatric patients weekly. “I’m there to alleviate stress and loneliness that have the potential to generate anxiety and depression,” she said. “When the kids are there by themselves, giving them positive stimulation helps them cope with the unfortunate situation they are experiencing.”
She also takes care of the physicians and nursing staff who took care of her. “I bring them cake pops as a small gesture of my unending gratitude,” she said, laughing. “And who doesn’t love cake?”
Her love of children extends beyond the hospital setting. She has several nieces and nephews who want her undivided attention when she is not volunteering or studying. She is prepping for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and plans to attend law school so that she may “give children a voice” as a human rights, family, and health care attorney. “I believe it will be incredibly gratifying to help our future generations live a happier and healthier life by bridging gaps that have the potential to deteriorate one’s quality of life,” she said.
Rodriguez hopes to take her quest for children’s rights to Washington, DC.
The desire to help children and trips to India resulted in a visit to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity Orphanage. “I love India,” she said. ”It makes me more appreciative for ancient wisdom that deepened my spiritual views. I also like to give back wherever I go. It shows humility and develops unity in diversity that fosters an abundance of love, happiness, compassion, and peace.”
In the United States, “We are blessed,” Rodriguez said. “You can drive around and not see kids on the streets. [In India], you see kids begging. But many still are smiling ear to ear. Why? Because it is not a materialistic culture, but a spiritual one that focuses on values. This is not only inspiring, but also truly beautiful.”
Wherever her travels take her, Rodriguez always stops by a cathedral to pray. And she tries to do some volunteering while vacationing.
“You leave a little piece of you there whenever you do something like that,” she said. “You are supposed to help others. I will never forget these experiences.”
Almost losing her life had a tremendous impact. “It pushed me. I just have a different view of life,” she said. “[My] having a lower-level spinal cord injury is minor. I could have died. I feel like I got a second chance, and I need to use it. To waste it would be such a mistake. God has placed these dreams in my heart and is clearing my path to fulfill them while driving me to act in a way that serves others.” •
In 2015-2016, the Saint Leo University Alumni Association established a new recognition program to celebrate outstanding alumni who have graduated within the past 10 years. Selection is based on professional success, contribution to their communities, and living the university’s core values. Recipients possess the qualities that embody the spirit of Saint Leo and a commitment to further strengthen their alumni community. They are Lions who are truly making a difference!
Nicholas DeMarinis ’05 is a regional business leader at LinkedIn in Hong Kong. He leads multiple sales teams across Asia within LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions division and regularly speaks at local universities about the importance of building your professional brand. He volunteers at local homeless shelters and is a regional lead for the Movember Foundation. DeMarinis’ favorite Saint Leo memory is when he tried out for the men’s golf team. He didn’t make the team, but the golf coach, Art Kirk III ’99, ’03, created a second team for him and a few others who hadn’t made the team because Coach Kirk wanted to help develop their golf skills. “Being a Saint Leo alumnus is more than just a diploma. It’s being a part of a group of individuals who chose to be part of school that is run like a family.”
Bobby Edwards ’09, MBA ’13 is a chief transportation officer at Kansas City Area Transit in Kansas City, MO. He manages a $30 million budget and is responsible for more than 500 employees. Edwards credits much of his success and ability to accomplish his career goals to his studies while at Saint Leo. “The professors prepared me for my current position and were major contributors to my success. Their hands-on teaching style and the way they incorporated their real-life experience into their courses prepared me for the real world.”
Kristen Claus ’12, MBA ’13 is a special events manager at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC. She is a member of the Northern Virginia Junior League, volunteers at community 5K races, and has run the Marine Corps Marathon. Claus’ favorite Saint Leo memories are the hot weather and the Dining Hall (aka “the caf”). “When I think back on my experience as a student, I remember the people the most. I remember how caring and encouraging they were and how they helped me achieve my goals as a student. That kind attitude is something I try to pass along in my everyday life, and I feel honored to be a Saint Leo alumna.”
Daniel Torres ’14 is a catcher for professional baseball team the Modesto Nuts in Modesto, CA. The Modesto Nuts are part of the Seattle Mariners minor-league system. Torres’ favorite Saint Leo memory is being a part of the Saint Leo baseball team. He remembers the team having great camaraderie on and off the field. His advice? “Use the knowledge you’ve gained from Saint Leo, whether in the classroom or on the field/court, to achieve your dreams and aspirations.”
Amanda Davis ’07 is an academic advising coordinator at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO. During her career she has received multiple awards for being an outstanding faculty member and staff supervisor. Davis is an active member of St. Joseph Catholic Parish in Golden. She volunteers as the chapter advisor for the Delta Psi chapter of Alpha Sigma Tau and also actively volunteers with Habitat for Humanity in Denver and Habitat for Humanity International. Last summer, she hiked 75 miles and raised more than $3,000 for Operation Nine Line, a group that supports veterans and their families. She has many favorite Saint Leo memories; however, being initiated into Alpha Sigma Tau is at the top of the list. “Being a Saint Leo alumna has provided me with lifelong friendships and connections.”
Alicia Waldon ’07, MBA ’15 is the director of Enrollment Marketing for Saint Leo University in St. Leo, FL. She is responsible for attracting future students to all of the university’s locations. She volunteers as an advisor for Love Your Melon Student Ambassadors at Saint Leo, an apparel brand run by college students across the country on a mission to give a hat to every child battling cancer in America. Waldon’s favorite Saint Leo memory is reinstating Theta Phi Alpha at the university. She is proud of the women who came together, empowered through education, to develop leadership skills and give back to the community. “I didn’t realize the footprint of Saint Leo when I was a traditional student on campus. As an alumna, I really appreciate the network that is available, the many Saint Leo locations, and the reach that online learning can provide.”
Nikki Collins ’09 is the director of Catering at Disney ABC in New York, NY. She also serves as a regional marketing champion for Restaurant Associates, providing marketing expertise for several locations throughout New York City. She is diligent about the professional development of her staff, encouraging them to excel and guiding them as they seek new professional opportunities. Collins spends her free time hanging out with her dog, Toby, in Brooklyn. “Being a Saint Leo alumna is something that has always defined my path in my career and personal life. The work ethic and ambition required to succeed as a young manager in New York City takes a great deal of respect for others and serious commitment to excellence and personal development.”
Amber Loring ’06, MBA ’07 is a client service manager for the Newport Group in Tampa, FL. She has actively volunteered in her community for more than 10 years, dedicating time to the Ronald McDonald House and as a member of a pet therapy team that visits patients at VA hospitals in the area. She also implemented a pet therapy program for the chapter of the SPCA in Greensboro, NC. Loring has many fond memories of Saint Leo, but her favorite is when the bagpipes started to play as she walked to the Bowman Center for her undergraduate commencement. “As a Saint Leo alumna, I practice the core values in every aspect of my life, both personal and professional. I love to spread the word about our amazing university, and I love to share the positive experiences I had as a student.”
Rebecca McDearmon ’08 is a program lead for Southwest Airlines in the training department of SWA University in Dallas, TX. She trains company employees in customer relations/rapid rewards, second-tier customer support, and other specialty training. McDearmon’s work has been recognized throughout the organization, and she has received numerous company awards for the training programs she has led. She regularly volunteers at charitable organizations such as Goodwill Industries, Meals on Wheels, Ronald McDonald House, and the Salvation Army. McDearmon’s favorite Saint Leo memory is freshman orientation. Even though she was nervous, she was more excited to meet new friends and navigate the course of her future. “Being a Saint Leo alumna means being part of a community rather than just attending a college. The friends you make while at Saint Leo will be yours for life.”
Jessica O’Keefe ’10, MBA ’12 is an associate director of Client Management in Transaction Banking at Standard Chartered Bank in New York, NY. During her 5+ years with the company, she has earned multiple excellence awards for her leadership of the bank’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, including “Most Progress” and “Excellence for Gender Inclusion.” She climbed Mount Kenya for the bank’s charitable initiative “Seeing Is Believing,” raising more than $20,000 for children’s cataract surgery in India. She is also a catechism teacher for the Narnia Clubs in New York City, tutoring young students who are preparing to receive their Holy Confirmation. Her fondest memory of her time at Saint Leo was partaking in the annual spring break SERVE trips.
When abused, abandoned, or neglected children need an advocate, Guardian ad Litem (GAL) child advocates are there to help. These volunteers collaborate with an attorney and a child advocacy manager from the GAL Program to work with families, child protective agencies, and the courts to ensure the best interests of the affected children are served. The advocates visit the children monthly, attend periodic staffing meetings and court hearings, and help ensure that the children receive all the necessary services they need.
Jon White, a Saint Leo student working toward a Bachelor of Social Work degree at the Adult Education Center at the Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC) location in New Port Richey, FL, is one such advocate. A Marine Corps veteran, he works for Veterans Affairs in the combat counseling center, but he also finds time to volunteer for the Guardian ad Litem program. White makes it a point to attend court hearings, explaining that “in court, I can speak directly to the judge.” White noted that his main goal is assessing each situation and recommending what is best for the children involved.
Dr. Marguerite McInnis, chair of Saint Leo’s Department of Social Work, first told White about the program. He agreed to get involved but did not expect it to be long term for him. However, two years later, he said that “Once you see what it’s all about, you find it therapeutic.” He observed, “You learn about yourself—you find out what is important to you. Nothing else points out what you have, what you take for granted, more profoundly than watching someone lose everything.”
Linda Poulette ’15, who earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree fromthe Adult Education Center PHSC location in Spring Hill, FL, is also a GAL child advocate. Helping others has always been a passion of hers, she explained. “I have seen so many unfortunate children in our community and in other countries, too. I thought, ‘What can one person do to help?’ Working through Guardian ad Litem, I can help those children. They deserve to be heard.”
Poulette assures the families she is working with that she is not a 9-to-5 person—she is a volunteer and is available to them as much as possible.
She appreciates that the GAL program offered her excellent training and continues to provide invaluable support. “It is an honor to be part of a team that strives to make a difference in the children who are abused, neglected, and abandoned. By being their voice, I strive to bring hope, happiness, love, and security, giving them a brighter future. My goal is to provide a road map, to educate the biological parents and keep the family together. However, sometimes this is not possible and the parents are not willing or ready to make that change.”
There are more than 900 abused, abandoned, and neglected children in the Pasco County dependency court system, so the Guardian ad Litem program is always in need of dedicated volunteers.
What advice do White and Poulette have for those interested becoming a GAL volunteer? “Children need you,” Poulette said. “And knowing that you help make a difference in an innocent child’s life will be the greatest reward you could receive. You can make a difference.”
“Just do it,” White added. “This is a good outlet for anyone who needs to give themselves a quiet purpose. Without Guardian ad Litem, things would not turn out well for a lot of kids.”