ORANGE PARK – With a rich history of supporting students, the St. Johns River State College Foundation, founded in 1970, is celebrating its 50th anniversary and reflecting on the many student …
ORANGE PARK – With a rich history of supporting students, the St. Johns River State College Foundation, founded in 1970, is celebrating its 50th anniversary and reflecting on the many student success stories that have unfolded over the years. The success of Orange Park resident and SJR State alumna Laterial Curry, who works as both a mental health counselor and a family training and counseling specialist, is one of these stories the Foundation is proud to share.
A recipient of the Helios Education Foundation First Generation scholarship, Curry attended SJR State to initially earn her associate in arts degree after graduating from Orange Park High. Then, once she and her mother realized that SJR State also offered a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, they saw no reason for Curry to go elsewhere for this degree. In 2015, Curry earned her bachelor’s degree from her local college, debt-free, thanks to her scholarship award and other financial aid she received.
According to SJR State Vice President for Development and External Affairs Caroline Tingle, through community contributions, students who face significant financial hurdles are able to receive a quality education that will change their lives. “Undoubtedly, the investment made pays dividends in the years to come,” Tingle said. “We are dedicated to raising money to create scholarships for our students to begin or complete their degrees. I love helping them with the process and making them feel better. I have seen the impact that scholarships can make on one’s life. Huge financial burdens can be lifted.”
Through the SJR State Foundation, the Helios Education Foundation First Generation scholarship provided Curry tuition assistance and help to cover costs associated with textbooks and other educational materials. “It definitely helped buffer some of the costs, and I say no debt is the best debt,” Curry said.
Along with receiving a scholarship and debt-free education, building connections with other students and being amidst the diversity at SJR State were what Curry enjoyed most about her experience at the College. "I know this sounds cliché,” she said, “but the connections I made with my peers were definitely what I valued most at SJR State. I also loved the diversity I saw there. I loved seeing people twice my age, along with people my age and those who were just a little bit older than me, part-time students, full-time students, people who had gone back to school... I really enjoyed that,” Curry said, adding that she has stayed in touch with many of her cohorts.
After graduating from SJR State, Curry worked as a public school substitute teacher, followed by teaching at the Broach School of Orange Park, where Curry realized that she wanted to continue working with special needs children and their families, helping “to build the connection between what it’s like being in the school system and dealing with the mental health side as well,” she said.
Curry then went on to earn her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, which led her to a year-long internship at Orange Park Medical Center, where she continues to work today.
“I'm working with people I already knew from my internship; I knew them for a year, and I love it,” said Curry. “I get to see amazing people and what mental health really looks like - seeing the stigma behind it and helping people deal with their troubles,” she continued, explaining that her role requires her to guide – not fix.
Curry’s journey now also includes working at TSI Health as a family training and counseling specialist. “I work closely with families, both adoptive and foster care, to provide education and support on their child’s special need or disability,” Curry said.
Curry couldn’t be happier with the opportunities she has to positively impact residents right in her hometown. Just as her scholarship made a significant difference in her life, Curry is grateful to now be making a significant difference in the lives of others.
“If you can stay in your community and help build your community up, I say do it,” said Curry. “I love that I was able to come full circle - live in Clay County, go to SJR State, and now work locally. But if you learn and get what you need here and then move on to somewhere else, that’s okay, too. Either way, it all matters. Just enjoy your experience, and don’t rush it.”
In addition to the Helios Education Foundation First Generation scholarship, the SJR State Foundation offers numerous additional scholarships to students who meet the criteria established by the scholarship donors. These scholarships are funded by the contributions of businesses, non-profit entities and individuals. “We invite you to share in and support our commitment to help SJR State continue its growth,” said Tingle. “Private support of our Foundation is essential to maintain access to quality and affordable education within our communities. Our donors are a gift to SJR State, and supporting our Foundation is an investment in our community and our future.” For more information, visit www.sjrstate.edu/scholarships.html.