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Collaboratory recently granted $1,155,834 and 164 scholarships to local high school seniors, undergraduate, graduate students and adult learners from Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties. This year, Collaboratory awarded 28 of the scholarships as multi-year awards which will continue to help the students each year towards completion.

“This scholarship season we had 663 applications submitted, which is a 51.7% increase from the previous year,” said Dr. Harrison Knight, scholarship committee chair and Collaboratory board of directors member.

“This is despite the challenges faced during the year due to a hurricane,” said Crystal Maldonado, Collaboratory scholarship coordinator. “The rise in applications this year can be greatly attributed to the additional support from FutureMakers Coalition and the networks it has in place that expanded the outreach to students across Southwest Florida.”

FutureMakers Coalition is a collective impact initiative working along the cradle to-career pathway to create a skilled and sustainable workforce pipeline. The coalition aims to transform Southwest Florida’s workforce by increasing the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees, workforce certificates, industry certifications and other high-quality credentials to 55% by 2025.

“The collaborative efforts also assisted in the recruitment of over 150 volunteer application reviewers that are a vital part of the process,” said Maldonado. “Our reviewers look forward to reviewing applications each year, and most continue for multiple years, describing it as an extremely fulfilling and humbling experience.”

“We have some amazing students in our local community and reviewers enjoy reading their stories and gaining insight about the big dreams they hope to accomplish,” said Knight.

Collaboratory is committed to making their scholarship application accessible to all students regardless of circumstances and abilities. Some examples of the scholarships available through Collaboratory are based on community service, academics, fields of study, athletics, or even students who are attending or attended a particular school.

“When I first started the process of applying for college, I didn’t know how I was going to financially afford everything like tuition, books, and all the other expenses that are associated,” said Jose Zendejas, graduate of LaBelle High School and recipient of the Patricia Means Scholarship.

Since the Patricia Means Scholarship is a four-year scholarship, Zendejas said it will help him and his family with alleviating some of the financial stresses and allow him to focus on school and take advantage of opportunities such as internships while in college.

“I didn’t think I would receive any scholarships because I was sure many other students were applying and applied because of my teacher, Ms. Mendoza. If it wasn’t for her and her inviting someone from Collaboratory to speak to us about the scholarships, I wouldn’t have known about them and how to apply,” he said.

Zendejas plans to complete his associate degree at Florida SouthWestern State College and then transfer to a university to major in business administration.

“As a kid, I have seen families working in the fields and how difficult it is. I want to be able to study business and learn how to build a company up,” he said.

Zendejas is a first-generation college student and tries to be a good example for his younger brother so that he sees that hard work pays off and can also have access to opportunities.

When asked what advice he would give other students about applying for scholarships he said it’s important to apply to all scholarships — big or small because there are many scholarships available.

“It is so meaningful to me to know that someone believed in me enough to be a scholarship recipient,” he said.

Those interested in becoming a scholarship reviewer next year or starting a scholarship fund, should contact Collaboratory at or call 239-274-5900.

Collaboratory is committed to coordinating the solving of all of Southwest Florida’s social problems —including homelessness, poverty, mental illness, racism, illiteracy and more — on an 18- year deadline. The organization plans to do this with the entire community working together, including people of all ages, colors, beliefs and imaginations across all five counties.

Collaboratory was founded in 1976 as the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. It has made over $100 million in grants since then and is home to more than 650 philanthropic funds. ¦