This fall, more than 1 million students will attend Florida’s colleges and universities, with the many associated costs. The average student will borrow more than $7,200 each year to attend college. For Westminster Communities of Florida team members and their family members, however, a few minimum requirements and an application are all that stand between them and access to educational aid to pursue their educational goals.
Each year, Westminster’s Team Member Scholarship Fund provides more than 75 scholarships to team members throughout the state and raises more than $150,000 to support team members now and in the future.
“We have money! We have over $100,000 to distribute and we want to get rid of it,” said Ray Petty, chair of the Team Member Scholarship Fund Committee at Westminster Suncoast, our Life Plan Community in St. Petersburg.
The committee has approved nine scholarships in the last 12 months at Westminster Suncoast, just one of Westminster’s 10 Life Plan Communities. Other communities have many participants too: In 2023 alone, the Team Member Scholarship Fund distributed almost 60 scholarships and just shy of $110,000 of educational aid state-wide. In Orlando, a Certified Nursing Assistant at Westminster Towers is attending the registered nurse program at City College Orlando; Westminster St. Augustine’s Social Services and Admissions Director is taking on a Ph.D. program at Keiser University; and a Dining Server at Westminster Shores is pursuing a degree in psychology at St. Petersburg College, all with the help of the Team Member Scholarship Funds.
These funds are generous tax-deductible gifts made by residents wishing to express their appreciation for team members. Their donations provide financial aid for qualified team members to engage in post-high school educational studies at local universities, colleges and professional training centers. The scholarship also extends to family members who are financially dependent on the team member.
Registered Nurse Gabina Jean was introduced to the Team Member Scholarship Fund when her daughter Gabriella started college. Gabina has been caring for patients in the Rapid Recovery Unit at Westminster Woods on Julington Creek, our Life Plan Community in Jacksonville, since 2012, and after utilizing the fund to assist with her daughter’s college education, Gabina was encouraged to apply for the scholarship herself by one of her co-workers.
Today, both mother and daughter are pursuing advanced degrees with assistance of the Team Member Scholarship Fund. For Gabina, a Master of Science in nursing with a specialization in psychiatric mental health nursing from the University of St. Augustine, and for her daughter Gabriella, a degree in health sciences from the University of North Florida, with plans to graduate this fall. Combined they have received more than $20,000 to further their education from the community’s Team Member Scholarship Fund.
Gabina said the support of her fellow team members, supervisors, scholarship fund committee members and residents has been incredible. “The people at the community that donate the money, they come to me and say, ‘I’m so glad to see that the money I gave is helping you!‘” Gabina said.
The funds are unique in that the scholarships are not required to be used for the benefit of the organization; instead, the money is allocated to meet the educational interests of the team member.
“We approve something that the team member wants, not something that Westminster Suncoast wants,” Mr. Petty said. “In other words, what they’d like to study is what we provide the scholarship for. For example, we had a lady that did nail science and she’s having a ball with it!”
For many, receiving the Team Member Scholarship is a jumping off point for them to pursue their personal passions.
“One of the team members who works in the kitchen is getting his degree in physical therapy,” Mr. Petty said. “We also had a young lady who is a CNA (Certified Nursing Aide) who wanted to become a phlebotomist. She had to go to a special school here in Pinellas County which prepares them for the phlebotomy exam, and we paid for that. There are only 15 people admitted to the program and there were 50 applicants and she got in.”
“I feel like it’s an easy process,” college senior Gabriella said about her time applying and reapplying for the scholarship over the last three years. “There’s two short essays, three prompts, you fill out your information — it is easy to apply.”
What stands between team members and the scholarship is the application process, and having been through it multiple times, team member Gabina encouraged her coworkers to take the plunge and apply.
“I keep telling people about the scholarship, my coworkers and everybody, and most of them are afraid of the process,” she said. “Don’t overthink it. Just go and do it! Start the process and ask questions. There’s always somebody that is going to help you.”
The support for team members extends beyond financial support for recipients of the scholarship. At Westminster Suncoast, they try to pair recipients with team members or residents who have experience in the area they’re studying.
The same support resonates at our Life Plan Community 217 miles away at Westminster Woods on Julington Creek. Gabina recounted how Elaine Goleski, chair of their Team Member Scholarship Fund committee, stays in contact and routinely reaches out to offer encouragement. “She’s very involved,” Gabina said. “Residents and team members, everybody follows up! For me they are very supportive.”
At Westminster Communities of Florida, we recognize and encourage our team members’ pursuit of personal passions. With the Team Member Scholarship Fund, the 2,700 team members throughout the state and their families have the opportunity to pursue their educational goals and further their careers without the financial burden.
To join the team at Westminster Communities of Florida, serve seniors throughout the state and pursue your personal passion, find the opportunity that suits you today at https://www.WestminsterCommunitiesFL.org/careers!