Troy Rafferty, a trial lawyer with the Levin Papantonio Law Firm, is donating $50,000 a year for a new college scholarship. The scholarship will be awarded annually to students in Escambia County, through the Southern Sports Youth Association (SYSA), a non-profit organization that supports local youth through sports, tutoring, mentoring, and social development. The goal is to inspire students to pursue success through higher education.
“This is about hope,” said Rafferty. “Our children need to know that if they work hard and are committed to making our community better, that the money will be there for them to go to college.”
The students will receive the scholarship funds after graduating high school and meeting other criteria, like maintaining a certain GPA and performing community service. There will also be oversight by the SYSA in how the scholarship money is spent.
Many of the students who participate in the variety of activities offered by the SYSA are from low-income homes and neighborhoods struggling with crime. As a result, they face additional challenges, and often need a guiding hand. The SYSA Director, Lumon May, says the organization’s programs are designed to help students become successful athletes, students, and citizens.
“We have children in our community who just need to know somebody cares and we try to provide that for them, but it’s an uphill climb considering where they’re growing up,” said May.
According to the Florida Department of Education, Escambia County’s overall high school graduation rate for 2015-16 is 76.1 percent, just behind the statewide average of 80.7 percent.However, there’s a disparity among graduates based on race. Among white students, Escambia County’s graduation rate is 81.5 percent and among African-American students it’s 63.6 percent. May believes those numbers can improve and the community can help bridge the gap with more support for students.
“We see great success stories, but some kids get discouraged no matter how much they want to succeed, because negative influences drag them down,” explained May. “When faced with tough choices, a scholarship like the one Mr. Rafferty is providing, could be the difference that helps a child overcome and build a better life.”