JoAnn Germano is proud to see Take Stock in Children graduate Ashley Brush on the cusp of reaching her dreams.
JoAnn Germano and Flagler Palm Coast senior Ashley Brush sat together, holding hands at a conference table in the office of the Flagler County Education Foundation.
Germano has been Brush’s mentor for the past four years in the Take Stock in Children program. Their bond has grown stronger than that of a typical mentor-mentee relationship. Germano has been like a mom to Brush.
With Brush, 18, graduating, Germano fought back her emotions as she talked about their relationship.
“I'm gonna miss her,” Germano said. “Big-time miss her. But we'll keep in touch. I have to say this without crying. Ashley has grown into a beautiful, loving individual. So intelligent.”
Brush is on her way to becoming a certified EMT and firefighter. And she is headed to college to study radiology technology.
“Having mentored Ashley has been not only a godsend but an experience because of all of the trials and tribulations she has gone through,” Germano said. “It's amazing that you can watch these young kids grow, and I've watched her grow from a little kid in middle school to this butterfly.”
Brush is one of 19 FPC and Matanzas Take Stock in Children students who will receive their high school diplomas on May 28.
Take Stock in Children is a statewide non-profit that provides full college tuition for low-income students who are accepted and make it through the four-year program. The Ed Foundation facilitates the Take Stock in Flagler County.
Brush has been in FPC’s fire leadership program since she was a freshman. She is scheduled to take her EMT national registry on May 26 and her firefighter certification test at the end of next month. In the fall, she’ll enter Daytona State College’s radiography program.
Because firefighters work 24-hour shifts followed by 48 hours off, Brush will be able to pursue both careers.
“I’ll work for the Palm Coast Fire Department, and I’ll do radiology part-time, because I want those jobs,” she said. “I’m very determined to get those jobs.”
“She knows where she's going and what she's doing,” said a proud Germano. “And nobody is going to stop her.”
Brush has dreamed of being a firefighter since she was a young girl.
“I remember one time we were driving in the car, picking up my brother from school, and a firetruck rode by,” Brush said. “And I said, ‘Mom, what do you think about me being a firefighter?’ And she said, ‘Oh, you don't want to do that. That's a man's job.’ And now, I'm working with the Palm Coast Fire Department all the time. It’s very good.”
Students apply for entry into the Take Stock in Children when they are in eighth grade. Every student in the program has a financial need. Most have other risk factors, said Christy Butler, the Ed Foundation’s student services coordinator. Those can range from having a single parent to DCF involvement, she said.
“I can go to her about anything, whether it be academics or actual real-life stuff. And she’s just always been by my side through everything. She’s always pushing me to be the better me.”
Type one applicants have the fewest risk factors. Type three have the most.
“They’re barely hanging on,” Butler said of students with the most risk factors. “Their (GPA is) just 2.0. They’ve been in a little bit of trouble. They’re late to some classes, but they definitely could do better with a mentor and some of the extra layers that Take Stock provides.”
Type two students have some risk factors. Butler said about 80% of the participants can come from the type two category with 20% coming from the lower and higher risk categories.
Brush was in the type two category when she was accepted into the program.
“I grew up in a high poverty area on the west side of Jacksonville,” she said. “We didn’t have much. We grew up on food stamps. I grew up around gun violence and drug use and anything you can possibly think of, and so a lot of my family didn't go to college. My mom, she didn't finish high school. She dropped out because she got pregnant. So, just to have this opportunity is amazing.
Brush lives with her father, who is on on disability. Always a good student, she is graduating with a 3.625 unweighted GPA (4.125 weighted).
“(Take Stock) is so involved with their students, from college tours to workshops to showing you how to fill out FAFSA,” Brush said. “And they provide you a mentor, so that you stay on track. My mom's not really in the picture, and it's definitely hard growing up, especially a girl that's in her prime teenage years when you need your mother by your side. And so that's why I give so much credit to JoAnn. She's always given me advice, to never let anybody overstep you, to always be yourself, because that's what's going to make you happy at the end of the day.”
Germano, an accountant with the school district, is on Flagler County’s Take Stock in Children’s leadership committee. Brush is the fifth student she has mentored in the program. Of her first four, two graduated and two dropped out of the program.
“One of the girls I mentored said that she didn't think that she would ever go to college, and so she didn't want to hold up the scholarship for anybody else,” Germano said. “She just dropped out (of the program). As much as you want them to continue and you want them to succeed in life, you can't write their path. They have to write their own path.”
Germano stays in touch with her two students who graduated from Take Stock. One is a special education teacher who lives in Ocala, she said.
Germano said she was not matched with Brush. She selected her. Their stories seemed to match up well, and Germano thought they could help each other.
“When (Ashley Brush) interviewed, and reading her bio, I just felt that I would be a good influence on her. I'm a very strong individual. I raised three boys. My firstborn daughter, she passed away, so I really felt that Ashley and I could connect in so many different ways. And I think we did.”
“When she interviewed, and reading her bio, I just felt that I would be a good influence on her. I’m a very strong individual. I raised three boys,” Germano said. “My firstborn daughter, she passed away, so I really felt that Ashley and I could connect in so many different ways. And I think we did. I don't take much baloney throwing from any of the students. And she didn't. She was on the right track from day one.”
When Germano had lunch with Brush at school, she would look at Brush’s grades on her laptop and see mostly A’s and say, “What do you need me for?” But perhaps a few days later, Germano would receive a text from Brush, saying, “I need to talk to you right now.”
“You’re a sounding board,” Germano said. “You try to give them the advice that maybe your mom would have given you.”
Brush said Germano has filled a hole in her life, becoming a mother figure she can talk to about school and friends and relationships.
“I can go to her about anything, whether it be academics or actual real-life stuff. And she’s just always been by my side through everything,” Brush said. “She’s never looked at me differently. She’s always pushing me to be the better me.”
Butler said she recently received an email from a mentor who thanked her for the opportunity to watch the student grow into an “impressive young person.”
“But I think back to when this student was matched with this mentor and they said this student is so advanced, they have all their ducks in a row, they don’t need a mentor,” Butler said. “And I remember talking to this person and saying, ‘Those are the ones who need a mentor, but they don’t know it yet.’”
Germano’s bond with Brush has been special, but every experience she's had as a mentor has been fulfilling, she said.
“The program is extremely rewarding, because you start with somebody you do not know, and you grow together,” she said. “And you watch them through the years and see what they accomplish, and you just become very proud of them.”