Category Archives: Alumni

“When I see people giving so much, it makes me want to do the same.” – Avery McClendon

School: Florida A&M University

Year: Spring 2014 – Spring 2016

House: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Scholarship House

As I reminisce through my life experience, I remember my freshman year at Edwards Water College (EWC) and how I was told that I was not able to register for classes for the spring semester. This issue was due to me being at a private college, while a balance steadily accumulated even with me taking out the full amount of loans. I went back home during the winter break with a defeated mind set, explaining to my parents that I let them down. They tried to encourage me but I let my current situation take over every ounce of hope that was in me. I searched for other avenues to pay back the school debt as well as the subsidized and unsubsidized loans.

Avery McClendon


One outlet that came to mind was joining the army and let that pay off the debt. I called a recruiter and he came out to talk to me and my mom. He sold my mom and I the story of a lifetime, expressing that this is a grand opportunity to become someone greater. He also said how this is the best way to pay off any debt that I may have. At that moment I was convinced that this is for me, and I asked him what will be my next step. He explained that I will have to take the ASVAB test the following week to see what job in the army would suit me. The next day I was doubting every decision involving going to the army. Later that day I received a phone call from my advisor at EWC and she asked why I stopped coming to school. I explained to her that a lady told me I was not able to register until I paid off my first semester balance. My advisor told me to come back, because I earned a GPA of 3.7 and I was eligible for scholarships. I expressed to her that I don’t have a way back because my original ride left a week ago. My parents were not trying to take off from work to take me to Jacksonville or the nearest greyhound station due to the time conflict. Another advisor overheard our conversation and offered to come get me from Clermont, Florida and bring me back to EWC before the last day to register, which was the next day. That night I was overwhelmed with joy thanking God for this blessing. As I traveled back to Jacksonville, I told myself to never give up no matter what it looks like at the moment. I was able to register for my classes and I receive a Tom Joyner scholarship that helped pay off my balance that spring semester.

As my journey continued, I transferred to Florida A & M University where I had the grand opportunity to be a part of the Southern Scholarship Foundation (SSF). SSF has not only molded me into a leader that wants to become better in all aspects of life, but also supported my way through college. From being the Social Chair to House Manager of the Knight House, SSF has taught me that communication is the key to everything that we do. Therefore, it is not always about the grade you make, but the hand you shake along the way. After SSF, I hope to accomplish my aspirations of becoming a Physical Therapist helping other individuals in need of assistance. I also would like to become a mentor to help teens who want to become better in life but don’t have anyone to help them.

Education for life – what is it?

E is for EXCELLENT. It is for those excellent moments that I have at SSF that guide me though any decision that I make.

is for DELIGHTFUL. The people that I met through SSF are just delightful and helpful. They have impacted me in so many ways.

is for UNBELIEVABLE. After 4 years of college, I am finally becoming the person that I wanted to be. It is unbelievable how much I have matured.

is for CONSTANT. In college, when all seems to go wrong, everyone needs one thing that never changes. This is what the house is to me. It is what kept my feet on earth.

is for ADVENTURE. Every semester requires someone to adapt to whatever comes to him or her. This is because every semester here is a new adventure. Through this process, I have gained a new set of skills.

is for THRIVING. As I see people around me thriving and progressing greatly in school, it motivates me to do the same.

is for INTELLIGENT. Intelligence doesn’t always come from what you learn in class or in the books. Sometimes, it simply comes from our interactions with others.

is for ONE HUNDRED PERCENT. I feel that the SSF community cares a lot about each other. They are 100% dedicated to me. When I see people giving so much, it makes me want to do the same.

is for NICE.

F is for FAVOR.

 O is for OPEN.


is for LIFETIME.

is for IMPACT.

is for FAMILY

is for EVERYONE. My impact on everyone and everyone impact on my life will be noticeable.


If you would like to sponsor a student like Avery, please visit our ‘Sponsor a Student’ page here:


“You are never alone once you are accepted into the Southern Scholarship Foundation.” – Isrrael Peña

Name: Isrrael Peña (SSF Alumnus)

School: University of Florida

House: Williams

Year: Fall 2011 – Spring 2016

When I was younger my parents always stressed the importance of my education. During my upbringing, they persevered for their children and worked nine-to-five jobs to provide a decent life in this country. They came to the United States in 1993 as Mexican immigrants with only a third grade education.

I have been watching them all my life, never questioning their hardship. When I reached my senior year in high school, it became time to think about college. My parents were unable to sit down with me and talk about the college process. I felt without knowing, my parents were unable to guide me. Nonetheless, with the motivation of making my family proud, I sought help from advisers and teachers. I made lasting relationships with my community as I became highly involved in high school. I was integrating myself into my community as I volunteered in campus clubs, tutored after school for work and focused on excelling in my academics.

Israel blog photo

Because I knew that my parents were unable to afford my college education, I was motivated to apply for scholarships. I also started to consider attending a community college. I knew that I’d be the first in my family to move away from home for a higher education, so I wanted to take all the precautions to ensure I was successful. At the time, the University of Florida (UF) was my dream school. I wanted to be practical and attended Santa Fe College, a community college near UF, for my associate’s degree. I had toured Santa Fe College my junior year in high school and I noticed all the resources they offered their students to become successful and transfer over to the university.

Upon my last semester in high school, I received a call from Teresa Turner, the Director of Student Affairs for Central Florida. She was calling to tell me about my acceptance into the Southern Scholarship Foundation. I was so overjoyed from receiving her call that I ran circles around my mom and told her that I had somewhere to stay for school.


SSF was my anchor. I took on SSF with such an open mind and open heart that I knew I would be gaining more than just a place to stay. I created networks, friends and connections on and around campus. SSF nurtured me into the outspoken, confident man I am today. I became too familiar with the phrase “ties that bind” because living in SSF fostered brotherhood among the house I was placed in. We cared for one another’s success.

It is a wonderful experience to see your college brothers in their senior year graduate. You are never alone once you are accepted into the Southern Scholarship Foundation. I don’t know where I would be or who’d I become without my years in SSF. The friendships, the memories, and the continuous support that the foundation provided was a privilege and a blessing.

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in Advertising, I wish to spend a year with my family. I have been away for too long and would like to enjoy the time I have with them before moving to California and working for advertising agencies there.

Sponsorship opportunities are available for you to be a part of Isrrael’s, and many others, Education for Life journey.

Learn more here:

“Living the life I lived growing up, we never really had a home, but I’m so thankful to say I have a home, and that my home is Tyner.” – Tiffany Walton

Name: Tiffany Walton (SSF Alumna)

School: University of Florida

House: Mack Tyner, Jr. Scholarship House

Year: Fall 2014 – Spring 2016

My name is Tiffany Jean Walton, and I am 19 years old, and I am from Jasper, FL. I live in the Mack Tyner Scholarship House in Gainesville, FL. Currently I am attending Santa Fe College as a linguistics major, and I will transfer to the University of Florida in the Spring of 2017. After graduating from the University of Florida, I plan to teach English to kids in other countries, and the main focus being in Central and South America.

Tiffany Walton

Growing up it was always my mom, my sister, my brother, and I, and we were always moving somewhere. We have been through the fire together, and we never gave up on each other.  My mom got pregnant with me when she was 18, and she had me when she was 19, and in the midst of her pregnancy my dad decided to walk out of her life, so one day when I was 9 years old, I decided I wanted to meet my real dad. I remember telling my mom “mama I want to meet my daddy”, and I remember her telling me “baby he is in prison, but you can write him a letter, but don’t be sad if you don’t get a letter back from him”. That same day I wrote a letter to send to this man I had never met in my life, my dad! I was so excited, and I waited to get a response, and soon I received a letter in the mail from him. I remember the excitement I felt that day, and we talked for months; however, shortly after we had contact, my mom and the man she had recently married separated, so I had no contact with my dad because we had to move out of the house. We moved into one of my mom’s friend’s house, and shortly after, I moved to my aunt’s house, and my brother and sister went to live with their dad, and my mom stayed at her friend’s house.

During all the chaos, I had to move with my younger brother and sister into their dad’s girlfriend’s house, and things where good for about a month and a half, and then their dad started being brutally abusive with my little brother and I. For 8 months I watched my little brother, who was 6 years old, being slammed into walls, punched in the stomach, choked, and so many other horrible things. For 8 months I cried, and would be snatched around by my hair, cussed at, and yelled at. I was so depressed, and I hated everyday that I was awake. I would call my mom everyday who at this point was in Colorado, and I would tell her “mama he beat us again today, and if he does it again I am going to kill myself”, and in the midst of all this, my mom called me on October 23, 2007 and told me my dad had died.

At that point so much was going on in my life that I was so numb to pain because I had grown such a tolerance for both physical and emotional pain. I remember saying to myself that night “wow, I never got to hug him, and see his face, and I will never have that opportunity”, and I went on about my life. As I grew older, I began noticing that I desired a father figure in my life, and I would see young girls with their dads, and I would always whisper to myself “I wonder what it feels like to have a man in your life who does not beat you, cuss at you, yell at you, and call you names, but instead he loves you, he takes care of you, he takes you on father-daughter dates, and he encourages you”. I never had this experience, but I am so thankful that some children do have these experiences.

Many things happened, and my sister, my brother, and I made it to Colorado to live with my mom, and a year and a half later we made it to Ft. Stockton, TX, and then back to Florida. I was in seventh grade when we moved back to Florida, and I was a crazy young girl. I was so bitter, hateful, aggressive, and I had many emotional issues. I went to a conference called Ski Invasion my 8th grade year of middle school. It was a Christian conference that my youth group at the time was attending, so I went with the intentions of hanging out, and maybe learning a little, but little did I know my whole life would change! One of the nights after the worship service, I gave my life to Jesus! Yes, I confessed with my mouth that Jesus is Lord, and I believed it in my heart! After the conference, I went back home, and I was discouraged because I knew I was going back to the same ole’ same ole’, and I thought man everything will be different, but it wasn’t. I began making the same choices I was making before I went the conference, but that all changed the summer after I finished eighth grade. During that summer, I was sitting in my room, and I remember so clearly the Holy Spirit told me “Tiffany, if you do not begin choosing to follow me and my ways, you are going to end up an alcoholic, a drug addict, in jail, and pregnant”, and ever since that day, my life has never been the same. I began to seek the Lord, and draw near to him, and he drew near to me. I began reading the Bible, and understanding who God really was, and I mean I sought after him with my whole heart. When I realized that I was now a child of the kingdom, I realized I was not fatherless anymore, but I had been adopted, and a price was paid for me, and I realized that what Jesus did on the cross was for people like me. I was so lost, broken, hurt, depressed, abandoned, bitter, angry, hateful, and just crushed by the things I had been through, but Jesus healed me of all those things. Jesus set me free, and I am free of the hurt, of the depression, of the abandonment, of the bitterness, of the hatefulness, of the weariness, and insecurity. Jesus mended my broken heart, and he made this girl brand new, and now by his grace and how he has loved me, I am loving, kind, caring, forgiving, joyful, peaceful, good, and I have self-control. Now I can love people unconditionally because of the love I have been given.

When I gave my life to Jesus, my whole perspective on life changed. I used to have no vision for myself, I told myself “I’ll stay in this town for the rest of my life, and settle down, and just do like everyone else I’m surrounded by because it’s the easy way”, but the Lord knew the plans he had for me, and my senior year of high school I prayed and asked the Lord “what do I do Lord?” because I did not want to stay in Jasper, so much stuff was happening, and I knew it would not be wise for me to stay there, and instantly the Lord began speaking to me about college, but I tried to ignore it for a while because I thought there was no way possible for me to go to college. I did not have finances for anything, not even to pay to send applications in to universities, and I was very discouraged by this. I thought “well, I’ll go into the military”, but the Lord instantly told me that was a no, so I scratched that out real quick.


My best friend and I were sitting at lunch one day talking and eating, and I asked her where did her brother live, and she told me SSF, and I asked her what it was, and she explained it vaguely to me. That day I went home, and I searched Southern Scholarship Foundation, and I read through the “about us link”, and I was so excited to have read what I read that day. I began praying and seeking the Lord for whether or not I should apply because I had never done anything like this before, and the Lord told me to apply, so I did. Time went on after getting all the information for the application done and turned in, and I remember checking my e-mail everyday for and e-mail from SSF, and I was so anxious and excited that it seemed like it took forever, and then eventually I was receiving e-mails from Mrs. Turner, and then soon enough I was scheduled for an interview. I went to the interview praying that I would make a good impression, and that I would get this scholarship. And I remember leaving saying “I wonder what Mrs. Turner thought of me?” because I knew if I did not get this scholarship, I would not be going to college, and the Lord gave me so much peace, and he told me “you do not need to worry, and you do not need to make a plan B because I know your needs, and you will get this scholarship”, so I was at peace, and soon enough I received an e-mail congratulating me on becoming part of the SSF family, and I remember jumping up and down, and being so excited because I knew this was my way out, and I knew now I would be going to college!

When I was given a tour after I was accepted, I was given my tour at Tyner, and I remember walking in, and my jaw dropped, and I was in complete awe. The beautiful light green walls, the beautiful dark brown leather couches, the dark brown shiny wooden tables, the huge bright and beautiful kitchen, the beautiful tile floor, and the glorious height of the house brought me so much excitement because it was what I imagined my future home always looking like. When I left, I kept picturing Tyner in my head, and I remember telling myself “I sure hope I live in that house, it is all I have ever wanted in a house”, and sure enough that was the house I was placed in, and I love living here. Being in SSF has helped me so much in my college life. Being a recipient of this scholarship has provided not only housing, food, utilities, and a comfortable bed to lay down in, but also a warm, loving, calm, peaceful atmosphere. I love coming home to a beautiful home and such loving ladies. Living the life I lived growing up, we never really had a home, but I’m so thankful to say I have a home, and that my home is Tyner.

Education for Life for me makes me think of two things, one of the two being the education one will receive while in college, and of course it can be used for life. The second thing Education for Life makes me think of is the education one will receive for life while living in SSF that no college/university can teach. There are certain things in life that you have to experience because no individual can teach it.

“…It felt like all the answers to my problems had been solved.” – Carla Moore

School: Florida A&M University

House: Florida Retail Federation Scholarship House

Year: Spring 2013- Present

My senior year in high school, I applied to so many schools, it seemed as though every other week I was receiving acceptance letters. Even schools that I had not applied to were giving me calls! I became so confused on where I wanted to go, yet my fear of not being able to afford school continuously overwhelmed my thoughts as I formed my selection process. Eventually, I realized that the best way to make a wise decision was to select the school that was most affordable and had the best pharmacy school ratings. This is how I chose to come to FAMU!

Upon arrival to FAMU in Fall 2011, I still had no clue how I was going to afford school as a whole!

Although I had few scholarships, everything had not been covered due to the fact that I had to pay out of state tuition. My mom had two girls, not including myself, who were also in college at the time. She was not making a substantial salary, and my father passed away when I was only a year old. I could only get student loans from FAFSA, and could not be approved for any plus loans because my mom nor anyone else could/would cosign for me to attend school. I came to Florida with little money in my pocket, no car, and no contacts. I struggled for such a long time trying to afford even living in a dorm, and I had to walk to work just so that I can have some means to live off of, while still excelling in the classes I needed to take in order to get accepted into pharmacy school.

White Coat Day

Fast forwarding to Fall 2013, after a few semesters of struggling and having absolutely no money to my name at times, I ran into a girl who said she was an SSF resident! She was already aware of my hardships and struggles with paying for school, and told me that it would be a great year to apply since a few girls were moving out! After applying, I immediately felt discouraged. I knew there were a lot of applicants, and very few slots available, but I will never forget the call I received from Barby! I literally broke down in tears, because it felt like all the answers to my problems had been solved!

Fall 2015 - 2

Since living at SSF, the girls have been wonderful to live with. Everyone is so sweet, nice, caring, and friendly! This truly is my family away from home. SSF has literally been the best thing that has happened to my since coming to Florida, honestly, there is a great chance that I would not have even been able to stay in Florida if it had not been for SSF! Since my acceptance into the SSF family, I have been accepted into the College of Pharmacy, and am currently finishing my last year of pharmacy school, still here at SSF! I have nothing but pure gratitude and respect for those who had faith in me, and felt that I would be a great fit to reside with the other residents. Without SSF, my dreams of being a pharmacist and providing better health to the community would not have been possible. Just as they have helped me, I know in the future I will give back so that the foundation can help others too!

Sponsorship opportunities are available for you to be a part of Carla’s, and many others, Education for Life journey.

Learn more here:

“For about 4 years, I was ‘Super Woman’ for my mom and brother.”- Brandi Durkins

School: Florida State University

House: La Verne Weddle Pilot Scholarship House

Year: Fall 2013 – Summer 2016

Thinking back over my life experiences, I have overcome a lot to be the person I am today. Coming from a low income, single parent family has taught me various things about being responsible and independent. For many years, I have watched my mom deal with domestic violence and substance abuse from my stepdad, and I’ve also watched her come out of it. It took many years for my family to move on from such issues, but leaving one situation only placed us in a completely new one. All throughout my years of high school, I experienced a rapid growth of independence and responsibility to take care of my family. I remember working as a part-time worker at Publix, while maintaining exceptional grades in school and also involved in many extra-curricular activities.

For about 4 years, I was “Super Woman” for my mom and brother.

The money I was making at Publix actually helped in a lot ways, little did I know. There were many times when my family and I didn’t know what to eat for dinner or even have food to do so. Luckily, living Tallahassee helped us because all of our family members lived in an approximately 30 minutes or less driving distance from us.

Maintaining my youth while balancing out the adult life that was cultivating for me was a little hard, but not as hard as it is currently, now that I am 20 year old junior at Florida State University. I remember watching my mom starve just so my brother and I could eat, as well as using bill money just to satisfy us. We didn’t have much but my mom made sure we were always satisfied. I commend my mother for the many deeds she’s done for our family. It has made a very huge impact in who I am today. Now that I having substantial living and a nice paying job, I am able to return the favor to my mother and my brother.


In many ways, SSF has contributed to this. Moving into SSF assisted me in receiving the “true college experience” of living away from home, even though I’m originally from Tallahassee. It has taught me a lot about myself, as well as help financially with assistance whenever my mom and I couldn’t pay for my housing for the next semester on time. I’ve always struggled with my attitude and living in SSF has helped a lot, especially with living with more than just 3 people. It has also given me patience and a cultural understanding of everyone that lives with me. It’s definitely a humbling experience and I’m grateful for it! I created many, MANY friends, its how I met my current boyfriend, as well as a great friendship with my current best friend that I have matching Pilot House tattoo with that I still talk to on a regular basis.


When it comes down to Education for Life, I always make sure that I am an effective player within my house each spring semester. Education for Life means a lot because it gives residents like myself the opportunity to express such appreciation for SSF and how much it truly means to us. I am always an active member that runs in the 5k, and I look forward to doing so again for my 4th time this upcoming spring semester. Before I graduate next summer, I hope to accomplish many goals that I’ve created since my freshman year of college. In hopes graduating early and getting accepted into grad school next Fall of 2016.

Sponsorship opportunities are available for you to be a part of Brandi’s, and many others, Education for Life journey.

Learn more here:

“My goal is to eventually be able to support myself with art.” – Noel Young

School: Florida Gulf Coast University

Year: Fall 2006-Spring 2010

House: Gresham-Kite Pilot Scholarship House

Sitting in my cap and gown on graduation day was the moment I truly realized that if it weren’t for SSF, I most likely wouldn’t be receiving my Bachelors of Science degree in Biology and Chemistry minor from FGCU. I wouldn’t have been able to afford college housing and receive my biology degree. Without my degree I wouldn’t have a career in an environmental lab where I test for aquatic toxicity.

And it is my job that allows me to pursue my passion in fine arts, today.

When I’m not working in the lab, I’m painting commission pieces and building my portfolio. My goal is to eventually be able to support myself with my art. Art was my first love; the process of making art and seeing the end product both makes my soul happy. I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil.


I remember taking out my watercolors and ink in my room (in the GKP house) to paint plant and animal cells as a study aid. I often used art as an outlet or to practice “productive procrastination.”  I’m sure if you look in the right place, you might find a black ink stain on the carpet in my old room where my desk was pushed against the wall by the bathroom door, woops!


 The Gresham-Kite Pilot house was more than a housing scholarship; it was a house full of diverse personalities who I wouldn’t have had the privilege of meeting if we weren’t roommates.

Julie always made me laugh and was the fashionable and political one, Jen was full of advice and taught me how to [be an] adult, Esther was strong and was artistic with words—we had our poetry published in the school’s Mangrove Review which I wouldn’t have submitted if it wasn’t for her influence. Lauren was an artist and was full of compassion (both of which I admired very much), Ashley was basically my [bubbly] science tutor, and the list of amazing women goes on and on.

Noel Young3

We sat around the dining room table every night for dinner, sometimes with extended friends who became everyone’s friends, and on Thanksgiving with each other’s families. We even sat at those very tables for study sessions that crept into the late hours of the night during exam week. The GKP house was my home during my college career that housed so many memories I wasn’t even aware I was creating and I’m truly grateful for them.

Sponsorship opportunities are available for you to be a part of Noel’s, and many others, Education for Life journey.

Learn more here:


“I am proud to say that I graduated from Florida A&M University…” – Nicole Adams

School: Florida A&M University

Year: Fall 2008 – Spring 2014

House: Florida Retail Federation Scholarship House

I am Nicole Adams, an SSF alumna. It was seven years ago when my journey through college began. Prior to graduating high school, I was awarded a housing scholarship though SSF. Affordable housing was one less thing that I had to worry about while transitioning to college. I was excited to be a part of the foundation. I knew being fresh out of high school with a housing scholarship was great, but what I did not know was just how great it really was.  I had no idea that SSF would impact my life the way it has. Accepting the SSF scholarship was one of the best decisions I made while in college.  SSF definitely exceeded my expectations; living in the foundation was a great experience. SSF had a hand in the development of who I am today. I am proud to say that I graduated from Florida A&M University with a professional degree.

FAMU Graduation

SSF has helped me meet great people as well as helped me develop leadership skills that I will use throughout my career. Having been a House Manager, some of the issues that I remember are very similar to issues I deal with while working. I know how to handle those similar issues on a day to day basis because SSF taught me. I have some of the best memories shared with the people I met while living in SSF. One of the many things I like about SSF is that the organization truly practice what it preaches. The Education for Life Vision is something that is demonstrated though the hard work and dedication of the SSF staff on a daily basis. They truly go above and beyond for their students. I love what they do because if it was not for their dedication SSF would not be as awesome as it is.

Nicole representing SSF in the FAMU Homecoming Parade

I am thankful that the SSF doors were open to me. My favorite part of SSF is that fact that I met some great people. I met some wonderful friends at my home away from home. Hands down, my college experience was great.  SSF will always have a special place in my heart. Due to my experience being so great I would recommend SSF to anyone with no reservations.

Sponsorship opportunities are available for you to be a part of Nicole’s, and many others, Education for Life journey.

Learn more here: