TAMPA — It was an affair that drew a host of professional athletes, legislators and several other admired Tampa Bay area residents.
The event was the Sept. 12 University Area Community Development Corporation’s third annual Awards Gala, and in attendance were the likes of former NFL players Martín Gramatica and Ian Beckles, former NBA player George Tinsely Sr., and former Major League Baseball players Reggie Jefferson and Ozzie Timmons.
Also among the prominent guests were U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor; Dr. B. Lee Green, vice president of Moffitt Diversity, Public Relations and Strategic Communications; and Dr. Samuel Lamar Wright Sr., community activist and founder of the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival.
But one of the most standout guests of the evening was Tampa resident and speaker Jasmine Walker, 23, an enrollee in the UACDC’s Steps for Success program.
Through a series of unfortunate circumstances — most beyond her control — she found herself both jobless and homeless, bouncing from one relative’s home to another with her young son, not yet of school age.
She inquired about daycare through Hillsborough County’s Head Start/Early Head Start program in order to begin her job search, but she said she was told she needed to be employed to qualify.
Walker doesn’t drive due to her epilepsy and the potential for seizures. So she walked to the University Area Community Center to do a computer search for a possible job.
As fate would have it, there was an expo going on with representatives from various agencies on-hand to assist attendees in finding housing, health services and other community resources. And it was there she met Martine Dorvil, UACDC’s director of community outreach and the Steps for Success program, who set up an appointment for them to meet.
During the interview that followed, Dorvil realized immediately that Walker was a good candidate for the program, which demands that the participant sets goals and takes control of the steps he or she puts in place in order to succeed.
There also is a coalition of partner agencies available to assist in the process, plus a support network that helps bridge barriers that may emerge along the way.
Walker now lives in a place of her own rent free. And with financial aid she is in her second semester at Hillsborough Community College, where she has a 3.7 grade point average and is on the Dean’s List.
She is the only person in her immediate family to attend college. She’s leaning toward a career as a radiologist.
“Everyone wants control of their lives and Jasmine has the drive,” Dorvil said. “We don’t tell her to do her homework.”
Walker likes to refer to the program as a “hand up, not a handout.”
She knows it includes hard work on her part plus expectations, such as being a spokesperson for the program and a mentor to others if she continues on her stellar path.
“I think Jasmine is proof people are more than their circumstances,” Dorvil said. “This girl is on fire and her fire is roaring.”
Walker said if not for the Steps to Success program she would probably be on the streets with her son, whom she stressed is her first priority in life.
“I used to be angry and very negative, but I’m in a much happier place now,” she said. “I have come a long way.”
Walker’s sister, Tushara Jones, is extremely proud of her sister, who is seven years younger than she.
“She is a totally new person,” Jones said. “She is really my inspiration to get my GED, even though I haven’t told her yet.”
Call UACDC Director of Development Ronnie Oliver at (813) 558-5212, ext. 210, for more information.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]