POLKcast: Food pantries and an inclusive environment with Kim DeRonda
MF: Madison Fantozzi
LB: Leah Bartholomay
KD: Kim DeRonda
LB Really the underlying thing is you gettin’ old girl. You don’t know me.
MF Welcome back to POLKcast. I’m your host, Madison Fantozzi.
LB And I’m your cohost, Leah Bartholomay.
MF And we’re joined today by Kim DeRonda, Testing and Tutoring Manager of the Lakeland campus Teaching, Learning, Computing Center. That’s a mouth full.
LB We need a bigger title.
MF Better known as the TLCC. And when she’s not connecting students to testing and tutoring resources, she’s coordinating the Polk State Pantry located behind the Lakeland campus TLCC to provide food to students in need. Thanks for being with us today.
KD Thank you.
MF So, for starters, can you describe to us what the pantry really is for students?
KD Yeah, absolutely. So, we try to create a space where students can come and get, whether it’s just a bottle of water and a snack bar, something that keeps them from walking to a classroom hungry, they can come in and grab those items. They can pick up groceries for the week. It really just depends on what the individual student needs. So they just walk in the door. They don’t have to explain to us. They don’t have to ask any questions. It’s just they shop basically. So they walk in, they get whatever items that they need. They can come as often as they like. We have toiletries. We try to make sure that personal hygiene categories are met as well as snack items and grocery staples. We even keep frozen goods, so kind of whatever they can pop over to the cafeteria and heat stuff up. Whatever works for that individual.
MF Really cool. And so this started in 2018, and you were really instrumental in that, so can you tell me what kind of motivated you or why you saw a need for this on campus?
KD Yeah, sure. Well, in addition to having seen a variety of things out there, literature definitely indicates that hunger is an issue for a lot of students going to college, and our community isn’t necessarily one known for high incomes, and so we certainly knew the need was there. But then it actually was a Facebook post somebody shared about a community library where they had just a little box set up and people could put in books. If somebody wanted a book, they get a book. Well, dialogue ensued on Facebook, as it does, and we kind of got this idea of what about making that a food thing and where would we put such a thing. Well, two or three of us that were talking, we work at the college. Well, that’s where we would put that thing. So it just kind of went from hey, that’s a neat idea, to hey, let’s talk in person, see if we could really make something like this happen. There were two or three of us, and we went to Steve Hull, who was immediately like yes, let’s make this happen. We’ll find a space, we’ll make it work. Any obstacles that we ran into along through that process, he took care of. And that small group reached out to folks to get donations, just kind of brainstormed, okay, where can we put this that it’s discrete but yet it’s trying to be invisible but visible at the same time, so that students are comfortable coming into the space. So we were fortunate enough that we kind of shuffled some things in our break room, or not our break room, sorry, our supply room in the back of the TLCC, so we’re near a busy space without being the busy space. So we just kind of started from a closet basically there and reached out for donations from faculty and staff, and it kind of bloomed from there. We opened in January of 2018. What year is it? Yeah, 2018, sorry. We opened in January of 2018, and it’s been going ever since.
LB Do you have student volunteers or is it just faculty/staff that help run and facilitate?
KD Great question, and it comes up all the time, because, right now, we use just faculty and staff volunteers. And the reason for that is not everybody’s as comfortable walking in the door and possibly seeing the face of a friend or a classmate, so we wanted to be mindful of that. Some students, it’s not going to phase them one bit. Another student who walks in, especially that
student who’s doing some serious grocery shopping, doesn’t want to walk in and the volunteer sitting there is in their next class sitting across from them in math. So we decided that, for confidentiality reasons and the comfort of the visitors to the pantry, that we would use faculty and staff. And we’ve actually had a couple of people who’ve since retired from the college but continue to do their hours with us. But still have that level of confidentiality, a little more comfort level for the students.
MF Yeah, that’s nice.
KD So, we’ve had students who wanted to volunteer, which is fantastic, but I think, for now at least, just to keep our visitors as comfortable as possible, if we have big inventory things, we can call upon students to volunteer and help with the behind-the-scenes kind of stuff, but we’ve been very fortunate that staff and faculty have really stepped up to give us, because we’re only open when they’re there. So when they jump in, we open our doors, and they come.
MF That’s awesome.
MF Well, do you accept donations from students as well as faculty and staff? How does that work?
KD Absolutely. Yeah, from anybody, honestly. So we accept donations when the pantry is open, but also because of the proximity to the TLCC and we have much more open hours than the pantry does, anybody can drop off stuff anytime. We’ve had anything from it was BOGO week at Publix kind of thing and I stocked up and brought stuff in to I just got back from a conference and I had everybody that was at the conference get the toiletries from their rooms, and somebody will bring us a big bag of those.
So it’s really anything, so whatever somebody is willing to donate. And what’s really been amazing is we’ve actually had students who will visit us come in and get the stuff that they need, get back on their feet, and they’re back in with a bag of stuff to donate a month later. So that’s been really incredible. And some students will share, I can’t believe I’m having to do this, I just started a new job, this is my first semester, I’m really just getting. Absolutely, come on in, that’s what we’re here for. And then that student comes back the next semester, paychecks are steady now, car repairs that were taking the extra money are taken care of, whatever it might be, and they turn around and come back and pay it back for somebody else, so that’s been really cool to see.
But we also work not only with those physical donations of bags of stuff to put on the shelves, but we’ve been really fortunate that we’ve received donations from Publix Charities as well as several of the local Walmart stores. We’ve also worked with the KidsPack Program, so we’ve been really lucky in that respect that not only do we have whatever somebody picks up to put
on the shelf, but then we also have that monetary resource that we can turn to when we’re kind of in between food drives or we have a student who has a specific need, that we can help grab that stuff. We’ve also had some people donate $10 Publix gift cards. That way if an individual comes in that we see a very specific thing that they need, or maybe there’s a baby in the household, and we don’t necessarily have baby things all the time, we can throw them a gift card or two, and then they can go get specific things. Or if they have dietary limitations or something, they can knock that out.
MF That’s really great.
KD Yeah, it’s been really cool.
MF What has the response been like from students? How many individuals are you getting in there in a semester or however you guys are tracking that?
KD We were blown away. I mean, even knowing that the need is out there, knowing it and then seeing it on your campus is a very different thing. We just were blown away right from jump with how many people showed up. The very first semester we opened, in the Spring of 2018, we had 553 visits. And so because we don’t track individuals and we don’t track what they take, that could be anything from a student walking in the door and literally, like I mentioned, grabbing a bottle of water out of the fridge and a granola bar. It might also be a single parent, or a person on their own, or whatever it might be, literally getting a couple weeks’ worth of groceries and walking out with three big bags of stuff.
But because we don’t track individuals, we don’t ask for any documentation, nothing, we do have repeat visitors, and that’s completely cool. We have other people that have only been there once, but so I don’t have unique visitor information, but we know how many people, how many visits have occurred. But now, as of, I think I counted the total, as of about three days ago, since January of 2018 to, where are we, June of 2019, we’ve had over 2,800 visits.
KD Yeah, it’s a lot.
MF Crazy that we have that sort of need. I mean, that kind of makes me sad, but it’s awesome that that resource is there.
KD And that’s the thing. The need was there even when we weren’t, and so what we know now is that 2,800 times, hopefully, we’ve done something to help meet that need. And people ask all the time, well, aren’t you worried that if you don’t track what people do or limit how often they can come, and we researched a lot of what other food pantries do at other institutions, and there are places that you get a number and you can only come so often and they mark you on a list, and we really, really wanted to push the idea of taking down the barriers for the student who might not come if they felt like there was a record of them being there or that somebody was analyzing what they were taking or how often they were coming or something like that. And so we just kind of decided that we wouldn’t put any of those things in place. We will act in good faith and hope that they do as well. Do I think that every, single student that’s walked in couldn’t make other arrangements? Of course not. But we figure the rare occasion that something like that happens is so blown out of the park unimportant by the student who walked in and it was the difference between them having something to eat that morning and not.
LB Have you talked to or been collaborating with Winter Haven at all?
KD To some extent. Their program, My Brother’s Keeper, functions very differently than we do. We knew from inception that that was just going to be a very different model. And they do have additional services related to community support and things like that as well as staff that we don’t have, and so we decided, given that difference, that when we could collaborate, we would.
And when donations have come in to the college, we divvy those things up depending upon how the donation is earmarked. We’ve tried to support one another. My Brother’s Keeper has sent items to us when they’ve gotten kind of an overflow of something. Another project that I do outside of the college that I bring resources in for women’s toiletries, we’ve donated and supported both of those locations. But as a general rule, we kind of function separately. Certainly, if we have a student that we learn is going to be on the Winter Haven campus, share that that resource is available.
LB Or what about Lake Wales?
KD We haven’t done a whole lot with Lake Wales, but there isn’t any reason why today isn’t the day we make a phone call and say, hey, do you have a space where we can set something up, because there’s no question that the east side of the county has needs just like we do. So that’s
certainly something that we can explore. And now that we’ve got a year under our belts, I think we could certainly check into what their options might be to spread the love.
LB Yeah, I guess that was really the question, was are you planning on kind of going out further into all of the other campuses and satellite.
KD I’m not sure how far we could spread it just because it is staff challenged. You know what I mean? It’s going to be up to volunteers. But I would love, at the very least, to see if JDA has folks that don’t mind doing it, even if just on a small scale, get something started that would serve the population that they have out there.
LB Well, if you need some fliers, you know who to come to.
KD I do, that’s fantastic.
MF Great. So, we’ll include all the information on the page where listeners are hearing this. But for My Brother’s Keeper, can you tell us where students can access specifically the Polk State Pantry on the Lakeland campus? How do they find you?
KD So we are, the Lakeland campus is always fun, because every corner you turn looks like the last corner you turned, so we are at the back corner of LLC, so if you’re looking at the front door of the TLCC, just go down the windows and around the corner. So if you can get to the TLCC or library, you’re a stone’s throw away, and anybody there can direct students to the pantry. If somebody wants to make a donation, they can do that at the TLCC or the pantry.
If they need assistance, we’re limited in hours just on when our volunteers can be there, but if the TLCC is open, and somebody has a need, and the pantry is not open, more often than not, somebody can grab the keys and let that person grab what they need, because we certainly don’t want to presume that we’re always there when somebody needs something as far as the pantry hours are concerned.
So we try to make that as accessible as possible. And one other thing that was cool that was set up for us, the foundation on the Polk website, actually they have a dropdown thing where you can earmark if you want your donation to go to a specific place, and we’re actually set up on there, as is My Brother’s Keeper. But if an individual wants to make a monetary donation, they can actually just click there that their donation to the foundation is specifically for one of those two locations.
MF That’s excellent.
KD That’s helped a lot as far as getting word out into the community to say hey, this is here. Don’t worry, you don’t have to drive to campus and drop off a bag of soup. You can do this, too.
MF Tell us a little bit about your passion for helping people even outside of the college. What are some of your initiatives that you’re working on in the community?
KD Okay, cool. Well, one of the things I kind of mentioned slightly, that we bring products into the pantry, is some friends and I started an effort, this has been our third year this year, called Lakeland Pad Parties, and we collect pads, and tampons, and other period-related supplies for women and girls in need. It started, social media, again, with the idea of hey, next time you have girl’s night, have everybody bring a box, and then donate them to a women’s shelter or something like that.
And so, I shared it and was like, hey, what a great idea. Next time you and your girls get together, do this. We’re going to do this. Well, then a friend was like well, hey, let’s join our girl’s nights and everybody brings it. That way we collect more stuff. And hey, double girls night, what’s more fun than that? So we decided to get together, and then she shares it, and then people started commenting and doing.
Well, what started out as her two or three girlfriends and my two or three girlfriends ended up being about 40 people that we were like okay, that’s not going to work in my living room or at Carrabba’s or something, so we had to make bigger plans. So that first year, we ended up coordinating with The Poor Porker in Lakeland and just invited folks to come out, drop by, hang out, bring a donation, grab a drink, whatever you want to do. And we, in our very first year, collected over 18,000 units to donate to local service centers.
And so we were like how in the world did this just bloom like this, but how amazing are these people that have helped support that. So then we decided to make an annual thing, so we did it a second year. Now we just finished our third year, and after year three, we have contributed to more than a dozen local service centers throughout Polk county and collected over 47,000 units to share with those people.
And it really is crazy, just this idea of hey, you bring a box, I’ll bring a box, and people have just really responded. And one of the things that we kind of drove that was even at Christmas time when everybody goes and buys and makes their donations and does this stuff, all the lists talk about soap, and deodorant, and shampoo, and all those things. Obviously, that’s fantastic, but you can go a day without that, but you can’t really go a day without that other stuff. And so we were like that stuff’s not getting talked about and it’s not getting donated, and so we can do something about that. So that’s what we did.
MF That’s incredible.
KD We’ve talked about doing a diaper drive, so hopefully that’s on the horizon as well, because if you have to buy diapers, they’re crazy expensive. But yeah, so that’s kind of our big thing. But between the opportunity that I get to serve students just in the TLCC in general and now through the pantry, I’m getting to coordinate the pad party and bring those supplies into the college resources as well, there’s just so many opportunities that it really doesn’t take a whole lot, and I’m figuring that out, especially with social media. Just ask, and it’s amazing how much people will step up and do. So I kind of like to think that if you put it out there, people really will be amazing. So it’s just one more way that we’re getting everybody to show their good. You know what I mean?
MF It’s like restoring my faith in humanity.
KD If you give people a chance to be awesome, they will commonly step up.
MF Are there any other initiatives that you would like to talk about?
KD Well, this is kind of in the college and outside the college. I’m also the staff advisor for the Free to Be Me Club on the Lakeland campus, which is our student LGBT organization. It’s actually been an official club with a constitution, all the autographs and all the stuff, I think since 2011, 2012. It’s been going for a while. It ebbs and flows.
It’s kind of unique in that, unlike any other club on campus, you can’t just walk around and be like hey, you want to join the gay club. It doesn’t work that way. So, you kind of have to wait for students to come to you. And it doesn’t matter if a student is an ally or a community member. It’s still a very personal decision whether or not you want to get involved with the student organization. But we’re present at Club Rush every semester.
We have club meetings every week, and so just trying to create a space kind of like our Safe Zone training that we do for staff and faculty, just helping folks create a space and recognize the diversity that’s on our campus. And we talk about diversity a lot, but I think it’s super important to talk about what that really means and how broad that is in recognizing, especially now, in 2019, the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the importance of being inclusive for all of our LGBT students on campus and our coworkers. We’re planning big events for October, which is history month, LGBT History Month. So we don’t do a whole lot in June simply because it’s too hot and there are no students around to speak of. So we want to do something big, and so we’re looking
forward to October being that. And the student organization, and the Office of Equity and Diversity, and student activities all kind of combine efforts to do that. This’ll be our second year.
So it’s really awesome. I’m super fortunate to get to be the point of contact and to help facilitate those events. And we try to create inclusive spaces every where we can, but those meetings, I think, are important to give students a space. So I get the cool opportunity of being that person, at least for now, that they can come to. And if they’re having difficulties or they need to know about resources or something, if it’s not me, it’s another student that’s sitting in the organization.
So it’s been really cool. And some semesters, it’s me and two or three students. Other semesters, there’s 30 people sitting there, so it really just depends. But we keep plugging away, and that continues to grow, and the college continues to expand on resources and ways that we can continue that diversity commitment.
MF How do students recognize those safe zones on campus? Is there a sticker that they’re looking out for?
KD Yes, yes. So, our Safe Zone training is specifically for staff and faculty here at the college. It’s offered several times throughout the year, and it’s a four-hour session where they can come and learn terminology and maybe symbols to look for so that they can be mindful of the LGBT community as they interact with their students and not maybe use presumptive language as we interact. We learn how to ask questions about preferred pronouns and preferred names and just being mindful of the way we interact with all students.
And so once an individual has completed that training, they receive a certificate, but they also get a sticker to put in their office as well as a lapel pin. A lot of us wear lanyards or put them on your top or whatever. But that way, it helps the students recognize, hopefully we’re all inclusive and we’re all safe spaces, but what that badge does is let that student know that this particular individual has participated in this training and has been introduced to some skills and some knowledge, hopefully, that they’re not meant to be counselors, certainly, but that they’re going to be able to walk into a judgment-free zone.
And if they need help, or need direction, or it’s just a difficult moment, that that’s a safe space for them to be at that point in time. And so we have some departments that multiple people from the departments have gone. And then like our TLCC is a much more open space, so there isn’t your office, my office kind of vibe.
There’s this entire space, and so we have several places throughout the TLCC that you’ll see either a rainbow flag or you’ll see the Safe Zone sticker or something to that end so that when the student walks in the door, they know that. And so, of all places where we’re offering academic support, we want them to know that this is a place where they can be comfortable. So hopefully you’ll see more and more of those stickers throughout the campus.
MF Definitely, very cool.
LB No, I did want to comment, though. We’re in Winter Haven, so I don’t really get the pleasure of being in Lakeland too often, but it was so great, the last couple of events that you guys did. Our photographer went over there and took some photos, and it was just like those are such great photos.
They’re so colorful, and it looks like you guys are having so much fun. You’ve got all of these little, cool games and engagements, and just it looked like a really awesome college experience. It made me think man, I wish I was a student in Lakeland right now.
KD Well, and we’re hoping to make that even bigger. We did a couple of things during the LGBT History Month stuff in October on this campus. We want to grow that even more. Kind of, by default, just because I live on the Lakeland campus, we did it, and the club is based there, but we certainly want to expand that. We want to make sure that we’re touching all of the campuses with those events.
And you’re absolutely right. I can remember one of the first things that a student said to me when we got everything set up and first started our first day last October, a young lady came up all but running down the sidewalk. She says, “I could see it from the parking lot.” And she was just over the moon. And people would comment I’m so glad you guys are out here, and they weren’t talking to me per se, they were just putting it out in the universe, like this moment here that I can connect and feel more comfortable and know that I’ve made the right choice in being here.
And I think people forget sometimes how important that moment can be, especially for a new first-time-in-college, that’s a really big moment. And if it’s not the LGBT organization, it’s some other club or it’s some other moment. But to get to experience that moment with a student is really awesome.
LB You could just see everyone was just really excited.
KD Well, and I was thrilled, because there’s no question that everybody we positively interacted with is not a community member, isn’t an LGBT community member, but we were so fully embraced, and the interactions were all positive, and that’s not something you can say about that experience everywhere all the time. And so being able to create that was really awesome and knowing that Polk County has come a long way for us to have that on the campus and be so visible, and be so engaged, and be so well supported by the college is just phenomenal.
LB Where did the name Free to Be Me come from?
KD Hours and hours of discussion. That sounds more than it is, but after numerous club meetings as the club was just trying to kind of figure out what it was going to be and how we would identify it, and it was kind of like the pantry, that whole idea of being visible but invisible at the same time. Some students are completely comfortable wearing their rainbow cape.
Other students want to come to the meeting, but you can’t have a big flag outside the door that says what it is because they’re not there yet. And so we wanted a name that if you felt like you were looking for a space might help you dig a little further and figure out what it was, but not a name that screamed what it was so that the student who wasn’t there yet could still feel comfortable participating.
And we still have to keep in mind we have students who participate that can’t write their email addresses down, because family can’t know that they’re attending the meetings, they can’t get text messages about what the club is doing. And so we still try to straddle that line. But the whole idea of creating a space where everybody who came was free to be themselves, that was always kind of the underlying vibe.
And so I think it just kind of naturally grew out of that sentiment. And I can’t credit who threw it out there, but I think once they kind of roll it around and felt that what that meant. Though, there were some who wanted us to just flat out just say it was the GSA, the Gay Student Alliance, and that’s the term that individuals are familiar with coming from the K12 system. That’s the phrase that’s used there. We wanted it to feel bigger than that. And any time you try to put an acronym or a label to it in that, the LGBT soup, the letters, there are so many of them, and if you don’t use all of them, then you feel like you’ve left somebody out, which is the opposite of what we’re trying to do, so we wanted to steer clear of even putting that in the title. But I think at the heart of it is that comfort in myself and comfort to be myself around the people that are there.
LB I heard, when you started the club for the first time, and Melvin was sending all the clubs over and here’s the lineup, it actually gave me a flashback from the eighties. And do you remember I think it was Whoopi Goldberg started, it was a tap cassette, and it was called Free to Be a Family?
KD I do not remember that.
LB And the song was Free to be You and me and you and me We’re free to be a family And it was the eighties, but each little thing was about this boy grew up and he wanted a doll. A doll, a doll, Timmy wants a doll. But one of these days he’s going to be a father, too. And it was very much about accepting people, and some people are gay, some people are straight. Some people want to have a kid, but don’t want to be in a marriage, or X, Y, and Z. And it was really interesting, because that gave me this flashback of the Free to Be a Family soundtrack from the eighties.
KD I totally have to go find that.
LB And I’m pretty sure Whoopi Goldberg was in it, too. I think she was a voice.
KD That makes sense. She was definitely a voice, so that’s very cool. Well, and to hear that message in that timeframe.
LB The eighties.
KD Yeah, not a lot of folks were saying it out loud.
LB Did you grow up here?
KD I did, yeah. Born and raised in Lakeland.
LB Okay, cool.
KD And raising my daughter here now, so it’s definitely a different environment, culturally speaking, than it was growing up in the eighties. And even here at the college, I am an alum. I went here ’93 to ’95, and the opportunities and the embrace that we offer for students, it was a fantastic school, but it’s fantasticer now. That’s not a word.
LB It is now.
KD I did not learn that at Polk State. But it is, and just the way that we practice what we preach, we have a fantastic diversity statement and we have really strong values that I think we get a great opportunity to really demonstrate to students all the time, and our student organizations are a great way that we show that.
LB I was really impressed here. I didn’t come from higher education like as a job working, but I was impressed with when I went to college and my interactions with faculty and staff versus here,
which I went to sort of a bigger school, and here it’s very intimate, and you can tell the different professors that are super passionate about what, they do all these extra things and go the extra mile. So even with the clubs and faculty and staff, it’s really interesting that you really can, as a student, and I wasn’t a student at Polk State, but I just kind of imagine for so many people, and in working here, it’s like you do feel like you’re part of a family. So it’s neat to be able to have these different venues, and I think that’s really, especially for a smaller school, we are a smaller school, but we do serve a lot of students, and it’s just really great.
KD Yeah, it is. And being a smaller school and recognizing the value that that has for our students, and when so many of our students are the first ones in their families to go to college, and making it a positive, intimate experience for them, and I just think it’s a great opportunity to strengthen them in addition to the academic growth that they’re going to have while they’re here.
My background was social services before I came here, and so getting to go from working in the Welfare to Work program and economic services and that sort of thing, and then coming into higher ed, it seems like a big leap, but when you’re in a community like Polk County, it really isn’t. I’m getting to see faces that I knew from my previous life here and seeing the successes that they’re able to have because of what Polk State does.
LB Yeah, that’s super rewarding. That must be like, man, okay, awesome. Something worked.
KD Of course now I’m getting old enough that I’m seeing the children of the people that I’ve worked with coming here, but that’s even better. The community is just continuing, and we’re always a part of that. And I’ve had kids come into the club meeting who I met when they were little kids when their parents first started here as students, and now they are the college student.
And then now not only do I get to see them come into the TLCC and make use of resources, and I work in the library and I get to see them over at the library, now I get to see them at club meetings and at Club Rush and out doing those things as well. And they’re engaged and they’re staying on campus, then it’s a really significant part of their growing up experience, then that’s really cool to get to be part of that.
LB That’s really awesome. And that’s not really a crazy parallel going from social services, too. Now I kind of get it. Because I wondered how did you get into, to me, I’m really bad at research and I’m really bad at legal stuff or the rules, so it’s like how did she start all of these programs. It seems very overwhelming to me. And earlier when you said if you put it out there, people will show you the good, and it was like okay, that kind of stuck with me a little bit. But it’s like, man, it seems like there are so many formalities, and then this, and then the foundation, and then you gotta do this, and you gotta do this, and I’m like how does she do it. And now had a little bit of background.
KD Well, and I am a good organizer. I’m pretty good. My desk and my house would not suggest that, but if friends want to do something, I’m the organizer. We’ll talk about doing something, but if I don’t make the reservation and tell everybody when to be there, it doesn’t happen. I’m that person. But I also recognize and I feel awkward when people are like the pantry, thank you so much. I’m like I just opened the door, literally, and you walk in and you do what you need to do.
LB You used your skills.
KD And the next volunteer does the same thing. They open the door. And it doesn’t matter if we’re opening the door to a donation or we’re opening the door to a person who gets something from it. It doesn’t matter if we’re opening the door to have a pad party and have people bring donations. It really is just giving other people a chance to be amazing, because I didn’t collect 47,000 things to donate. That took 100 people making a donation to do or however many people. But it really is powerful to get to at least be part of that experience and see how incredible, when you add up all of those individuals, the difference can be.
LB That’s awesome, that’s very cool.
KD And they let me come back and play everyday.
LB That’s nice.
MF I agree with Leah that now that we know that you have a background with social work, it kind of is all tying together and makes a little more sense. So could we go back even a little further and could you tell us why you chose to go into social work in the beginning when you were studying?
KD I graduated college and needed a full-time job, and that is the honest answer to that. So, I had worked retail going through college, and then graduated college, I got married three weeks after I graduated from college, and you’re married and you’re a college graduate, so maybe you should have a job kind of thing.
So I applied for a job with the Department of Children and Families and got a position as an issuance clerk. And I’m really showing my age now, this is 1997, and so it was still paper food stamps, and so I worked in the little box like a little bank teller and distributed food stamps. Well, I quickly realized that working inside the little box was going to be a little nerve-wracking
for me for a considerable period of time. That just wasn’t going to be a long-time thing, and so I took advantage of opportunities to, when we had down time, go to another area and see what they were doing and learn some things that were happening there. And so taking advantage of that opportunity and having a really awesome supervisor who wanted somebody who was eager to go learn something new, I got into another position. Shortly after that, I got the opportunity for a case worker position. I did that for a couple of years, and then I left DCF.
And it was when a lot of the privatization of different contract things with the state for the Welfare to Work program were happening, and then I worked several years doing that, and I got to start teaching workshops, like life management skills, and planning, and job search, resume writing, all these just kind of life skill things, and I really enjoyed doing that.
I’m not sure who it is that thought I had those skills, but I somehow managed to pull that off, and I really enjoyed that interaction, which was very different than being a case worker where you decided if somebody got benefits or not. I actually got to interact with the people more than the paperwork.
LB That’s great.
KD And so I think that’s when I started to really realize how much of a difference every individual that you come into contact with, there’s always that opportunity. And so but you also get burnt out doing those things, because there’s always limits to what you can do for each individual that you’re working with.
And then an opportunity came up for a position at the college, and the stars aligned, and the universe said it was time to move to something else, and that opportunity came through for me. And that was actually a shared position on the Winter Haven and Lakeland campus, and I did that for about a year and a half.
LB What was it?
KD It is the tutoring services coordinator position, so it kind of was a natural progression from the workshops and things, and this was like training tutors and doing that sort of stuff. And at that point, then realized how much I like the idea of higher ed, and then a really amazing opportunity came up when Simmi Johnson, who was the manager of the TLCC at the time, moved on to the student services area, and then I was fortunate enough to take that position when she left, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.
And I love what I do. There are days it’s hard to get out of bed, you know what I mean, I’m realistic, but I really do love what I do. You never know what someone’s need is going to be the next day. I work with a great team. We get to see a variety of students. It changes all the time. There are a dozen different things, services that we offer, and so everybody coming in the door
is trying to figure out where you can help them, what you can do for them, and getting the right folks in place who can help them. And then that opportunity of having so many folks that we get to interact with really gives me the opportunity to then help to figure out where we can jump in and help with some of those other things.
And that’s one of the things that we always tell people when they come for a tour of the TLCC is, yes, we are ideally the hub for academic support between us and the library, but we also recognize that it’s more than just about getting help with the computer or getting help with your math or whatever it might be.
It’s a whole person that we’re dealing with, and so I think kind of all of that history kind of puts me in the right place at the right time, so and then, thankfully, with the right people and the right resources who then can make all of that wonderful stuff happen I get to do everyday.
LB That’s awesome.
KD Good times.
LB Good times.
KD And then I get to do fun stuff like this.
MF Yeah, totally. Well, that’s crazy. So you went from issuing food stamps in this little box to now you have the food pantry.
KD It’s kind of a weird, yeah.
MF It all came full circle. But you said that you really like interacting with the people and all of that, so I think a college campus is a perfect fit for you, and we’re just really fortunate to have you.
KD Can’t put this girl in a box. That’s how it all started. She’s like I need to think outside of this box.
MF We need to get a bigger space for the food pantry.
KD One day. Space is always a premium on campus of course. So, for now, our fabulous facilities folks put in little partitions so our little copier and supply room is now the box, and now the pantry is twice the size of the supply room. But the more we can grow that, the better. Right now, we’re filling the shelves, and folks are coming in, and we’ll hopefully be doing another big drive as we come up to the fall semester so we’re stocked and ready to rock and roll.
LB That was excellent.
MF Well, thanks so much for coming on to POLKcast and for everything that you do here at Polk State.
KD Well, thank you. I appreciate getting the opportunity to share.