Palm Beach County college students blindsided their scholarships were yanked. What happened?

·6 min read
Parker Folino, a junior at Florida State University whose $4,000 scholarship from the TeamWork Education Foundation was not renewed for her senior year. Now she's scrambling to cover her room and board.
Parker Folino, a junior at Florida State University whose $4,000 scholarship from the TeamWork Education Foundation was not renewed for her senior year. Now she's scrambling to cover her room and board.

She had the grades, and she applied on time, but Parker Folino didn't get the $4,000.

Folino, a junior at Florida State University who grew up in the western Lake Worth Beach area, was one of more than 50 students who received $4,000 scholarships from the TeamWork Education Foundation for their freshman year of college. The students were told they could get $4,000 more each year from the local scholarship program when they applied for renewal.

But when a number of students applied for the renewal this year, they were told the money was no longer there.

Instead, the TeamWork Education Foundation issued $4,000 scholarships to 42 graduating high school seniors for their freshman year. There won't be renewal options for those students, according to TeamWork's website.

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"This year, we wanted to make sure that we were able to give those who were starting out their start," Teamwork Education Foundation Executive Director Kathleen Perry said. "Looking at funding sources for the year, we decided to prioritize first-year scholars."

TeamWork Foundation board president Redgy Couke said the board of directors met in 2022 and decided to issue scholarships to the incoming freshman instead of renewals due to limited financial resources.

He could not say when that meeting took place, but said that the board immediately removed the renewal application from its website.

"It was brought before the board last year that perhaps we should change our strategy, and rather than spending our limited resources that we have as a foundation on renewals, we should spend (it on) as many kids as possible that are going to college for the first year," he said.

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Asked whether the students should have been notified before they went to apply for next year's scholarships in January, Couke said, "Maybe yes."

Folino said she and others felt blindsided by the short notice that they will have to come up with $4,000 more for college next year.

The scholarship program was designed for at-risk Palm Beach County students with financial hardships — a majority of last year's recipients appear to be students of color.

The organization promised students a renewing scholarship throughout their years in college. Although the class of 2024 was required to maintain a 3.0 GPA and apply for renewal each year, hundreds of students who had come before them received the renewals with little fuss — including half a dozen repeat recipients showcased on the foundation's website and in its newsletters.

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Folino, whose older brother received the scholarship through three years of college before graduating early, expected the most recent round of applications to be the same as 2022, her sophomore year. When she didn't find the renewal application online in January, she said she filled out last year's application and turned it in.

That's when Perry shared that the foundation was not issuing any renewals for the 2023-24 school year. It was news to Folino and other members of the program she spoke with.

"When I received that email, my entire head said, 'What now? What do I do now?' " Folino said. "It was utterly heartbreaking and terrifying. I’m still looking for scholarships, but it’s very hard to find scholarships for upperclassmen."

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Folino, who was homeschooled from fourth grade to her senior year in high school, applied to the TeamWork scholarship because she needed to get as many scholarships as she could to attend her dream school: Florida State. Her mother, Karen, was a single working parent — and scholarships were the only way for Folino to avoid taking out student loans for every expense in college.

"It was a very stressful time. I knew my mom couldn’t contribute financially," Folino said about her senior year of high school. "I took it upon myself to apply for scholarships. The way I would be worthy of attending Florida State is through receiving these scholarships."

Now, she's scrambling to cover her room and board for next year. Folino used the scholarship on top of Bright Futures and her federally awarded scholarships to avoid taking out costly student loans.

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"Over spring break, instead of sitting by the pool, I was looking at job applications over the summer," she said. "It's going to take some effort to cover that money. This was $4,000. That just doesn’t get covered overnight."

The news of the nonrenewal sent ripples through Folino's cohort and their families.

Karen Kasper, Folino's mother, still gets emotional when she talks about it.

"If you have a decrease in funding, you honor the commitments you already made. Why wouldn’t you help out the students you’ve committed to help in the first place?" she said. "What makes them more important than these students who have already been through hardships? They chose to make those students more valuable."

TeamWork USA Education Foundation reports $350K in revenue, with $11K surplus

The TeamWork Education Foundation is based in Palm Beach Gardens and has been a nonprofit since 2012, according to IRS filings.

TeamWork's last available 990 form shows that it brought in $487,152 in 2019 and spent $315,967 on grants and scholarships in 2019. The organization did not pay any staff members, according to the filing.

TeamWork also says it provides elementary school scholarships and grants for Palm Beach County schools to buy musical instruments, according to its website.

In 2021, the organization reported $350,352 in revenue and $338,505 in expenses to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — a surplus of $11,847. Ten percent of the organization's expenses were listed as administrative costs.

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Asked about where the organization gets its donations, Perry said that a majority of scholarships are financed by residents of Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, although the foundation is not officially connected to the gated community.

Property records show that nine of the organization's 12 board members listed on its website own property in Mirasol. The community's country club hosted the 2022 scholarship awards luncheon.

Perry attributed the decrease in funding this year to a decrease in donations due to the pandemic, but did not provide any examples.

That runs contrary to national trends reported by Indiana University and Fidelity Charitable, which found that global charitable giving rose by 5% in 2020, reaching a record $471.44 billion, and that 9 in 10 philanthropic donors planned to give more money in 2021 than they did in 2020.

The TeamWork Education Foundation issued 50 scholarships worth $4,000 each to students last year, Perry said, including 39 first-time scholarships to high school seniors and 11 to current college students.

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This year, the organization planned to issue only 42 — all worth $4,000 each to high school seniors.

"We are not doing renewals for this current group of students, and a committee is determining how we will go forward," she said. "There is no guarantee for anything. The only thing we can tell you is we will give whatever scholarship we have available."

Katherine Kokal is a journalist covering education at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at kkokal@pbpost.com. Help support our work, subscribe today!

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: TeamWork USA ends scholarship renewal for Palm Beach County students