USF Kosove Society students extend one generous couple’s legacy through academic excellence and community service.
By Barbara Melendez
TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 25, 2011) – Neglect and abuse are the sad realities that bring young people to the Lazydays Center for Youth Development, a program administered by Hillsborough Kids specifically to serve homeless youth.
The services offered there provide much-needed help. One of those services involves meeting potential role models in the form of University of South Florida students who proudly call themselves “Kosoves.”
The Kosoves – members of the USF Kosove Society – are sharing what they know about succeeding academically, and how it provides value, reward and can lead to being good stewards of the community.
This new mentoring relationship began with the first workshop in mid-October. Upcoming workshop topics include personal health, goal setting, cooking simple meals on a budget with an emphasis on nutrition and making the most of technology through digital networking. The Kosoves will also provide tutoring. A gingerbread house making contest will take place in December.
“The workshops with the Kosove Society are some of the key ways we are able to provide role models and education about important life topics,” said Hillsborough Kids CEO and President Jeff Rainey. “We know if we can identify and connect this often overlooked population with the support and tools they need to succeed, we will not only keep them out of the foster care system, but will keep future generations from entering as well.”
Kosove Society President Courtney Halpin added, “Our main goal is to host a variety of social and educational events which work to strengthen the intellectual skills and life skills of the homeless teens in Hillsborough country.”
The young people they are working with are often forgotten by society.
“Homeless teens are a unique population and I think a lot of us really do not fully understand their circumstances,” said Kiki Caruson, USF faculty member, assistant vice president for Research, Innovation and Global Affairs and Kosove Society advisor. “Namely, access to foster care is not an option for many and their access to city and county resources is very limited. I was surprised to learn that many are in school, working regular jobs, not exactly what most of us picture.”
Kosoves live up to the name. These undergraduate and graduate students are scholarship recipients with an added responsibility – service to the community, both local and global. Caring about people and society, along with academic excellence and a record of leadership, is what qualified them to be chosen as Kosove Scholars. They also reach out to a broad range of graduating high school seniors to let them know about the scholarship and encourage them to apply for one of the university’s most prestigious awards.
There are the Kosoves – the scholars – and the Kosoves – Harrison and Ruth – the late couple whose name lives on in the unique community they created at USF. Their shared values live at the core of the Kosove Scholar Society whose members stay connected – ideally for life through an alumni network.
The Kosove Society was established in 1982 to help young people attain a college education.
“The Kosoves didn’t have children of their own, but they considered the Kosove Scholars part of their family,” said Caruson. “Harri Kosove, the son of a Russian immigrant, viewed his and Ruth’s philanthropic donation as one way to repay the country that was so good to him. He hoped to inspire young people to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.”
Kosove Scholars are selected through a rigorous examination of leadership abilities, academic accomplishments, commitment to community service and demonstrated concern for the global society. The annual, renewable awards pay the full cost of Florida-resident tuition, books, housing and food service, or the equivalent costs for students living off-campus. Funds are provided for four academic years to undergraduate freshman, for two academic years to currently enrolled students and transfers, and for two academic years to graduate students. Funds are also available for extracurricular activities such as participation in academic conferences and education abroad experiences.
“The Kosoves were interested in more than the grade point average, though they did expect their Scholars to be excellent students,” Caruson said. “They saw the Scholars as special individuals with a passion for humanity and global causes. They created not only a society of scholars on campus, but an alumni group as well. A scholar will graduate from USF, but not from the Kosove Society family.”
To stay in touch, there are the formal get-togethers – an annual new member induction event, holiday party, end-of-the-year banquet and summer retreat. But it is throughout the year that members forge their relationships through working and socializing together. They meet monthly to share information and ideas and have a team-building exercise each year to strengthen their bonds.
“The induction event sets the tone,” Caruson said. “Family members are invited and the message is clear that the group’s members care for each other like family. I really cannot say enough about this group of students. I’ve been the Kosove Society advisor since 2007 and I am consistently amazed at their achievements and their passion for helping others.”
Funded primarily through Florida’s Department of Children and Families, Hillsborough Kids is the lead agency managing child welfare in Hillsborough County. The program serving homeless young people was created through collaboration between Hillsborough Kids and the Lazydays Employee Foundation and is funded directly through the foundation.
There’s also a Kosove connection to Lazydays. Harold Oehler, legal counsel for Lazydays is married to Kosove Scholar Angela Oehler who became a member as an undergraduate.
“Through this program, the Lazydays Employee Foundation provides Hillsborough Kids with a way to extend their existing services to unaccompanied homeless youth and ultimately make a positive impact in preventing these young people from coming into the welfare or criminal justice system by connecting them with support and identifying family connections,” said Jeanine Bedell, Hillsborough Kids director of community relations. “Many unaccompanied homeless youth lack the guidance of adult role models who can guide them towards healthy choices.”
According to Hillsborough Kids, “The Hillsborough County School System reported 3,827 homeless children with 80 being unaccompanied during the 2010-2011 school year.” The actual number is believed to be much higher as it does not include those homeless youngsters not enrolled in the school system. This population is not currently in the foster care system and meets the federal definition of homelessness.
Applications for the Kosove Scholarship are due by Jan. 13, 2012. For more information, click here, visit http://www.usfkosovesociety.org/.
Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.