Juan Muñoz lost his mother to cancer when he was six years old. Raised by a single father, Juan grew up both in the U.S., where he was born, and in his father’s native Colombia. At age 16, when he was attending high school in Cape Coral, Fla., his father abandoned him and his 17-year-old sister. The siblings did not want to go into state foster care and risk being separated, so they went to work to make money and keep their family together. For Muñoz, who was taking rigorous Advanced Placement classes, that meant taking on a full-time job at a hotel, where he worked after school, from 3 p.m. to midnight, studying during his breaks.
As graduation approached, Muñoz applied to FIU and called to learn about his financial aid options. He learned he was eligible for the Fostering Panther Pride (FPP) program, which provides tailored academic and other support services to undergraduate students identified as former foster youth or homeless.
“Without this program I wouldn’t have been able to attend FIU and I wouldn’t be able to pursue my goal of a career in the biomedical field,” said Muñoz, 19, a freshman. “I feel like FIU has my back.”
FIU’s President’s Council, made up of members of the community who serve as FIU ambassadors and support FIU initiatives, have launched a campaign to raise $200,000 for the Fostering Panther Pride program this year. FPP was created in 2013 and currently serves more than 130 students. Through the program, FIU helps secure tuition, housing, referrals to FIU resources, mentoring, a success coach and other services that help students navigate challenges and keep them on track toward graduation.
“We want to raise money for basic needs that many of us take for granted – housing, meals, books, supplies and other expenses,” said Luly Balepogi, chair of the President’s Council. “These are determined, hard-working students who have already overcome incredible challenges just to get accepted to FIU. We want to help them the rest of the way, so they can complete their degrees in four years and launch successful careers.”
Among fundraising efforts, the President’s Council is joining forces with the Kiwanis of Little Havana, the Latin Builders Association and Cuban-American Bar Association to host a food and wine pairing reception on May 18th at FIU-MMC with proceeds benefitting FPP. They also are collaborating with FIU architecture professor Jaime Canaves to arrange an auction of student-designed and student-constructed domino sets at the event.
For more information on Fostering Panther Pride, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-348-4111.