Kamillia Crawford was beating the odds of Tangelo Park’s student statistics, the ones that once pointed to high dropout rates and poor chances of graduation in the historically low-income community south of Orlando.
In high school, Crawford knew she wanted to study law. She had good grades. And she had a family pushing her towards choosing a university.
But how she would pay for college? That question stumped her.
“I always knew I had to go to college,” she said. “But I would have had to take out loans, take on debt. I could not burden my family.”
Crawford found the solution through the Tangelo Park Program, which is funded by hotelier and philanthropist Harris Rosen and, among other things, provides full college scholarships to students living in the neighborhood.
Crawford on Friday becomes the 18th Rosen Foundation Scholar to graduate from UCF, another success story from a community that has blossomed with Rosen’s support. The Tangelo Park Program, founded in 1993, is credited with elevating the community’s early childhood education programs, decreasing crime, and changing the lives of a generation of students who’ve gone on to graduate from college with the financial help of the scholarships.
“It’s such a good thing for the community,” Crawford said. “People talk about it. It’s a big help.”
Crawford had set her path to law school early. She was drawn to the words of a lawyer at an elementary school career day.
“He said they provide justice to people who feel wronged,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do that. I had a sense of justice. I wanted to help those people. I would tell that to my family. They knew from a young age that I wanted to be a lawyer.”
After her parents divorced, Crawford, her mother and siblings moved to Tangelo Park from Tampa when she was a high school sophomore to live with her grandmother. In Tangelo Park, she attended Cypress Creek High School.
Although money was tight, Crawford said she had a lot of support: Both of her parents have college degrees and encouraged her to work hard and go to college. And her school talked up the Rosen Scholarship, so she applied her senior year. She was accepted to UF, FAMU and other state universities. But when she visited UCF’s campus one Sunday, she felt at home.
“Once I saw the campus, I knew I wanted to be here,” she said during a break from her job as a UCF resident assistant. “I liked knowing I’d be close to my family.”
Crawford has been busy at UCF. Fiercely driven to succeed, she graduates as a legal studies major with three minors: business, aerospace and leadership studies. She’s a resident assistant at the Libra Community. She’s in the ROTC and already has been accepted at the University of Florida law school. She’s a member of the LEAD Scholars Academy, The Burnett Honors College and the President’s Leadership Council.
Earlier this month, she was awarded UCF’s highest student honor: the Order of Pegasus award. The award is given to graduating seniors and graduate students who demonstrate exemplary university and community involvement, leadership, academic achievement and service.
Her family was there, cheering her on.
“For me, the (Rosen) scholarship gave me the ability to work hard, and to be able to join educational and professional organizations that I would not have otherwise been able to join,” she said. “Without it, I would have had to have a job. I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to pay, not just for school, but my car and insurance.”
The Rosen Foundation Scholarship, started when Rosen adopted the community more than 22 years ago, covers tuition, housing and books. Students have to graduate from high school, apply for other federal grants and scholarships, and remain in good academic standing at their respective colleges or vocational schools, among other requirements. Pooled together, the scholarship and other aid can cover all the student’s college-related expenses, including housing and meal plans.
Since then, Rosen has become one of UCF’s most notable benefactors. He helped found the Rosen College of Hospitality Management and thus far has invested more than $12 million in the Tangelo Park project. He also previously served on UCF’s Board of Trustees.
His philanthropy has changed the community, one child at a time. While 22 years ago fewer than half of the high school students graduated, now almost all finish high school and of those who go on to college, 77 percent graduate, according to the program’s statistics. Crime has dropped dramatically, and the lifetime earning potential of students has risen dramatically.
Crawford plans to go to law school, but it’s deferred for now. She will commission in the fall as a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and serve four years as a personnel officer. After that, she’ll pursue her law degree, and hopes to serve as a judge advocate general in the Air Force. Eventually, she wants to do estate planning as a way to help others.
“My time at UCF taught me that your past situation doesn’t define you,” she said.
To other students she offers this advice: “Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t get complacent. This is a great place and a great opportunity. Take advantage of it, and use it to achieve your goals and do what you’re passionate about. Then, pay it forward.”