Department Initiatives

Foster Youth Catch the Spirit
Of Myron Rolle Wellness and Leadership Academy

At first glance, it’s an unusual sight at a military base. About 100 boys and girls sit on bleachers at Camp Blanding, wearing gray Myron Rolle Wellness and Leadership Academy T-shirts and carrying water bottles to protect themselves from the July heat. They are eager to get started.

Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp is greeted at Camp Blanding by Adjutant General of Florida Emmett Titshaw.

Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp is greeted at
Camp Blanding by Adjutant General of
Florida Emmett Titshaw.

"It’s really about you and allowing you to reach your full potential,” George Sheldon, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, tells them on opening day of the camp.

"It feels really good to be here. I always dreamed of being at something like this,” said 13-year-old Paxton.

"I’m just excited about everything that’s going to happen,” said Sandrecka, 15, whose plans for the future include studying to become a psychiatrist.

The young people are coming from foster care to the Myron Rolle Wellness and Leadership Academy to challenge themselves with experiences such as conquering the several-stories-high climbing wall and activities like Brain Bowl. They are here to learn from mentors like Myron Rolle, who looked beyond his personal success in athletics and academics to create this academy. He wanted to inspire foster youth to dream big and work hard to achieve their dreams.

Myron Rolle says hello to Secretary George Sheldon 
of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Myron Rolle says hello to Secretary George Sheldon
of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

In his first pep talk to the kids, Myron says, “I would not be good as a leader if you don’t leave here believing you are a leader. You have the potential for greatness … Leadership is about the power within you. We all want to empower you to make good decisions, to dream big.”

The football All-American at Florida State University is starting his first season in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans. Myron is just back from a year at Oxford University in England as a prestigious Rhodes Scholar. His long term goal is becoming a neurosurgeon. For now though Myron will be alongside the boys and girls in the blistering summer sun as they work out and play games on Camp Blanding’s parade grounds. He will there to cheer them on and chat with them for all five days of the academy.

The academy that Myron created in 2009 has even changed him: “I feel it’s helped to get me more connected to the foster community and the greatness this group has. I’m very excited to be here.”

Myron Rolle poses for a picture with Kyle.

Myron Rolle poses for a picture with Kyle.

"Smart guy – talented,” said camper Marvin, 13, who wants to play football too. He admits to also liking math. “Math is easy.”

"I want to be just like him, 14-year-old Suhey said of Myron. “I want to go to a university and get a good education.” Coming out of foster care will not slow her down. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are as long as you believe in yourself,” Suhey said. Will she consider running for president some day? “I might,” she said.

One of the senior group leaders at the academy is Gabrielle Walker, who is pleased to overhear the young people sharing their experiences in foster care as soon as they meet each other. Forming friendships with fellow foster youth, as well as connecting with adult mentors, is part of what will make the academy so important and memorable.

"It will be a good opportunity for the children to be with people they can relate to, if they’re going to try new things,” said Walker, who works for Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, one of the academy’s partners. “Some may be scared to get out of their shell.”

LotsLots of fun for all playing flag football.

Lots of fun for all playing flag football.

The campers were being challenged by Myron “to step out of your comfort level …and really put forth the effort” during their days at the academy.

"It is a wonderful camp. It teaches you a lot and you make a lot of friendships,” said Kaitlin, 15, who is returning to the academy after being part of its first class last summer. “I’ve been a lot more open to people,” she said of how the camp changed her. She hopes to become a veterinarian.

"Challenge yourself not only to have a good time and attain skills but to set goals and objectives,” Adjutant General of Florida Emmett Titshaw says in his welcome to the youngsters. Titshaw heads the Florida National Guard, which provides its Camp Blanding facility for the academy’s use.

Let’s think together in the huddle!

Let’s think together in the huddle!

"All of you will find this week to be something you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp says as he congratulates the boys and girls for being here. “Each and every one of you is special. Nobody who’s ever lived on this planet has the same combination of skills and talents that you have.” And Kottkamp reminds them, “We’re in a country where if you work hard and get an education, you can do anything.”

"So far, so good,” says Kyle, 12, who plans to join the Army or Navy or attend college and learn how to do computer programming and video game-making.

And then he lines up with other campers to get a picture taken of just him and Myron Rolle.

Story by Diane Hirth, DCF Communications
Photos by Debra Cox, Florida National Guard