Students overcome homelessness, succeed with help from Kiwanis Club of Little Havana

In the fall of 2015, only one thing stood between Dania Myrthil and her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies: a class in Latin American culture – and the tuition bill that came with it.

Dania Myrthil successfully graduated with a 3.8 GPA in the fall of 2015

Dania Myrthil successfully graduated with a 3.8 GPA in the fall of 2015

A single mother and formerly homeless student inFIU’s Fostering Panther Pride (FPP) program, Myrthil was ready to quit because she couldn’t pay the tuition bill when Ana Ramos from FPP put her in contact with the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana; the club stepped in and helped her achieve her dream.

The Kiwanis Club of Little Havana, an affiliate of Kiwanis International, has been providing valuable scholarships to Hispanic students from Miami-Dade County since 1988. Over the years, they have awarded scholarships to more than 200 Hispanic students at FIU, 24 of whom are currently enrolled. A few months ago, the club also began working with the university to help students struggling with homelessness. Kiwanis Club of Little Havana has already impacted the lives of three students, including Myrthil.

“At times, it takes a village to help a student graduate,” says Ramos, director of FPP. “We are the link between the resources that could be available to students and we advocate on their behalf. ”

Ramos identified several students in need who were not eligible for federal or state grants. Because of federal guidelines, FPP could not give the students aid, so Ramos reached out to the Kiwanis Club.

The Kiwanis Club of Little Havana is the oldest Hispanic, continuously meeting club in the United States, and currently the organization has more than 150 volunteer members dedicating their time to helping the South Florida community through service and fundraising initiatives. Jerry Fernandez, President of the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana, says the club works hard to help the people that most need it.

Just one example of an acute need: formerly homeless students who find a permanent home are no longer eligible for homeless student tuition waivers. Ramos faces these kinds of loopholes that leave her hands tied and unable to help students who don’t qualify for federal or state grants or waivers but still need help paying tuition.

Now that the Kiwanis of Little Havana is helping FIU students overcome the hurdles in their path to success, Ramos couldn’t be happier.

Many times, people in situations of acute need do not choose education because daily concerns like putting food on the table usually outweigh earning a college degree, Fernandez says.

This is precisely the reason the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana is interested in helping students graduate: it’s one point in a person’s life that can lead to the most impact. “[That’s] where you can really affect the trajectory of their lives and their careers. So we jump in and help,” he adds.

Myrthil's graduation cap

Myrthil’s graduation cap

“People may think it was only one class, but for me it was everything,” says Myrthil, a first-generation college graduate. She explains part of the reason her degree means so much is because of her four-year-old son. She wants to be a role model, so when she tells her son to study hard so he can find a great career path, he’ll know she walks her talk.

Myrthil credits both the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana and FPP team members, who she considers her family, for helping her pull through and complete her degree. “Every time I pray, I pray for the Kiwanis and for Ana Ramos and Cynthia Perez, my FPP mentor.”

She says her degree is much more than a piece of paper. “To be able to graduate means a second chance for my life, a better opportunity for my son. I’m starting this year completely new. I’m a new person.”

With her bachelor’s degree in hand, Myrthil began her master’s degree in Higher Education Administration in the spring of 2016 at FIU.

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