During the fall of 2021, FCAN kicked off its first Advocacy Fellowship, working with Local College Access Networks (LCANs) to bring student voices to Tallahassee and advocating for statewide policies to reach Florida’s SAIL to 60 Initiative and achieve a Talent Strong Florida. This is the sixth and final part of a spotlight series featuring the LCANs who participated and provide the real stories of their students who advocated for emergency financial aid and a universal FAFSA completion policy. Read Parts 1 2 3 4 and 5

Formed in 2018, ASPIRE is the LCAN serving Leon, Gadsden, and Wakulla counties. ASPIRE works to ensure that all of its students are college and career ready — based on their desired pathway — with the necessary skills to positively impact their communities. ASPIRE recognizes that certain labor shifts in demand could adversely impact traditionally underserved communities. With this in mind, this LCAN leverages the assets of partner organizations and community stakeholders in order to best scale educational and workforce opportunities appropriately.

Last year, ASPIRE participated in FCAN’s Advocacy Fellowship — along with student fellow Zenani Johnson — to advocate for emergency aid and the need for universal FAFSA. Click here to learn more about the current gaps Florida is facing in FAFSA completion and how a universal FAFSA policy could propel students on a path to success.

Zenani Johnson

Zenani Johnson

Zenani Johnson is a student at Florida State University and a graduate of the University of West Florida who used her involvement with FCAN’s Advocacy Fellowship to bring a friend’s story to light. Understanding the impact emergency aid has on students, Zenani worked with ASPIRE to advocate and inform policymakers of this concept.

“My academic career came full circle this past legislative session as an advocacy fellow. In 2017, while at UWF, a close friend informed me that he was homeless. He acknowledged his difficulty managing classes and meeting basic needs, such as food and housing. Concerned and dismayed, I collaborated with university leadership and case management services to develop the Student Emergency Support Fund. This is just one example of how critical it is to have programs available for students to help them complete their studies, regardless of their financial situation.”

In addition to this fund, UWF also provides emergency grants and emergency loans for eligible students who require funds to overcome financial barriers while continuing their course of study. In 2021, nearly 3 in 5 college students reported that they struggled to meet basic needs such as food and housing.

“It was an incredible experience to share the importance of emergency aid funding with legislative leaders from my local community.”

Zenani was able to confidently advocate for emergency aid funding, especially after seeing the positive impact funds can have on students and their ability to continue their educational journey.

“This was not only a unique opportunity, but the knowledge learned from this fellowship is now being applied as I finish my advanced degree at Florida State University. After successfully presenting my Capstone project on the ‘Effects of Food and Housing Instability on Student Success,’ I will graduate with my master’s degree in Public Administration this summer. My friend’s experience is not unusual, but unfortunately it is the reality of many students. With organizations like these, my friend’s story was able to be shared on a statewide level, with the hope that we can eliminate this need for students.”

Thank you bringing your friend’s story to the forefront Zenani!


FCAN hosts inaugural Advocacy Week
2021-22 Advocacy Spotlight — LEAP Tampa Bay + Student Fellows Sharon Barnett & Charlotte Finnical
2021-22 Advocacy Spotlight — PLANit Sarasota + Student Fellow Noah Ferebee
2021-22 Advocacy Spotlight — Bridge 2 Life South Florida + Student Fellows Hailey McTee & Kemani Nation
2021-22 Advocacy Spotlight — FutureMakers Coalition + Student Fellows Leah Casimini & Donna Pitzer
2021-22 Advocacy Spotlight — UpliftED + Student Fellows Reed Barkowitz & Samantha Guillaume

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