Plant City High School student Romello Jones, a senior and student in Hillsborough Education Foundation’s Take Stock in Children mentoring program, shared his inspirational story of success and overcoming challenges at the group’s annual luncheon last month.

Many of the most important names in Hillsborough County education gathered last month at Hillsborough Education Foundation’s (HEF) annual EmpowerED Luncheon in Tampa. The event, which was both held in person at Armature Works and streamed online, focused on how the community can together take the lessons learned over the past year and continue to emerge stronger to deliver education for any circumstance.

“Our most vulnerable students, the ones who are already behind academically, who don’t have the same resources at home as some of their peers, have been impacted the most. Closing the achievement gaps that have widened during the pandemic and investing in students today helps ensure a bright future for tomorrow’s workforce and a thriving community for all of us,” said HEF CEO Kim Jowell.

The event was emceed by Laura Diaz, host of The Mix Morning Show on Mix 100.7, and featured speeches from Jowell, Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Addison Davis, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Plant City High School student Romello Jones.

Jones, a senior, is a student in HEF’s Take Stock in Children mentoring program who shared his inspirational story of success and overcoming challenges.

“To be able to provide ongoing care and direction for students inside and outside the classroom, this is what HEF does,” said Davis. “To be able to coordinate those efforts to put individuals alongside our students of need to give them that sense of hope. Romello’s story is so touching, and there are so many others out there. It puts the power back to the community to extend our arms and help our children have successful moments.”

HEF was able to respond to the disruptive changes in education from COVID-19 by adding programs such as a Digital Equity Initiative to provide internet access and computers to students and virtual, rather than in-person, mentoring.

“We are so thankful for the support from the community and so many people attending to hear our message of strengthening public education,” said Jowell. “It will take all of us coming together to make these changes and close achievement gaps so we can ensure there’s equity of opportunity for every student to have academic success.”

Established in 1987, HEF is a nonprofit focused on strengthening public education by supporting teachers and empowering students to achieve academic and personal success. HEF’s resources and financial support enrich K-12 educational experiences by providing opportunities for all students. Learn more at

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