While her classmates at Booker T. Washington were having fun, Ashley Milfort, 18, was collecting toiletries for Camillus House residents, working on an Overtown cookbook to promote healthy eating and gathering uniforms for students whose families couldn’t afford them.
And she still found time to play for the girls’ basketball team, be treasurer of the Key Club, maintain a 4.2-grade point average and graduate within the top 10 percent of her class.
Her hard work paid off Tuesday morning when she was awarded a four-year, full scholarship to the University of Florida from the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club, the second year the club has awarded the scholarship to a Booker T. student. The club surprised her with the check at an assembly at the school; the scholarship is valued at $30,000.
Her best friend, Daniela Joseph, screeched and hugged Ashley, who wiped tears from under her glasses before going up to the stage to receive the accolade.
“A lot of people find interest in other things,” Ashley said, “but academics is where I put all my efforts.’’
“I can’t think of a better or harder working student,” said principal William Aristide. “She does so much and she really cares about her education. She is very focused and is one of our top students.”
Ashley hasn’t had it easy. She grew up in a single parent household in Overtown; her mom works for the TSA at Miami International Airport. She has an older brother who is a part-time security guard and sister who works as a hotel clerk.
Fourteen students applied for the scholarship. To qualify, the candidates must have overcome one or more obstacles, from growing up in a single parent home, to having an incarcerated parent, to any involvement with the Department of Children and Families, to being a teenage parent or being the first student to attend high school or college in their family. They also have to demonstrate strong academics, leadership qualities and community service involvement. Ashley has rung up more than 1,300 community service hours during her four years in high school.
“I wish more students would apply,” said Rick Freedman, scholarship committee chair and former president of the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club. “But it is a grueling application.”
Freedman said he was impressed with Ashley’s overall attitude, setting goals and achieving them.
“No matter how difficult, she will always overcome,’’ said Freedman, who got to know Ashley through her work in the Key Club, which the Kiwanis sponsors.
Ashley will be the first student in her family to attend college. She will start at UF in the summer and plans to major in business administration. She would like to return to Overtown to start a business.
“I don’t know exactly what it is yet,” Ashley said. “I want something of my own.”
The crowd of students, alumni and Kiwanis club members erupted when Freedman called out her name during the “Shining Stars” awards ceremony at the school.
Ashley’s mother, Donna Milfort, was not entirely surprised by her daughter winning the scholarship.
“I have never had to tell Ashley anything more than once,” she said. “She is always dependent, does everything on her own. She is a blessing.”