By PAUL SOOST
TAMPA – Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), the nation’s second largest premium wine and spirits distributor, announced Monday a $55 million donation to Step Up For Students to provide scholarships for financially disadvantaged children in Florida.
The donation was announced Monday at Cristo Rey Tampa High School, a Catholic college-preparatory school and work study program for lower-income children in the Tampa Bay area. Of the 88 students attending Cristo Rey Tampa High School, 76 of them are recipients of the Step Up For Students scholarship.
RNDC State Executive Vice President Ron Barcena presented Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill with an oversized check representing the company’s $55 million contribution for the 2016-17 school year. The company’s donation, more than triple the amount of previous years, will fund more than 9,000 K-12 scholarships. The donation marks the fifth consecutive year that RNDC has partnered with Step Up, bringing its total to $115 million since 2012.
“As part of our commitment to social responsibility, we are focused on making positive differences that enrich the spirit and well-being of those in the communities we serve,” said Barcena. “We’re thrilled that this contribution will provide educational choices for lower-income Florida families, helping them set their children up for a successful future.”
From a truck driver to sales representative to human resources manager, a diverse group of RNDC associates attended the event with Barcena.
“We can’t do this without them,” Barcena said, adding it takes a strong effort from all parts of the business to be successful as a company, and the same is true for community engagement.
State Sen. Darryl Rouson attended the event at Cristo Rey to thank Republic National Distributing Company for supporting the community and lower-income students.
“Having received a private school education myself, I’m proud to see so many deserving students receiving the same learning opportunity, thanks to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and to corporate donors like Republic National Distributing Company,” he said.
Rouson recalled a time as a boy he attended camp on the same grounds as Cristo Rey, and that he, too, went to Catholic school which led him to his successful career as a lawyer and a legislator.
“Saints walk among us daily and they come in the form of companies like Republic National Distributing Company and provide opportunities for children who need it,” Rouson said.
Steven Faison is one such student. The ninth-grader at Cristo Rey told the small crowd of guests at his school that while he went to a public magnet school, the overcrowding was troublesome for him. But private school seemed financially out of reach until he and his family learned about Cristo Rey and the scholarships through Step Up For Students.
“Education is very important to my family,” he said, “I plan to be the first in my family to attend and graduate from college.”
Step Up helps manage the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to qualified lower-income K-12 schoolchildren throughout Florida. The program allows recipients to choose between a scholarship to help with private school tuition and fees, or a transportation scholarship to attend an out-of-district public school.
“We are truly grateful for the generosity and support of Republic National Distributing Company. The positive impact they will have on more than 9,000 children this year alone is truly remarkable,” said Tuthill. “RNDC is a great partner, and on behalf of our families, we thank them for their continued support.”
During the 2016-17 school year, Step Up For Students is serving more than 95,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued up to $5,886 per student. More than 1,600 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.
Step Up public relations and social media manager Lisa A. Davis contributed to this report.