By Richard Burnett
From the homeless to the jobless, Samantha Chavez reaches out daily to people in need — often families in poverty and their children in need of everything from basic nutrition to education support.
Their stories resonate with Chavez, a family advocate for Episcopal Children’s Services Inc.’s location in The Villages, Fla. Long ago, she struggled with her own learning challenges and emotional uncertainty about her future.
Today, after a dramatic personal turnaround fueled by her Beacon College years, Chavez, 24, plays a key role in helping people who’ve been dealt a tough hand in life.
“I’m working one-on-one with families to help them find the services they need,” she said. “I see a lot of homeless families, low-income families, single parents, and unemployed people. It’s very challenging, but really fulfilling, especially when I feel I’m making a difference in lives.”
Chavez’s own story is one of strength, tenacity, and determination. Diagnosed with learning problems and placed in special education classes in the first grade, she persevered for years to make progress. At age 10, the school returned her to the mainstream, recognizing her intelligence and academic potential. Still, her learning challenges, including speech and auditory processing issues, remained unsolved.
Chavez said she struggled at each stage — middle school, high school, and in the early years of college, despite receiving some help at Southeastern University in Lakeland and Lake-Sumter State College in Leesburg. She discovered Beacon through a counselor at Lake-Sumter State, who had also worked to overcome learning challenges.
Chavez and her mother toured the campus, and the rest was history.
“I fell in love with it,” she said, noting the smaller classes, friendly staff and students, and the individual-focused faculty, well-versed in learning differences. She also received scholarship funding and other financial aid.
Chavez blossomed at Beacon and her grades soared. In her first semester, she received all A’s — including in math, her toughest subject. “I had never done that before,” she said. “It was a memorable moment that will always stick with me.”
She went on to receive a number of honors and became a leader in volunteer work and other student activities. Among other honors, Chavez was selected as a Presidential Fellow in 2018 to represent Beacon College in legislative efforts with the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida to preserve the Effective Access To Student Education (EASE) Grant, an allotment that helps Florida students better afford an education at private Florida schools like Beacon. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in psychology/human services and landed a coveted internship at Walt Disney World through the Disney College Program.
As a member of the Behavioral Science Organization, a Beacon club known for its volunteer work, Chavez stood out with her dedication to feeding the hungry and other community outreach, said Dr. A.J. Marsden, an adviser to the group and associate professor of psychology and human services at the college.
“She was so involved in that club, so detailed and dedicated,” Marsden said. “And that kind of attention to detail also showed up in her classroom work too. She definitely had a plan and purpose at Beacon for what she wanted to do in life and it always centered around her desire to help the community. She wanted to make the world a better place.”