VENICE — The students in Venice High’s Class of 2021 aren’t the only people moving on now that the school year has ended.
So are two of the women who helped them amass an estimated $9.7 million in scholarships to continued their educations.
Rotary Futures Executive Director Kim Kindell and Post-Secondary Adviser Julie Pinkerton are both retiring after running the program for a combined 32 years.
Caitlyn Joyner, who has been a post-secondary adviser for the past year, will take over as executive director.
She’s a former VHS English teacher who became a stay-at-home mom when her sons were born but who kept involved by working with students privately on academics and college admissions.
Kindell and Pinkerton said they informed the Rotary Futures board in the spring of 2020 of their intent to retire this year, providing a year for Joyner to learn the ropes as best she could during a pandemic.
“Caitlyn is a perfect fit for continuing the tradition and ongoing great work of Rotary Futures,” said Bob Vedder, who started the program in 2000.
Kindell and Pinkerton agree.
“She was the person Julie and I saw to replace us,” Kindell said.
“This has been our baby and our passion … and we wanted to leave it in good hands,” Pinkerton added.
Joyner said she was happy and honored to be picked.
“I knew that this was a position that would be highly sought after,” she said.
Kindell has been involved with the program since the outset, Vedder said, because she was among the 20 or so people he invited to be on the founding board.
As a stay-at-home mom, she had been involved with school activities when Vedder approached her.
“That sounds great,” she thought.
She was part of a board that included then-School Board Member Gina Taylor and then-Police Chief Jim Hanks, Vedder said.
She was also a volunteer in the program, then was chosen to run it in 2004 when Danielle Tanaka, the original executive director, left to return to teaching.
Tanaka, a VHS grad, is now an assistant principal at the school.
Pinkerton got involved a little later in the same way — as an active stay-at-home mom, she said.
“Education has always been my cause,” she said.
She, too, was a volunteer before being hired in 2006.
Initially, Rotary Futures operated out of a portable then-Principal Dan Parrett found for the program. It acquired its name when Vedder persuaded the Venice-Nokomis Rotary Club to sponsor it.
A safe space
The initial purpose was to compile a searchable database to connect students with financial aid opportunities. Twenty years later the database still does the job, Vedder said.
But the program has become much more, providing assistance with Bright Futures scholarships, including community service opportunities; standardized testing; application essays; resumes; and applying for financial aid.
Kindell and Pinkerton are what distinguished it from similar programs because of the level of care they gave all the school’s students, Vedder said.
That included an ear to listen to personal issues and advice on matters besides education.
Comments on a Facebook photo of Kindell and Pinkerton announcing their retirement laud them for help on both fronts.
“I could not thank these amazing women enough,” Casey Louise wrote. “They are the reason I’ll be graduating with a Master’s Degree in a few months completely debt free.”
“I have so much gratitude for you both, not only have you helped myself and so many others make our college dreams come true, you created a safe space for us too,” Alicia Miller wrote.
Kelly Wirt wrote: “Corbin Wirt and I appreciate everything these wonderful ladies did to help prepare us for college! I loved that they gave me a place to come everyday during my senior year to have lunch and search for scholarships. They both genuinely cared about the students and encouraged us all, no matter what path we were choosing to take.”
“We’re proud of what we do,” Kindell said.
Coping with COVID
Unfortunately, Pinkerton said, COVID-19 made the program’s operations much more “transactional.” Students needed an appointment to see them and often came in just to pick up or drop off paperwork, she said.
“We love it when people come in here and eat their lunch,” she said, but the pandemic took that away.
They also had few visits from alumni, another highlight of the job.
Even masks interfered with their normal operations.
“It’s so hard to get to know students when you can’t see their face,” Joyner said.
She’s hoping COVID-19 restrictions will be eased or lifted when school resumes in August. The current ones expire June 30.
August will be about the time that being retired will actually sink in, Pinkerton said.
Like most students and teachers, they’ve had their summers off, returning in time to gear up for the next school year.
There would be ninth-graders to get acquainted with and 10th-, 11th and 12th-graders to shepherd along toward achieving their post-high school vision.
“It’s been a dream job,” she said.