Earn to Learn FL™ Announces Partnership with the Southern Scholarship Foundation

Ashley Gastel, chief program officer, Earn to Learn FL

Earn to Learn FL (ETLFL), a 501(c)3 nonprofit that envisions a world without barriers to higher education, announces a partnership with the Southern Scholarship Foundation (SSF) for the 2022-2023 school year. Through the partnership, 150 first-year college students across 26 SSF homes throughout Florida will head to school with SSF scholarships and have access to ETLFL Near Peer Coaches; many will have ETLFL tuition scholarships as well.

ETLFL Near Peer coaches are current college students who promote college success by supporting students and working through obstacles related to retention and degree completion. “The goal of the partnership is that every student that moves in to SSF housing ends their college journey by walking across the stage at graduation,” said Ashley Gastel, chief program officer, Earn to Learn FL. “Earn to Learn FL will be partners in their college journey from start to finish.”

“The new partnership will provide up to sixty students with up to four years of tuition assistance, rent-free housing, and Near Peer Coaching,” said Shawn J. Woodin, Ed. D., president and CEO of Southern Scholarship Foundation. “It also provides the opportunity for SSF residents who are currently in college to become ETLFL Near Peer Coaches and earn a living allowance and scholarship. That is the power of partnership!”

Earn to Learn FL, in partnership with Volunteer Florida, recruits, trains, and deploys AmeriCorps members to provide Near Peer Coaching to economically disadvantaged students in the areas of postsecondary access, personal finance training, and career planning. Near Peer Coaches supports student preparation for pursuit of a non-degree award (career & technical education), associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree. In addition, the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Scholarship, up to $6,195 per year, is granted to AmeriCorps members who complete their term of service to pay education costs at qualified institutions of higher education for educational training or to repay eligible students loans.

Through rent-free housing and cooperative living, Southern Scholarship Foundation supports students who lack financial resources, demonstrate excellent academic merit, and exemplify good character attend institutions of higher education. For more than 65 years, SSF has helped students achieve their dreams of attending their choice university through partnerships at Florida Gulf Coast University, University of Florida, Santa Fe College, Florida State University, Flagler College – Tallahassee, Florida A&M University, and Tallahassee Community College.

For more information, please visit EarntoLearnFL.org or email Brenda Tate at Brenda@EarntoLearnFL.org.


The heart of Earn to Learn FL

Ashley Gastel with her Mom, Kristine and Dad, Glenn at her graduation from Florida State University (August 2007). Ashley is a first-gen college graduate, who went on to further her education at the University of Central Florida and earned a Masters degree in Educational Leadership in 2018.

Working in education and nonprofit is not for the faint of heart. We put our all into everything we do to help students become the best versions of themselves.

  • This is heart work. 
  • Plain and simple. 

So when Earn to Learn FL heard the news that we were vetoed from the 2023 budget passed by the Florida Legislature it was a gut punch. I felt the void of what we are not going to be able to deliver to students this year. 

At Earn to Learn, we don’t just give hope to students… 

  • We mentor them.
  • We coach them.
  • We teach them—financial skills, college readiness skills, how to advocate for themselves.
  • We are partners in their learning journey. 

We give our students everything we have with our very small team so they can learn how to achieve their dreams and be more than they ever thought possible. 

My own journey is why I do this work. I am the first person in my family to graduate high school, a #firstgen college grad—shout out to Florida State University. And the first person in my entire family—immediate and extended— to earn a grad degree-thank you University of Central Florida. 

There is more to my story and every student like me in the state of Florida. If you want to learn more about Earn to Learn FL and our mission, reach out to me. 

Come be a partner in this heart work, and let’s give opportunities to students across Florida. 

Questions? Please contact Ashley Gastel, Chief Program Officer, Ashley.gastel@earntolearnfl.org  to ask any questions about the heart of Earn to Learn FL.  

Stay informed: Earn to Learn FL Matched Savings for Education Scholars, Near Peer Success Coaches, and alumni, stay connected to our blog at earntolearnfl.org/blog. 

Making smart financial decisions

Earn to Learn FL Personal Finance Training (PFT) will empower you to acquire the knowledge, build the habits and gain the confidence you need to make smarter everyday financial decisions. Preparing a realistic budget for college is essential for students to graduate on time, career-ready, and free of student debt.

Why this matters: We checked in with our partner LifeCents – the platform behind Earn to Learn FL PFT – to discover how PFT will shape your financial future, starting with your college budget plan:

  • Motivation – Personal finance often feels very complex and challenging which can deter you from taking action. Earn to Learn FL PFT, powered by LifeCents, has innovative features, design, and personalized conversations to keep you engaged and inspired.
  • Discovery – Helping you identify your financial needs, interests, and goals is the first step–and often the most overlooked–in the journey towards financial security. The Earn to Learn FL PFT process is the starting point of your highly personalized and impactful user experience.
  • Achievement – When it comes to improving your financial health, every day counts. Earn to Learn FL PFT tracks your progress and celebrates every step, milestone and goal that you achieve.
  • Connection – Earn to Learn FL PFT helps you transform information into action by responsibly connecting you to partners, programs, products and services that can help you succeed.

Steps to create a realistic budget for a college student

  1. Have conversations. Before building a college student budget, chat with everyone who will be involved in paying for your education. Talk about who is paying, expected expenses, financial aid and perhaps opening a new credit card or checking account.
  2. List all of your expenses. The costs of textbooks and school supplies, room and board, transportation, clothing and discretionary spending should be anticipated.
  3. Track your spending. Once at school, monitor your spending relative to your college budget plan. Determine needs and wants, and decide which nonessentials you can trim.
  4. Take budgeting to the next level with Earn to Learn FL PFT. If you’re in good financial shape, start setting yourself up for the future. Create an emergency fund, plan for paying off student loans, or open a ROTH IRA.

Bonus: Earn to Learn FL Matched Savings for Education Scholarships are available to income challenged students who complete Earn to Learn FL PFT, open a FL 529 Savings Account, and engage with a Near Peer Success Coach.

Questions? Please contact your Earn to Learn FL Near Peer Success Coach for assistance to answer any of the questions about budgeting tips for college students or ask other questions.

  • Stay informed: Earn to Learn FL Matched Savings for Education Scholars, Near Peer Success Coaches, and alumni, stay connected to our blog at earntolearnfl.org/blog.



Packing for college

We checked in with the folks at moving.com to find out what they recommend when packing for college. What to pack for college is especially challenging when it’s your first time and you are moving into a shared dorm room or apartment.

Why it matters: You will be fitting a lot of stuff into a small space, so having a strategic college move-in list is essential.

Let’s take a look at the college packing tips from moving.com:

Make a college packing checklist of what to bring

If you just grab a bunch of random items out of your room to pack instead of preparing a dorm packing list, chances are high that you’ll end up with a lot of things that you don’t really need. Refer to our ultimate college packing list for a general outline of the essentials you’ll want when you’re in school, then make your own personalized list (and try to stick of it!).

Leave out-of-season items behind when packing for college

If you’re planning to visit home before the cold weather really sets in then you’re better off leaving behind bulky winter items like boots and your parka and grabbing them later. When the time comes, you’ll be able to swap them out with the shorts and sundresses that are currently going to remain front and center in your dorm room closet.

Keep your hanging clothes on their hangers

There’s no need to waste time taking clothes off hangers, folding them and packing them, and then rehanging them once you’re at school. Instead, group together hanging items and slip a large garbage bag over them, starting from the bottom. Secure the bag by closing it shut over the necks of the hangers. As an alternative, you could also hang them in a wardrobe box.

Pack only items that aren’t prohibited

Pretty much all colleges and/or student housing complexes have rules about what can and cannot be brought in. And unfortunately, things like your toaster, favorite candles, and yes, even string lights, might be on the forbidden list. Check before you pack so that you don’t end up bringing something along that you’re not actually allowed to have.

Have a conversation with your roommate

There are a lot of college essentials that you’ll only need one of in your room (i.e. mini-fridges, area rugs, window A/C units, and so on). If you’re going to have a roommate, coordinate with them on who will be packing what, lest you end up with any duplicates.

Pack plenty of toiletries

You never really know when you’ll have a chance to get to the store again, especially if you’re moving to a college town where you need a car to get to the shops. So plan ahead and stock up on the biggest bottles you can find of toiletry must-haves like shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. You’ll definitely be glad that you did.

Bring a business-worthy outfit, even if you don’t know when you’ll need it

Colleges often bring in professionals from various industries to meet with students and even potentially interview them for positions. And in the event you get an opportunity to meet with one of these professionals, you’ll want to have a suit or other business-appropriate attire that you can wear to the meeting. You don’t have to go shopping, but you should bring at least one outfit from your wardrobe that will suffice.

Pack only clothes you have worn in the last year

If you haven’t worn a garment at home in over a year, you’re probably not going to wear it once you get to school either. A lot of students have aspirational ideas about how they’ll dress on campus, but for most students, their go-to staples from back home are also going to be their-go staples at school.

Throw in an extra pillow

When you live in student housing, your bed is usually not just the place you sleep but the place you study, hang out, and sometimes even eat. So even if you’re a one-pillow sleeper, you’ll still want to have an extra pillow to prop yourself up during the times you’re in bed for things other than catching z’s.

Pack plenty of towels

It’s pretty much an established fact that college students aren’t great about doing their laundry on a regular basis. We get it, a lot of other stuff gets in the way, but you should at least be prepared. Bring at least three bath towels with you so that you’re not forced to use an old and grody one until you make it to the laundry room again.

Use your storage items as packing boxes

Underbed storage and plastic dressers are excellent vessels for packing. Use them in lieu of boxes where you can, since they’re coming along anyway. Just be sure not to completely overstuff them since the plastic isn’t usually the most durable, and always tape them shut with plenty of packing tape.

Pack boxes and storage items instead of large suitcases unless you have a way to send them back home

You very likely will not have a place in your dorm room to store a suitcase, so unless you have a plan for getting it back to your home after move-in day stick to collapsible, recyclable boxes instead.

Use clothes, towels, and linens to keep fragile items safe

Save money on packing supplies by using things like your socks and towels to cushion packed items instead of packing paper. They need to come along anyway, so may as well use them as protection for breakable items such as your bedside lamp and your must-have coffee mug.

Add your favorite stuffed animal to your dorm packing list

Stuffed animals can be a real source of comfort when you’re living away from home. If you have one or two that you want to bring along, go for it! No one is going to pay much attention, and you’d be surprised how many other students brought their own stuffed animals along as well.

Bring a filtered water pitcher instead of plastic water bottles

Plastic water bottles are a big problem for the environment. Save the planet (and save yourself a lot of money) by opting for a reusable filtered water pitcher instead. You can buy a big one if your mini fridge has the space, or you can go for one that’s just the size of a standard water bottle.

Pack your shower shoes

You don’t want to go barefoot in dorm bathrooms. Bring along a cheap pair of shower shoes (flip flops will suffice) that you can throw on for bathroom trips and showers—your feet will thank you.

Pack an essentials bag

Set aside a gym bag that you fill with everything you will probably need in the first one to two days after moving in. This usually includes any medications you take, important documents, basic toiletries, your phone charger, and a couple of pairs of clothes (or at least a set of pajamas for your first night).

Label your boxes

Sure, all of your boxes are just going into one room, but it’s still a good idea to label them with a quick overview of what’s inside. That way, if you’re desperately searching for pens or pillow covers, you won’t have to open up a ton of boxes to find them.

Bring a small safe box

Pack a small safe that you can keep under your bed or in your closet for storing important documents, credit cards, and other small valuables. Thefts in dorms do happen, and while you can’t lock away every single thing that you own, you can at least make sure that your irreplaceable items are stowed somewhere no one can get to them.

Have your plan before you start packing up the car

You should have some sort of strategy in mind for your college move-in list before you start packing up your car, otherwise, you may end up having to take everything out and start from scratch. In general, large heavy stuff goes in first and is situated toward the center and sides of the car. Then you can fill in the space with everything else.

Ask your parents and friends for help

Hopefully, you already have someone on board to help you pack and load, but if you don’t, there is absolutely no shame in asking for assistance. Knowing what to pack for college is a big job, and it can help to have not just another set of hands, but also an objective point of view on what’s necessary to bring and what isn’t.

Questions? Please contact your Earn to Learn FL Near Peer Success Coach for assistance to answer any of the questions about college packing tips or ask other questions.

  • Stay informed: Earn to Learn FL Matched Savings for Education Scholars, Near Peer Success Coaches, and alumni, stay connected to our blog at earntolearnfl.org/blog.