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PLAYERS scholar on course to serve

Anna Santiago in front of courthouse

PLAYERS scholar on course to serve

Anna Santiago, ‘16, was 8 years old when her family moved to Jacksonville. Her father, from Vietnam, and mother, from Mexico, had come to the U.S. very young and grew up in San Diego. They worked hard and raised their family. “Because of family obligations, both completely abandoned the idea of college for themselves,” Santiago said. But not for their four children.


“Ever since we were little, my dad always told us, ‘You are going to college.’ I was the first one to step up to the plate,” Santiago said. “But I didn’t know anything about what it took to actually go.”


It was not until a high school guidance counselor organized a field trip to UNF that the possibility of a college education became real for Santiago. The counselor told her about funding opportunities available at UNF. She applied and was accepted. Shortly after, she received an email inviting her to submit an application for THE PLAYERS Championship Endowed First Generation Scholarship.


Jack Garnett, captain of the past chairmen of THE PLAYERS, presented the scholarship to Santiago at her senior awards ceremony at Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology, where she graduated in 2013.


Santiago credits THE PLAYERS scholarship with giving her the financial boost she needed to go to college as well as the encouragement to maintain her academic requirements. She appreciated the luncheons the Red Coats hosted for recipients to keep up with their progress. “They like to hear what’s going on and how we’ve grown each year throughout the scholarship,” she said. “We get to speak to them and say, ‘This is what you helped me accomplish.’ ”


Santiago, who graduated in criminal justice, said University guidance, financial and academic counselors as well as THE PLAYERS chairs, created a strong support system for her at UNF. “They have a team of people centered on helping students who have scholarships,” said Santiago, who is not only grateful for the support she received, but intends to pay it forward in the future.


During her last semester at UNF, Santiago interned at the Department of Juvenile Justice, where she was offered a job after graduation. She plans to apply to UNF next year to earn a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, then continue to work with the department as a licensed counselor.


As a juvenile probation officer, Santiago encourages troubled youth — many in foster care — not to give up on going to college, even if it seems to be out of their reach. “Whatever opportunity is out there, take advantage of it,” she advises young people she counsels. “I know if I didn’t have those scholarships I probably wouldn’t have finished four years of school and gotten a job right afterward. It definitely was a blessing.”


Santiago realizes she is in a position to have a direct impact on the lives of the youth she works with, and she embraces the opportunity. 


“In getting to know these kids, I see their potential. It’s potential that they may not see in themselves, but I know it is the same potential THE PLAYERS saw in me,” she said. “I make sure they know that I will not quit on them.”