by Briana DeTuro
Two years ago, on a hot day in August, Brittney Richards, a junior psychology major (then freshman) at the University of Tampa walked around the campus organizations fair outside of the Vaughn Courtyard when one organization caught her eye, the Excelsior club. She was greeted with a big smile by the President at the time, Sydney Bocik, who told her what the club was about. It is a club for students who lost a parent or a parental guardian. Richards knew this situation all too well.
At the age of 4-years-old, Richards lost her mom to colon cancer. She doesn’t have a lot of memories about her or that terrible time but does remember how living in a single parent household was hard. She lived with her dad, and at times, other family members. Bouncing around was hard, but eventually she did get used to it.
At 11-years-old, her life turned upside down once again. Her father passed away from a heart aneurysm and she was there when it happened. This tragic event left her confused and heartbroken. “In the sixth grade I remember thinking, ‘Where am I going to live?’” said Richards. “It was hard knowing that this was my life from now on.”
Richards said that going through middle school and high school, teachers and staff members were already aware that she was an orphan, so she felt like they went easy on her. She never had to mention to anyone that she didn’t have any parents because she felt like everyone already knew. It was a big change for her going into college, realizing that no one would know if she was an orphan unless she told them. It wasn’t something everyone knew, which left her not receiving the amount of support she got as a child.
She had to learn how to file taxes on her own and how to save money. After she received an inheritance from her parents passing, she had to learn how to invest, and how to pay bills and just grow up faster than others. Google became her best friend, especially when it came to learn how to apply for colleges and file all the paperwork needed. She was an adult now and she was truly on her own.
Finding the Excelsior organization was a comfort to Richards. “There was no arguing, and no one tried to get the upper hand when going into these meetings,” said Richards. “No one tried to say they had it worse than the other. It was just an understanding and supportive environment where you can just hang out with people who are going through the same thing as you.”
Richards said that she understands her case is so unique and that not many people are orphans, but she felt it was nice to at least have people who were able to understand and sympathize and be open to having a conversation.
Richards continued to stay active in the organization. One day she came across the Excelsior Facebook page that Bocik had created. A scholarship was being awarded to a new or continuing student who had suffered the death of a parent. Richards was excited that there was a scholarship created for individuals who are going through this situation and immediately applied.
“I think people who have a parent who has passed or both parents who have passed, are often overlooked,” said Richards. “We’re dealing with a lot of things that a lot of other students don’t have to deal with.”
On Monday, July 15, Richards became the first recipient of the Excelsior scholarship. She was awarded $1000 for a year spread across two semesters.
“Having that extra $1000 is a weight lifted off my shoulders and giving me a piece of mind,” said Richards.
Mackenzie Brown, a senior political science and criminology major, and one of Richard’s best friends, was thrilled to hear she got this scholarship. “Brittney absolutely deserves this scholarship,” said Brown. “She going to be successful in whatever career she chooses, and this scholarship will help her get there.”
Richards said she is thankful to have found an organization where she was welcomed to talk about her life, her bad days, and to have been given the resources she needed. She no longer was feeling overlooked.
Briana DeTuro can be reached at email@example.com