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Katelyn Joy Derstine Scholarship Foundation

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Katelyn Joy Derstine Scholarship Foundation

By Kacey C. Krznaric

Photograph by Chad Spencer

 
“A people-pleasing, outdoorsy, gentle and sophisticated hippie who lights up a room”
-an eclectic description of Katelyn Joy Derstine from her family and friends.

 
Katelyn Joy Derstine was full of personality, creativity, motivation, and most importantly had a giving spirit that inspired everyone around her. She had a musical ear; playing the violin. She had a flair for art; making such intricate scrapbooks that could tell her life story to a perfect stranger.  She had a passion for nature; backpacking, white water rafting, horseback riding, and volunteering as a summer camp counselor at Spruce Lake Wilderness Christian Retreat. Finally, she had ambition; enrolling in the Environmental Horticulture program at the University of Florida with aspirations to one day own her own floral shop.

Tragically, on June 15, 2006, all those who knew Katelyn were robbed of the pleasure her mere presence brought and those who were not fortunate enough to have met Katelyn yet, were robbed of the opportunity to know one of the most selfless people there ever was. A car accident claimed the life of this beautiful, genuine, and dedicated young woman all too soon. Although Katelyn’s physical body is no longer here, her legacy lives on through the strength of a family, the loyalty of friends, and the support of the community. 

While it is true the Katelyn Joy Derstine Scholarship Foundation and the “FLY HIGH” award were born out of tragedy, the chain reaction of positivity that has come from it- carrying on her legacy vicariously through the ambition of other young women- is truly amazing. When I asked Katelyn’s mother Bambi, who established the foundation in 2007, why she chose to honor Katelyn’s memory in the form of a scholarship, she told me a very interesting story that is testament to the strong and commendable moral character of the family. 

She explained that when Katelyn was a senior at Riverview High School, she was nominated for a scholarship by the KEY club, a service organization that facilitated community service, volunteerism and philanthropy for students. The family who would be granting these funds to Katelyn was doing so in the memory of their daughter whom they had lost to cystic fibrosis. This experience took on a whole new meaning for the family after they lost Katelyn and wanted to follow by example, taking a negative and turning it into a positive for the sake of the loved ones that have been lost.

From its humble roots of a simple letter campaign started by Bambi, the Foundation has grown by leaps and bounds. With a Selection Committee of 15 members and growing, the Foundation is now able to award a minimum of $1,000.00 annually to students that they feel mirror Katelyn’s characteristics; a young woman of sincerity, dedication, and whole-heartedness. To date the Foundation has awarded $40,000.

Along with this, the Foundation was able to establish another club, aside from the scholarship, called the Papillion. The significance of the title is awe-inspiring because it is French for butterfly, which had always been something very familiar and comforting to Katelyn. 

She once said:
“Once while I was struggling to climb, I asked God to give me a sign.  A sign that would tell me You were thinking about me and still loving me…to give me the strength to keep climbing.  He did…He gave me a Butterfly.”
 
The Papillion club stays true to this mantra by being a foundational platform for a Mentoring Program that was driven into action when students presented it to the school board and had it approved as a pilot program at Riverview. In essence, senior girls would be nominated by teachers and/or the principal to mentor freshman girls, offering them guidance, direction, and support in a potentially difficult transitional period in their lives.

The future of the Katelyn Joy Derstine Scholarship Foundation, Inc and Papillion are bright. As Riverview High School prepares to start construction of an outdoor educational classroom in the form of a greenhouse on the school grounds this fall, the students plan to work diligently to raise funds to dedicate a bench and create a butterfly garden to “preserve the environment and Katelyn’s memory.”
 
In addition, the Foundation hopes to spread Papillion to other schools in the coming years, offering this mentoring program to students all across the district. Because the Foundation and Papillion club had been so therapeutic for Katelyn’s family and friends, they have hopes of incorporating a grieving support group in the future for friends, family, and peers of those affected by tragedy, equipping them with the tools they need to encourage each other and heal together as one body.

Katelyn Joy Derstine Scholarship Foundation
6520 Wild Orchid Lane
Sarasota, FL 34241
(941) 780.6422
bfamous@fly-high-kjd.com
www.fly-high-kjd.com

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