Holiday Helpers

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 14, 2016) — The Knights Helping Knights Pantry found allies in the UCF Parent & Family Philanthropy Council and UCF College of Business Alumni Chapter this holiday season.

Related: Photo Gallery

Eight members of the parent council, which is newly formed this year, sorted professional clothing and packed 50 bags of roughly 270 pounds of food and supplies on Dec. 9. The bags of food are meant to help students get through winter break when the pantry is closed from Dec. 13 to Jan. 9.

“They’ve provided for at least 50 students, who are now going to be able to eat this holiday season. That’s what it comes down to,” Knights Pantry manager Jessica Roberts said. “I’m so glad we could work together. Knowing they didn’t just want to make a donation and have that be the end of it, but that they wanted to come in, work with the pantry, find out what we’re about, means a lot to me.”

The Knights Helping Knights Pantry has grown over the last seven years from a closet in the Student Union to its own mini market that provides food, clothes and toiletries to students in need. The bag-packing was the parent council’s first hands-on service project – one that applies to an issue not just at UCF, but nationwide.

In early December, CNN featured a new report that found 48 percent of more than 3,000 students surveyed from 34 colleges experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days. At UCF, a study done by Dr. Amy Donley in the UCF Sociology Department showed that 23.2 percent of the 902 student respondents have experienced or are experiencing homelessness.

Parents like Monica Green spent an hour packing bags of food and supplies and also sorting through donated professional clothing from the College of Business Alumni Chapter. Green was compelled to get involved with the parent’s council because she felt a duty to find a way to support the university that was a second home for her two children.

“You have to give back to the community,” Green said. “This was a great opportunity to help, but my heart breaks for the kids. I’m glad that the university as a whole has recognized the need and is doing something, and we can help to meet that need.”

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The council’s idea to help the pantry was first formed in October when Hurricane Matthew shut down campus operations for 48 hours. Members of the council wondered how students were getting the resources they needed.

The university executed its emergency plan for Hurricane Matthew, but when the group learned of the pantry’s closure for the winter break, the parents wanted to find a way to help. Their efforts were bolstered by the College of Business Alumni Chapter, which contributed 250 pieces of clothing to stock the pantry’s professional wardrobe choices.

Marketing alumna Roslyn Antoniazzi ’08, who serves as vice chair of the College of Business Administration Alumni Board, said she was glad that she could rally together support from alumni to take care of current students.

“I was absolutely thrilled to see there is support for the students and that there’s an option to not have to choose between buying that book or something to wear for an interview,” she said. “It’s helping to drive the university’s mission to set up students for success post-graduation.”

Students can pick up bags from the Student Care Services office until Dec. 22, and again starting Jan. 3.

How You Can Help
The pantry hopes to revolutionize its day-to-day operation by purchasing a commercial refrigerator. Thanks to donations already generously given and a matching gift pledge by Publix, the Pantry is $1,000 shy of its fundraising goal. Help make a difference, Give Today.

Major Inspiration

An alumna’s traumatic past hasn’t kept her from pursuing her dreams

"Graduating with my bachelor's from UCF has been a dream of mine since high school," says Sarah Sacra, '13, who is currently pursuing her master's degree at UCF.
“Graduating with my bachelor’s from UCF has been a dream of mine since high school,” says Sarah Sacra, ’13,
who is currently pursuing her master’s degree at UCF.
Sarah Sacra, ’13 | Graduate Student, UCF

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Sarah Sacra, ’13, has always been intrigued by human behavior, so she didn’t have to give much thought to her undergraduate major: psychology.

“I enjoyed when friends came to me to tell me something — picking up on their body language and how they spoke, in combination with their personalities. It was very interesting,” she says.

At age 23, Sacra already has an impressive resume, which includes a 4.0 GPA, working as a teaching assistant for several UCF professors, participating in faculty research, being published, giving more than a half dozen presentations, racking up countless awards, being part of numerous honor societies and professional groups, and volunteering from the time she was a teen.

Her ambitions continue as she pursues her UCF master’s degree in applied sociology, with a criminology/deviance specialization. After graduating in August 2015, she plans to keep going, to earn her third UCF degree — a doctorate in sociology.

“My ultimate goal in my professional life is to create partnerships between research universities and law enforcement agencies to reduce crime — particularly murders,” she says. “To accomplish this, I would like to be a tenured university professor who researches crime with the intention of favorably changing public policies.”

Her interest in criminology stems from true-life crime shows, like “Forensic Files,” “Dr. G: Medical Examiner,” “Dateline NBC” and “America’s Most Wanted.” She remembers talking to her stepmother about how awesome it would be to do criminal investigations, but that interest was placed on the back burner since she had no idea how to get into the field.

“Now that I’m in sociology and study under advisors who specialize in crime, I can take my hidden passion, bring it to the forefront, and turn it into my career.”

Because her successes and goals are so impressive, it’s hard to imagine the trauma she had to overcome to achieve them all.

For nearly two years of her adolescent life, she was sexually and emotionally abused by her stepfather, and emotionally abused and neglected by her mother.

“While the abuse was going on, I had a feeling it wasn’t something ‘normal’ that others experienced,” she explains. “But, I didn’t know for sure because, other than going to school, I was barricaded from the social world. My stepfather confessed to my mother that he had sexually abused me after the first incident, however, even with this knowledge and my affirmation, my mother stayed with him and continued to live life as normal.

In November of seventh grade, my grandfather, whom I was very close with, passed away. My mother did not allow me to go to his funeral, and left me at home with my stepfather. After yet another incident with my stepfather, I decided that I was tired of living in fear. I sought peer counseling from school on the basis of my grandfather passing. After about two weeks, I confided in my peer counselor about the real truth, and the school and law enforcement took matters into their own hands from there.”

Sacra’s stepfather and mother were eventually arrested, and she went to live with her father and stepmother, to whom she attributes her “triumph.”

“She was the one who started the process of removing me from my mother’s custody after she found out my mother knew about the abuse, did nothing about it, and continued to have me under her care,” she explains. “She provided the loving and supportive environment that I needed to heal and grow into the person I am today.”

Q&A Timeout

Q. You sound like a very busy girl! What do you do for fun?
A. For fun, I like to go to UCF football games and watch NFL games on TV with my friends. Otherwise, I enjoy relaxing, listening to music, and catching up on sleep.

Q. What music do you listen to when you want to tune out the world?
A. I have a very eclectic taste in music, so it would depend on my mood. Typically, old hip hop/R&B or old-school rap with a good amount of bass will do it. Otherwise, upbeat stuff like Reggaeton and newer hip hop.

Q. Pet peeves?
A. When people drive and do not use their turning signals. It’s the WORST!

Q. Any hidden talents?
A. Something most people don’t know is that I’m a black belt in Taekwondo.

Q. Last book you read?
A. Excluding books for class, “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai. GREAT book.

Q. Favorite reality TV show?
A. “Say Yes to the Dress!!!”

Q. What movie can you quote word for word?
A. When I was younger, I would watch “Home Alone 2,” “Dennis the Menace” (1993) and “Hook” on repeat, so I have those down pretty well. Otherwise, I love to quote “Stepbrothers,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Dark Knight.”

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Bread in any form

Q. Most embarrassing moment?
A. One summer at Wet ’N Wild, I was with a group of my friends waiting to get on a ride. Everyone was picking on me for one reason or another. I tried to come back at them stating that I’m not that silly or clumsy. As I was talking, I walked right into a pole. It didn’t feel great, nor did it help prove my point.

Q. Do you have any regrets?
A. I really don’t have any regrets. Anything that could be regrettable, I view as learning points and therefore do not regret experiencing them.

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. I would want to learn how to sing. Being a musician, I love music. I can play my heart out on my trombone or some steel drums, but if my life depended on me singing something that is remotely pleasant to the ear, you’ll probably never hear from me again!

Q. What’s the happiest/proudest moment of your life so far?
A. I feel most happy when my stepmother is proud of me and what I have accomplished. She knows every struggle that I’ve faced, so when she sees me conquer something meaningful, I can tell she’s proud of me, which is the greatest feeling.

Q. What advice would you give to others who are going through or who have gone through traumatic situations like yours?
A. For those who are currently going through something like this, speak up. It will probably be the most difficult thing you will do, but it’s the key to ending the nightmare. Additionally, during and after the abuse, I felt ashamed, like somehow it was my fault that the abuse occurred, or that it’s my fault my mother and stepfather went to jail. But, it wasn’t and never will be. I think that’s a very important piece of information. It’s not your fault. Although something like this is a very private and personal thing to most people, it’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. We are not victims, we are survivors.

More Info

If you or someone you know is suffering from abuse, please seek help. Here are a few resources:

  • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline | 800.4.A.CHILD
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline | 800.799.7233
  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) | 800.656.HOPE