Paying It Forward

April 1, 2014

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. ( - On paper, it seems like the unlikeliest group to meet at a lunch table. A chairman of the board of a law firm. A president of a credit union. A director of a burgeoning athletics program. An All-American hurdler.

Yet, Charlie Gray, Joe Melbourne, Todd Stansbury and Sandy Jean all found themselves marveling over their bond as the first college graduates - or soon-to-be graduate in Jean's case - of their respective families as the group broke bread together Monday in the athletic director's suite at Bright House Networks Stadium.

The reason for the special occasion was Jean herself, as well as the generosity of Gray and Melbourne. Two of UCF's most prominent donors were among the first to jump on board for UCF's "Everyday Champions" program and partnered to split the cost of a scholarship.

On Monday, the trio met face-to-face for the first time.

"Most other athletic fundraising is associated with benefits and points and where you sit in the stadium and your parking space. This is the one program where the only benefit is the actual student themselves," Stansbury said. "We're kind of spoiled because we work with these student-athletes all the time and know what an incredible experience it is to watch them grow. They come in as freshmen and leave as adults. To be able to share that with our donors is incredibly important because we see it all the time. But to me, to be able to show the donors what they're actually investing in, just is very, very powerful."

The events that led to the Gray-Melbourne-Jean introduction were set in motion at the UCF Foundation board of directors meeting in the fall.

The two gentlemen were in attendance as Stansbury addressed the group about the benefits of UCF's "Everyday Champions" program. The privately funded scholarships provide the opportunity for student-athletes to pursue their academic, athletic and personal aspirations.

Gray leaned over to his neighbor and asked if he would go 50/50 on a scholarship with him. Without hesitation, Melbourne agreed.

"Charlie raised his hand and said, `Joe and I will do a scholarship.' You would have thought we had given the university $1 million based on the reaction. That's one of the things I've found of the university - no matter what you give, it's very appreciated," Melbourne said. "One of the things Charlie and I were both hoping when we were in that room when we stood up, was that maybe a couple other people would start to think about it and also do something like that."

They didn't know at the time who would benefit from their goodwill. Their only condition was that it be a first-generation college attendee. Jean, a Miami native whose mother emigrated from Haiti before she was born, was the chosen recipient.

Not only is Jean a conference champion and school-record holder on the track, but she has also interned in both the marketing and video departments at UCF while maintaining an honor-roll-worthy grade-point average.

"It means a lot that this program is really looking into what I do - not only for myself and my team but for the university, so to honor me with that title (Everyday Champion) is really, really great," Jean said. "I had no idea that they (Gray and Melbourne) contributed so much to this program and my future, at that. To come here and tell them thank you for all they've done was a great honor for me."

They talked about Jean's most recent performance on the track over the weekend. They talked course work and family members. They discussed life in the professional world. Gray and Melbourne even got to watch one of the telecommunication major's on-camera interviews thanks to a smart phone.

"She is an outstanding person. She's got so much energy and so much enthusiasm," Gray said. "It was fun talking to her and finding out what her aspirations are in life. She's so appreciative of the education she's getting here. ... I'm so proud of UCF for the way they have emphasized the education of our athletes. While they excel on the field, they still get an excellent education.

"When you help someone like this, it gives you a great feeling. She's going to go far in life, and I'm going to watch her career."



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