BY ASHLEY SZATALA
Steve Marin Jr., FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 2020, has raised more than $110,000 to aid homeless and former foster care students at his university
Steve Marin Jr., FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 2020, hasn’t forgotten the moment as an eighth grader he realized that not every child grows up with the same lifestyle he has.
At the time, Marin belonged to a traveling basketball team comprised of youth from various parts of his hometown of Miami. One weekend they had a game in Tampa, Florida, and the overnight arrangement was three boys to a room at the Holiday Inn. When Marin and his roommates arrived at their room to drop off their luggage, one of the teammates plopped himself onto the king-sized bed, looked up at the other two and said, “This is heaven.”
Those words stunned Marin.
“It’s inexplicable how I felt. To me, it’s just another hotel and bed,” he says. “It made me wake up to how my world is different than others. Kids my age don’t all live the same way I do.”
Marin was left thinking about that experience days later. His father advised Marin to use the advantages he has to help others, and Marin took those words to heart.
“Because I am privileged, I have an obligation to help them have the same things I have,” he says.
That attitude is one that has followed Marin to college at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami. There, he fundraises for an on-campus program that benefits students experiencing homelessness and those who were formerly in foster care. For his actions, Marin has been named the winter quarter Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award winner.
Fostering Panther Pride
When Marin, a business major, started his freshman year in fall 2016, he kept his extracurricular activities schedule simple until he got used to the university routine. He focused on his classes and worked part-time at Smoothie King. By spring semester Marin was eager to become busier.
“I wanted to do something [impactful]. I just didn’t know what,” he says.
Marin reached out to Sandra Gonzalez-Levy, senior vice president of external relations at the university, and asked for advice on how to get more involved in his collegiate community.
“I suggested Fostering Panther Pride because it is an incredible way to improve the lives of fellow students who need it and deserve it,” she says. “All of our FFP students work so hard, fight through challenges and overcome so much.”
The Fostering Panther Pride (FPP) program, founded in 2013, provides academic and support services to students who are experiencing homelessness or were formerly in foster care. Its purpose is to aid the students’ transition to FIU, retain them through graduation and assist them with securing employment or graduate studies after earning their bachelor’s degree. The university says online that since the program’s inception, 425 students have benefitted from it, and 117 have graduated.
“The students we support through FPP have no family support. They don’t have the guidance, the home or the nurturing of parents,” Gonzalez-Levy says. “College is hard enough if you know where your next meal is coming from. If you don’t, life can be overwhelming. This program gives these students a fighting chance.”
Marin joined the President’s Council, a voluntary leadership advisory board, and its Fostering Panther Pride Committee that is responsible for fundraising initiatives for the program. Money raised directly helps with students’ tuition, food, books and other expenses. Marin says he has tried to involve himself in his community since he was young, so he knew of several people he could call and ask for donations.
“Money is a big deal, and at first I called people who I was comfortable with. I got a lot of nos. It wasn’t easy to do,” he recalls. “I tried to win them over with how well the program does and how it’s impacted me and others.”
Thanks to his yearslong advocacy for the program and dedication to collecting funds from various donor sources, Marin has raised more than $110,000 for Fostering Panther Pride. He also serves as a student mentor to those in the program.
“Steve is a role model for students in and outside of the Fostering Panther Pride program,” Gonzalez-Levy says. “He’s knocked on doors, made connections and brought people together for the benefit of our FPP students. His fundraising efforts are evidence of what can be accomplished with hard work and determination.”
Recently, Marin was recognized by county officials for the amount of money he has secured for Fostering Panther Pride.
A County Commendation
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo, Jr., presented Marin with an official commendation at the July 23, 2019, commissioners meeting.
“When I went to college, I took for granted the sacrifices my parents made. Yet, there are many who go to college who have sacrifices we can’t even imagine,” Bovo said in a video posted to his social media accounts as commissioner. “There are young adults who go to FIU and other colleges who are homeless. Thanks to the efforts of Steve Marin Jr., Fostering Panther Pride at FIU makes sure that students who sleep in a car at night, or in a bathroom, have a place of shelter and food. … For those who sometimes speak about this new generation that doesn’t, [Marin] represents a new generation that does.”
Several news outlets reported on the commendation following the commissioners meeting.
“It’s a big deal and was super exciting to receive it,” Marin said. “However, it’s about recognizing the program, not me. It’s about recognizing what the kids have been able to do, such as make good grades and graduate. They’re the superstars. I’m just the middleman.”
Marin credits Sigma Chi with helping to foster his giving attitude.
“[During recruitment], I learned about Sigma Chi’s values, and it inspired me to take life more seriously,” he says. “Hearing about [Jon] Huntsman [Sr.] [and his philanthropy] is what elevated me to give back more.”
A person with good character shows trustworthiness, respect and fairness to others, as well as responsibility and citizenship. Those members who go out of their way to help others and those who overcome obstacles and lead with integrity are good candidates for the Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award.
Sigma Chi introduced the award to recognize the selfless acts of brothers. A formal recognition by the Fraternity allows non-members to appreciate the scope of the organization. For information about the award, see sigmachi.org/character.