Lakewood Ranch resident proves importance of mentors and Take Stock in Children of Manatee County program.
Since he was in seventh grade, Lakewood Ranch's Giancarlo Gamboa-Barrios had been getting the business from his Take Stock in Children of Manatee County mentor, Parrish's Rob Hendrickson.
In a good way.
And here he was, graduating from Braden River High in 2017, and Hendrickson still was giving him the business.
Only this time, not so good.
The student and mentor had developed such a strong bond over the years, Hendrickson decided to buy Gamboa-Barrios a graduation present, a trip to New York.
Included in that vacation was a trip to Yankee Stadium to see the Bronx Bombers host Boston. Gamboa-Barrios always has been a monster Yankees fan. Hendrickson is a die-hard Red Sox fan.
Through seven innings the Red Sox were up 3-0. Hendrickson was giving it to Gamboa-Barrios pretty good, too. Worse yet, Hendrickson invited some of his friends, all Red Sox fans. They were needling Gamboa-Barrios as well.
"They were harping on me," Gamboa-Barrios said last week as he recalled the moment. "Then we came back and won.
"And I gave it back to him for a long time."
Can Red Sox and Yankees fans coexist? The Take Stock program has proven they can.
The two were thrown together after a meeting at the School District of Manatee County's administration building in Bradenton. Gamboa-Barrios, a seventh-grader at the time at Nolan Middle School was being accepted into the Take Stock program with a scholarship. Part of his entrance into the program was a presentation he needed to make in front of potential mentors. Hendrickson was sitting in the crowd.
"My teachers and the staff at Nolan applied to the program for me," Gamboa-Barrios said. "Once you join, you need to have Cs or better, no drugs and you have to follow a path. You needed to be on free and reduced lunch, which I was."
Gamboa-Barrios' mother, Aura Barrios, and his father, Carlos Gamboa, had gotten a divorce and his dad had moved to Miami. It put a heavy financial burden on Aura Barrios, who was taking care of Giancarlo and his older sister, Karla.
Aura Barrios was ecstatic her son had been accepted into the program, which would assure he could attend college with his tuition paid if he held up his end of the bargain. Karla, who was a junior at Braden River High at the time, knew he had been blessed as well, and she gave a speech for him and shed tears when the various mentors were trying to figure out if he was worthy. Gamboa-Barrios felt it ultimately helped his cause, saying "She gave me some waterworks."
"We sat in this room at a big table with a room full of mentors," Gamboa-Barrios said. "It was sort of an interview where they asked you questions about why you should get the scholarship. They asked what made me different than others.
"I told them that I was a smart kid."
Hendrickson, the director of performance improvement for Hillsborough County and a longtime business consultant, sat nearby and Gamboa-Barrios tried to talk to him, with little response. Instead, another mentor was being chatty and Gamboa-Barrios figured he was getting him.
Meanwhile, Hendrickson was more interested than he let on.
"Giancarlo was still very much a kid," Hendrickson said. "He had this boyishness about him. They ask each candidate about their wish and he asked if he could be honest, then said his wish was (to own) a perfect red Ferrari with black, leather seats. He seemed like a happy kid who had to grow up sooner than he wanted (because of his family situation). He was charming and open."
The mentors left the room and when they returned, Hendrickson told Gamboa-Barrios that he would be his mentor. He will always remember what he said next.
"He said, 'So I get you?'"
He said it with a somewhat disappointed tone.
But they began meeting once a week, first at Nolan, then at Braden River High when Gamboa-Barrios went into ninth grade. Hendrickson said he identified with him because he had gone through a tough divorce during his own childhood when he was 11 years old.
Mentors are limited to meeting with the students at the school so no outside contacts are allowed unless sponsored by the program. They started slowly building a relationship.
Gamboa-Barrios, who moved to the United States from Venezuela when he was 5, said it was tough opening up to an unknown person as a seventh-grader, but during their 45-minute sessions the atmosphere always was relaxed. They started talking about sports at times and the relationship blossomed.
Hendrickson said he always made sure he arrived early, before Gamboa-Barrios, so he knew he could depend on him. He never cancelled a meeting in their more than five years together.
"It is remarkable (mentors) can make an impact in such a short time," Hendrickson said. "But you can. It got to the point where we talked about his studies rarely. He knew what he needed to do and how to fix it. As we grew closer, he confided in me about the important things. That's what happens when you build trust. I talked to him about life, about having leverage to make choices."
Hendrickson and Gamboa-Barrios said Aura Barrios, a specialist who helps immigrants file everything they need to live and work here, was the one who made sure her son stayed on track academically.
"She needed me to graduate ... she wanted me to graduate," Gamboa-Barrios said.
He did, too, then began attending the State College of Florida, studying computer engineering.
This past summer, Gamboa-Barrios interned at Sunz Insurance and parlayed that into a part-time job he currently holds. Next year he would like to attend University of Central Florida in Orlando. If he is accepted, Take Stock will pay the tuition.
He eventually would like to own his own business. His senior year of high school, he did his senior project on the stock market. Hendrickson has taught him for years about the importance of networking.
"He never came at me with a hard, stern voice," Gamboa-Barrios said. "We always talked about things. I was smart enough to know I needed good grades. And if he was proud of me, I was proud of myself."
Gamboa-Barrios said Hendrickson might be the nicest guy he ever has met. He said Hendrickson genuinely cared about him. He believes many other students in the Take Stock program can say the same things about their mentors.
"Plenty of kids I know are being helped," Gamboa-Barrios said. "If not for the program, a lot of kids would be having a tough time. They get you in the right mindset for life. They keep you on track. Take Stock is a great organization."
A big part of the organization is the mentors. Hendrickson now is mentoring another student, and he has recruited eight mentors who have joined Take Stock.
"I think we get more out of it than the kids," Hendrickson said. "No matter how your week is going, when you spend a dedicated amount of time solely helping someone else, it makes you feel good.
"And I love Giancarlo like he is my own. My wife, Pam, and I couldn't have kids. This has filled a gap in our lives. She is a Take Stock mentor, too."
Take Stock Executive Director Jamie Serino said the organization needs more mentors and support from the community.
"Two of my mentors are still in my life," Serino said. "I still mentor students, too. We say mentors are magic."