Drawn to the arts and culture, the two settled in Sarasota, and Chase immediately threw herself into her new community. Her mantra: “I’m retired, not expired.” As Chase said, “I fill my day with as many inspiring and creative things and people. That’s what my life has been. I thrive with that lifestyle.”
One of those inspiring people is Axa Salas. The two met in 2019, when Salas was a sophomore at Sarasota High School. Chase was volunteering with UnidosNow, a nonprofit organization that supports Hispanic students, where Salas was receiving academic support.
A life-long educator whose experience spans from teaching fifth grade to helping adults prepare for the GRE and the SAT tests, Chase has always known that she wanted to help others grow and learn—and she has been a long-time mentor. Her Virginia license plate, which once won first place in a VA Division of Motor Vehicles contest, said it all: “EDUK8R.”
So it was that she began helping Salas with an essay. Soon after, Chase volunteered to mentor with the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, where Salas had applied for mentoring support, and the two were paired. They have been in touch ever since.
Salas is a first-generation college student whose parents came to America from Mexico. Although they have always supported Salas, they have no firsthand experience with the college application process.
Chase provided just the support that Salas needed. The two would meet at the library, but after Covid hit, they connected over Zoom. Chase loves to write and would teach Salas about essay writing and challenge her mentee to take essays through another draft—and another—until it was clear, compelling, complete, and correct.
She provided valuable guidance about larger decisions too—about colleges and scholarships and how to prepare for life after she graduated. As Salas said of Chase, “She’s always honest and, when necessary, persistent and direct. She is someone to lean on.”
After graduating from high school, Salas earned an associate degree from State College of Florida and then transferred to Florida State University (FSU) to pursue a finance degree. Throughout this college journey, Chase has been there for her. The two meet regularly over Zoom to discuss Salas’ progress and next steps.
For a first-generation college student and a young woman away at college, Salas has felt lost and intimidated, like an imposter, as she did at a recent internship. Chase is always there motivating Salas and showing her her potential.
Chase has a unique way of encouraging and assuring her mentee—through acronyms. She loves acronyms and creates new ones to fit the situation. She has written: “You’ve done all that you can for Tuesday’s MATH exam: Mastered the concepts, Accomplished your study goals, Tried your best, Heeded your professor’s tutoring.”
Once, she wrote, “You’re meant to be a COACH because you demonstrate: Compassion, Optimism, Ambition, Communication skills, Honesty.”
The relationship, of course, is reciprocal. “Axa is like a granddaughter to me… the camaraderie has influenced me,” Chase said. “She has influenced me by opening my eyes.”
Through scholarships and other financial aid, Salas will graduate this spring from FSU, debt free, a year early. For this, she credits Chase, whose guidance has made such a difference. “Without her,” Salas said, “I don’t know where I would have been.”
Of her mentee, Chase “hopes she continues to be a role model, and… not so much the position she gets, but whatever she sets out to do, she achieves her goals.”
And of mentoring, Chase said, “If you have time to reach out to others, your arms are not short. Your arms will reach another person, and if they don’t, perhaps the other person’s will reach yours.”
For Chase and Salas, their arms have certainly reached each other’s. This November, Salas created an acronym of her own and sent it along with a message of appreciation to her mentor. She wrote: “SANDY, you are: Strong, Admiring, Noble, Delightful, Yearning.”
The message made Chase so proud to be a part of Salas’ life. As she said of the message, “This is why I mentor.”
We’re always looking for amazing volunteers ready to make a difference. Find out how you can get involved: edfoundationsrq.org/volunteers/