The Polk County Chapter of the Florida A&M University National Alumni Association welcomed current, incoming and prospective students to a barbecue get-together Saturday at Lake Parker Park.

LAKELAND — Recruiting and helping students was the order of the day Saturday for the Polk County Chapter of the Florida A&M University National Alumni Association. The alumni welcomed current, incoming and prospective students to a barbecue get-together at Lake Parker Park.

Doris Hicks, the chapter's president, said the work of her 300-member group will be recognized with the Best Chapter of the Year award by the Historical Black Colleges Alumni Hall of Fame during the 32nd annual Hall of Fame Weekend, which will be held Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 in Atlanta.

Saturday’s event was to encourage high school juniors and seniors to apply to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University as well as for local students who are already at the university, Hicks said.

“We bring them together to make sure they are on track with their paperwork and know about funding sources,” said Hicks, who earned her bachelor’s degree in education from FAMU in 1967 and her master’s in education in 1970.

In addition to a free meal and the opportunity to mingle with alumni, the students were given gift cards to take back to school with them, Hicks said.

Dylan Jackson, 19, a FAMU sophomore majoring in agricultural sciences, said he came to the picnic hoping to meet more FAMU students from Polk County.

Kailah Ruffen is 19 years old and already a FAMU senior majoring in political science. She attended Polk State College Collegiate High School in Winter Haven so had many of her college credits out of the way before arriving at the campus in Tallahassee.

Next year, she said, “I’m going to law school, hoping to be at Harvard.”

Jasniqua Williams, 19, of Mulberry, said she is in her sophomore year at FAMU, majoring in pre-law with a minor in criminal justice.

“FAMU is the experience every student wants for college,” Williams said. “Even though it is large, we find ways to get together, to make it friendly.”

Denetrice Gallishaw, 18, of Lakeland said she is starting her freshman year at FAMU and decided on the historically black college after a mentor at Kathleen High School “told me what a great experience he had.” She plans to major in pre-med chemistry.

Hicks said the alumni association brings FAMU’s dean of student services to the Polk County barbecue to talk with students about possibilities for scholarships and about what they need to do to get help with funding.

“The Polk County chapter endowed $100,000 last March and that endowment will be there for many years because we will use the interest to provide scholarships,” Hicks said.

The chapter has the largest life membership in the Florida A&M University Alumni Association with 113 life members, Hicks said.

“The life membership fee goes into the endowment so we call our life membership the legacy that keeps on giving,” she said.

“Now, that the endowment is established the chapter is kicking off its SOS fund, which stands for Save Our Students,” Hicks said.

The fund will be used to provide immediate money to help student, who are on track to graduate, to stay in school.

Marilyn Meyer can be reached at marilyn.meyer@theledger.com or 863-802-7558. Follow her on Twitter @marilyn_ledger.