Tonni Hernandez has never shied away from hard work. “I’ve always wanted to be busy and working. It’s just the way I was raised I guess,” he said. Tonni grew up in Polk County, Florida, and after high school he got an entry-level job working at a local restaurant. He started as a bus boy clearing tables and washing dishes, but through his hard work as a reliable employee, he moved up the ladder in that industry over several years. He was given the chance to try his culinary skills as a line cook, and he did well. Tonni was eventually promoted to a management position. Things were going well for the young father of three kids.
“I always work hard and I’ve always liked learning new things so that I can expand my skills,” he said.
Then, the coronavirus interrupted his upward trajectory in the culinary trade. Like millions of other people across the country, Tonni was laid off due to the pandemic’s impact on business. “I didn’t have a backup plan because there had always been opportunities for me to work hard and move up in the restaurant business,” he said. “It was difficult. I was really stunned.”
Pursing an HVAC Career
The startling experience caused him to examine his career options and what would be best for his family in the long run. He decided to check out educational opportunities that would help him start a new career and he found Florida Career College in Tampa. There, he learned about the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning aka HVAC Technician Program.
“The more I learned about HVAC and thought about it, the more drawn I became. After what I went through, I was looking specifically at what is always going to be in demand; what is never going to go away no matter if it’s COVID or a hurricane, or whatever. There’s always going to be the need for HVAC techs in Florida,” he said.
He’s right. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) industry outlook shows the need for trained HVAC workers continues to grow. Commercial and residential building construction is expected to drive employment growth, and job opportunities for HVAC technicians are expected to be good. Moreover, HVAC technicians are considered essential workers during the pandemic. In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated HVAC industry employees among “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” during the COVID-19 response.
With confidence in a more secure future, Tonni enrolled and started in the HVAC program at FCC Tampa in October.
“It’s been going really well. I like it here a lot. The instructors are great,” he said. “I think it’s really important that FCC was able to reopen with COVID precautions to help people like me.”
“I am so proud of Tonni. He has been a marvelous student since the beginning. He is always prepared and goes above and beyond to make sure all of his classwork is turned in on time,” said HVAC Instructor Gary Barner. “In addition, he’s fluent in both English and Spanish. I see a lot of potential in Tonni. He is a natural born leader and has a bright future ahead of himself.”
“Tonni’s motivation goes the extra mile, not only is he doing this for himself but he also has a family that depends on him. His hard work and dedication are shown by his grades and attendance. Tonni works really hard for his future. We are so honored to have him as a student and a member of our FCC family,” said Cynthia Bryson, Executive Director at FCC Tampa.
A Helpful Scholarship
Shortly after he started at FCC, Tonni learned about a special scholarship from FAPSC Foundation and decided to apply. FCC is a member of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges (FAPSC), which has been the “voice of Florida’s career schools since 1956,” according to their website. FAPSC serves as an advocate for Florida’s career schools and colleges. The FAPSC Foundation is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization founded for the sole purpose of providing tuition assistance to qualifying individuals interested in pursuing education through FAPSC member schools.
“The Foundation was years in the making but is now in place and this year granted fifteen $1,000 scholarships to students throughout the state struggling, while juggling things in their often complex lives, with the hope of a better life for their families. Students just like Tonni Hernandez,” said FAPSC Foundation Board President Linda Weldon.
“Because there are so many worthy candidates, choosing which ones to help when you want to help them all is the hardest thing we do. Tonni’s story resonated with all of us and the obvious support of his colleagues and employers as covered in his references showed his commitment and their support. I share with you here, a portion of one of Tonni’s references: ‘…Tonni showed a drive for excellence, a work ethic second to none and a contagious, positive attitude. What makes him different from others with these traits is he maintained all of these despite working three, four, and sometimes, even five jobs at a time. …Tonni would do anything to support his family.’ This from a former boss,” Linda said.
“I was so happy when I learned I had been picked for a scholarship. I called my sister and told my kids all about it, and they are proud. It’s definitely a big help,” Tonni said. “Thank you to the Foundation for selecting me. I am very grateful.” “Congratulations to Tonni for this well-deserved scholarship, and thank you to the Foundation for selecting such a driven student,” Cynthia said.