"I never thought I could go to law school," confesses Toni Pollard. "I always wanted to work with children." She confesses, "It sounds silly now, but back then I thought, I need to be practical. I need to get a real job." Toni made her decision to attend law school later than most: after retiring from her already-established career in health care. Her anticipated graduation is in 2015. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from the University of Florida in 1973.
She applied for a position as a "Group Man," as they called it in the '70s, with Aetna, Inc. The responsibilities of the role included building relationships with large employers and brokers, and selling a variety of employee benefits insurance products in a male dominated industry. "Aetna was diversifying, and I was one of the first women they hired. It was an honor to be selected." After a number of years, she took a break to raise a family while doing consulting work. Following her hiatus, she was rehired by Aetna and, after various promotions-including one which made her Account Manager for Aetna's largest customer, which had over 350,000 covered members and a $2 billion annual health care budget-she became Director of National Accounts. Toni retired after 26 years in the professional workforce.
"I had to figure out how to be retired," she says, "so I traveled a bit, I got into boating, and went to Sea School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and obtained my Master's level Captain's License." Unable to "turn her brain off," Toni kept herself challenged and current by working on side projects. She worked at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts to organize their annual Reach for the Stars fundraiser and began volunteering at The Milagro Center, in Delray Beach. She continues there as a mentor and teacher to underprivileged students in after-school and summer programs. Toni wanted to make a difference, and decided to focus more and more on her passion for helping children, giving them a voice, and demonstrating their importance. Toni decided to go to law school to become a child advocate. "I know first-hand how important it is for every child to be recognized as significant in this world," Toni says, speaking from personal experience.
She chose NSU Law after talking to Professors Michael Dale and Tim Arcaro, two of the Law Center's child advocates, following an information session. "Their commitment to children's rights and the opportunities at NSU convinced me that this school would put me at the center, and it has," she says. She was accepted, and received the Goodwin Scholarship for having strong academic credentials. She has also received scholarships from the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division and the Florida Association for Women Lawyers. In addition, Toni won a Rebecca Knox Public Interest Law Fellowship-which provides funding to students who serve community needs by doing legal work in the public sector-in 2013 and again in 2014.
Toni has interned twice with Legal Aid of Palm Beach County in their Foster Children's Project, working with children in dependency court, and hopes to get a permanent position with them upon graduation. Palm Beach County is the only county in Florida where children in the foster system are required to have a lawyer. "I've been so inspired and see so much good done by the attorneys in the Foster Children's Project-that's the kind of lawyer I want to be when I grow up!" She has continued to develop her interest in health care by working as research assistant for Professor Kathy Cerminara and taking Health Law courses. Upon graduation, she plans to work as a children's health care advocate where she will combine her health care experience with her love of helping kids. Toni will participate in the Law Center's Children and Families Clinic next semester.
"There's something here for everyone, and if it isn't explicitly offered, the professors will find a way to make it work for you," Toni encourages. "The resources at NSU Law can make anything happen." She credits her skills in legal writing to Professors Olympia Duhart and Kathy Cerminara. She sees Professor Dale as an incredible mentor and supporter. "NSU Law has given me the opportunity to grow and learn in the fields that interest me most, and the opportunities to make the connections I need as I work toward my dream of making a difference for kids."