January 12, 2018
Tampa legend Gayle Sierens Martin will lend her incredible talent to Pepin Academies, once again, as emcee of the 2018 Cirque du Pepin Academies Gala: Journey of Learning at TPepin’s Hospitality Centre. Gayle has graciously volunteered as emcee of the Gala for many years providing her quick wit, grace and talent to ensure a wonderful evening for our guests.
This year, however, Gayle will not be alone. We are pleased to announce that, for the first time ever, Gayle will have three co-emcees from our very own student body. RJ Curtis from Pepin Academies Pasco, Julia Moss from Pepin Academies Tampa and Zachary McElwain from Pepin Academies Riverview will co-emcee the event with Gayle. RJ and Julia are seniors and Zachary is a junior and all have experience on stage. Those of you who attended the Gala last year, may remember RJ as the young man who shared his story and led the live ask, even singing his favorite Elvis song. Julia co-hosted the Tampa campus spring talent show and performed in the Jungle Book and Zachary sang the National Anthem at the Riverview campus grand opening in February and serves as host of the Pepin Riverview Morning Show.
After 38 years as an on-air journalist at WFLA TV in Tampa, Gayle Sierens Martin retired in May of 2015. During her career, she was honored with two Emmy’s for reporting, one as a sportscaster and the other as a news reporter. In 1987, Martin became the first woman to call play-by-play for an NFL football game.
Since her retirement, she has filled her time participating in several philanthropic and volunteer positions. Currently, she serves on the boards of Johns Hopkins/All Children’s Hospital and Lifepath Hospice. Martin is also on the boards of the Judeo Christian Health Clinic, Village Partners International, First Tee of Tampa Bay, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is a member of St. Joseph’s Hospital Women of Philanthropy and is a Big Sister with Big Brothers/Big Sisters as well as serving on the board of the School of Communication at Elon University.
She is also a “Copperhead”, the charity arm of the PGA’s Valspar Golf Tournament. When not in meetings, you will likely find her on the golf course or in her garden. Gayle is married to Mike Martin and has three adult children.
RJ spent the first 5,475 days of his life in foster care until he met his mom Tammy Curtis and she became his 13th and final home. Before he was adopted, RJ never attended one full year at the same school. He met a special Exceptional Student Education (ESE) teacher, Ms. Maz in 7th grade who took the time to explain his Individual Education Plan (IEP) to him and his mom and he credits her with teaching him how to learn. RJ started at Pepin Academies Pasco his Freshman year and said that this is where he truly started to understand that a learning disability didn’t mean he was dumb, but that his brain learns differently. He feels that attending Pepin Academies has changed his entire life, not just academically, but every part of it. RJ said he never even thought about attending college before attending Pepin Academies, but is now considering FSU, UCF and USF. RJ is interested in working for Disney or Busch Gardens one day as part of the team that designs roller coasters. He also plans to use his voice to continue advocating for children and youth in foster care, particularly those aging out of the system. RJ loves all things Bucs, Lightning and Rays and is a roller coaster enthusiast and history buff. RJ serves as the school mascot, participates in the musical theatre group and is an officer in the high school High Tech Group. Last year, he won both his school and regional speech contest and was overall third in the state with a speech about his life in foster care.
Julia started her journey at Pepin Academies 10 years ago as an elementary student and knows first-hand how Pepin Academies changes lives. She said she learned very quickly that Pepin was unlike any school she had ever attended and credits Pepin Academies with providing her with a sense of belonging. Julia feels that all of the teachers really care about the students’ well-being and that they push students to greatness. Julia loves to play the violin and volleyball. She is a member of the school theatre program and was the co-host of the 2017 Spring Talent Show, as well as a member of the cast for the school production of The Jungle Book. After graduation, Julia is interested in attending the University of Florida and would like to major in Anthropology.
Zachary has overcome a great deal in his 17 years. In 2005, his family moved from Florida to North Carolina where he was diagnosed with Aspergers and ADHD. For most of his school experience, he was separated from his peers during the school day only interacting with them during breakfast and lunch. As Zachary progressed in school, he spent more time in class and less in the student resource center, but still lacked the socialization with peers that he needed. After learning about Pepin Academies in Tampa, the family discussed with Zachary about moving back to Florida to attend Pepin. Zachary’s journey at Pepin Academies began in 2010 when he started fourth grade. It was there that Zachary began receiving training in social skills as well as his academic classes and for the first time ever, mentioned friends to his parents. Every year since has shown improvements. Zachary has done so well at Pepin Academies that in 2013, he told his parents he no longer wanted to take his medication for ADHD. After careful consideration and consultation with his physician, he stopped and has been medication-free for four years. Since that time, Zachary has become very outgoing and has begun performing. Zachary is the host of the Pepin Riverview Morning Show and an active member of the Lego Club. He maintains a cumulative GPA of 3.67 and after high school, he wants to attend college and pursue a career in the entertainment field or possibly as a cartoonist. In his free time, Zachary enjoys singing (his favorite artist is Johnny Cash), building Lego creations, making videos and drawing.