When we asked Amy Calandrino if she envisioned attending college from an early age, she responded: “Graduating from college and owning my own business helping others was always a dream of mine, but I always thought it was one of those lofty, fairytale kind of dreams. As much as my loved ones said that I could make it happen, I never fully believed – not while buying books and a backpack, not during orientation, and not even during registering for classes. I didn’t know my dream came true until I attended my first class at Valencia College.”
Amy is originally from St. Johnsbury, Vermont where Cabot cheese, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and maple syrup reigned supreme. As a child, this was wonderful. However, for her parents who did not attend college, it was challenging to make a living. Amy’s mother worked tiring nursing shifts and her father worked seasonally including work as a short order cook at a local diner. When faced with continued hardships while shoveling snow or taking a risk and coming to the sunshine state, her parents chose the latter.
Coming up with the money for their move to Florida was difficult. To aid them in their transition, her parents’ friends allowed them to park their small camper on their land for a summer to conserve funds. With no rent or utility payments, Amy’s family was able to scrape together enough money to make the trek to Florida. On Halloween 1988 just before the first snow, they left for Florida.
Upon their arrival, Amy’s parents quickly found good jobs they could never find in Vermont which enabled them to provide a more financially stable environment and within a few years her parents purchased their first home. While Amy’s family lacked commonplace luxuries, such as cable, air conditioning, or clothes dryer, they did not suffer. Monopoly took the place of cable and without a dishwasher, they worked as team to clean the dinner dishes. If her family didn’t have the money for school clothes or a doctor’s bill, her parents would clean homes or do other side jobs in addition to their full-time jobs. Amy also tried to minimize the burden by babysitting, delivering newspapers or washing neighbor’s cars. In grade school, Amy began volunteering in nursing homes, tutoring children, serving food to the less fortunate, participating in environmental cleanups, or building homes for Habitat for Humanity. Those early volunteer experience ignited her continued passion for helping others.
When it came time to consider college, Amy’s parents encouraged her to vet out all scholarship opportunities as they lacked the financial resources to contribute. Fortunately, Amy received a full scholarship from Valencia College and flourished in the school’s Honors Program. The entire Valencia College team always made time to help her to apply for the right classes, connect with tutoring assistance, and guidance with financial aid.
During her college experience, Amy have worked full-time (sometimes up to 60-70 hours) as a paralegal while taking a full-time course load. That discipline enabled Amy to later start her own commercial real estate business – Beyond Commercial — on a shoestring budget during the economic down cycle while still working full-time as a business and real estate paralegal. Since then, Amy’s business has grown significantly through repeat customers, referrals, and relationships forged through many peer and community groups.
Amy is also passionate about giving back through to the community through donating her time and talents to many local community groups and organizations. For instance, Amy is Past President of the Orange County Bar Association’s Paralegal Section and was also appointed by past Florida Bar President Mayanne Downs to study mandatory paralegal regulation. During Amy’s involvement with the Paralegal Section, she regularly connected with Valencia’s program.
Amy lives in Winter Park with her husband Phil, Duke the whippet and two cats. Amy first fell in love with Winter Park after taking courses at Valencia College’s Winter Park campus and later attending Rollins College. She also enjoys cooking, taking Duke to the farmers’ market and dog park (documenting those adventures on his Instagram @DukeWhippet), reading, and spending time with loved ones.
“Valencia College’s belief and investment in me was transformative and catapulted my success,” she says. “Today, I still use my college backpack which was a splurge 15 years ago. It’s a small reminder of how much I have to be grateful for and that I still need to reach back.”