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Student Spotlight: Devin Paladino


From growing up in the Illinois foster care system to pursuing his dreams at Hillsborough Community College, Devin Paladino is creating a change in his community through sharing his experiences in writing. 


Due to the fact young adults in the Illinois foster care system don’t age out until 21 years old and can’t leave the state until then, Devin worked tirelessly with his case worker to receive the state’s approval to move to Florida after high school, where he could have a fresh start. Shortly before turning 19 years old, he made the solo move from his hometown of Rockford to Tampa, a city he had fallen in love with after attending a youth basketball camp.


For a few months, his priority was working and saving enough money to attend school. 


After bouncing around and growing up in 13 different foster homes, three homeless shelters, a residential facility for two years and even sleeping inside of a Greyhound bus station and an airport, Devin finally had a place of his own when he moved into Hawks Landing, HCC’s affiliated student housing, when he enrolled at the College in spring 2020. 


For years Devin had always heard, “Why don’t you share your story and write a book?” 


After COVID-19 shut everything down and people were secluded in their homes, he did just that. For three summer months he sat at his desk and wrote what would become his first book, My Testimony


The book, an autobiography, was edited for free by HCC professor, Lorenzo Carswell, who Devin had met in a developmental writing class. Since then, Devin has self-published two more books titled Streets to Scholarships and Mommy, I’m Hungry


Through his writing, he hopes everyone will learn to “use everything you go through as a lesson to keep pushing forward. My greatest pain and failures have only pushed me to where I am today. Life is hard. Don't let hard times break you; let them inspire you to become who you know you can be.” 


“Growing up in the system has only taught me to give back to the community. Those are my people; I know what it’s like to struggle and live off what the state gives you. Back home and here in the area, I’ve helped provide meals to those who need it, given away gifts to kids and women in shelters and even visited elementary schools to read my children’s book, Mommy, I’m Hungry.” 


On balancing school, writing and community involvement, Devin says, “What drives me is knowing that I can be the first person in my family to get a degree and change my life despite what I’ve been through. Every day I wake up and am inspired to keep working hard.” 


After graduating from HCC, he hopes to transfer to either the University of Central Florida or the University of South Florida to continue his education in mass communications and pursue a career in sports journalism and public speaking. 


“I’d like to thank Professor Carswell for inspiring me to finally start writing, my humanities professor Bryan Shuler who has always provided me with support at HCC, Professor Valerie Saad who took the time to share all of HCC’s resources with me, and a special shout-out to the Dale Mabry Campus library staff who believed in my writing enough to have it in the library.” 


“Being a full-time student hasn’t been easy. I’ve had long nights and spent hours speaking with professors and visiting the tutoring centers, but it’s all part of the journey of getting a degree and achieving success.” 


Looking towards the future, he says, “Short term, I’d like to finish my fourth book and purchase a new car, and eventually when I move out of Hawks Landing, I’m looking forward to getting my own apartment and paying my own bills. My long-term goal is to be a husband and a father because I didn’t have that family environment growing up.”


For now, he continues to focus on school and his community--from volunteering with Feeding Tampa Bay and the Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay to recently meeting with Mayor Tom McNamara of Rockford, IL, and Mayor Jane Castor of Tampa. 


On meeting Mayor Castor, Devin said, “When I first moved to this city [Tampa] two years ago, I was just a 19-year-old foster kid from Rockford, Illinois, who moved here on my own to go to college and start a new life. I didn’t know a single person here; I was riding the city bus and walking because I didn’t have a car. I was going to school full time and working two jobs struggling to pay my rent and surviving off of ramen noodles and meals from work because I didn’t know how to cook and couldn’t afford many groceries.


Life was hard, and I began to question if I belonged here and questioned where my life was going. To be standing here next to you [Mayor Castor] two years later shaking your hand and presenting my books to you as a four-times author is something I never thought would happen and is truly an honor. The city of Tampa will always be a special place to me, and I'm very thankful to be here. Thank you to all my friends and supporters who have supported me on my journey. I love you all, and I’m going to keep working my hardest to be the best person, writer and speaker I can be.” 


Devin Paladino’s books can be found at the HCC Dale Mabry Campus library and 20 public libraries across Hillsborough County. 

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