Local News

Businessman sponsors trips to NASA center

SEBRING - Different things have inspired different people to better their lives. For Jhonson Napoleon, president and CEO of Azure College, it's the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral that made him want to touch the skies. A first-generation college graduate from Haiti, Napoleon remembers a feeling of "amazement" on the first of six trips he's taken to the NASA center. It was a life-changing experience that "made me what I am today, working as a businessman."
An immigrant who's worked his way to the top, Napoleon wants to share this same feeling with some of Highlands County's youth who may otherwise not get a chance. He is sponsoring 100 county kids to a day-long trip to the Kennedy Space Center this month, which includes having lunch with an astronaut, one of the opportunities the center offers its visitors for an extra fee. Two coach buses will leave at 5 a.m. and come back by 9 p.m. Fifty of the youth will be from Sebring High School, 28 from Lake Placid High School and the remaining from the Boys & Girls Club of Highlands County and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. "We want to help certain group of children, especially those from lower income, to see what the human mind can accomplish," he said. "Especially when schools are pushing math and science." Napoleon remembers how something "clicked" in him when he saw a re-enactment of what it took to send into space American astronaut Alan Shepard, who was the first man to go on a piloted space flight. Those who helped Shepard on his history-making trip were mostly professionals who had not turned 40 yet. That feat made him realize that he didn't "have to be an old man to accomplish something." Napoleon went on to earn his bachelor's and master's degree in information technology, got into the real-estate business and founded Azure College and Azure Media LLC, which owns radio stations. He learned how to speak English and traveled all over the world. This is not the first time Napoleon has sponsored such a trip. He donated $8,000 to Miami Edison Senior High School to send 80 kids to Cape Canaveral. He wanted to do the same thing for Highlands County students. Seven of those children are from the Boys & Girls Club of Highlands County, said its Executive Director Woodraun Wright. Wright said these children are middle schoolers who also help the program assistants and may otherwise not have gotten a chance to go. "Our goal is to make our kids more well-rounded," he said. "We hope they have a great experience."