Individuals and businesses in Southwest Florida are changing the lives of children in Immokalee. Through continued support of the Guadalupe Center, their philanthropy prepares 1,100 children – from infants to high school seniors – for educational success and a better future.
Because of the center’s three core programs, funded mostly by contributions and money raised during its annual signature event, children of this impoverished farm community are becoming doctors, teachers, engineers and even rocket scientists. They are the future of Immokalee – students like Israel Vega who is attending the college of his dreams; his older sister Mariela now applying to medical school; and younger brother Lonnie, a junior at Immokalee High School, already mapping out his college career.
If not for the Tutor Corps program at Guadalupe Center, the Vega siblings would have never considered post-secondary education a possibility.
“People wouldn’t expect an immigrant family like us to go to college,” said Israel, a sophomore at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Being in Tutor Corps has changed my life.”
With a mission of breaking the cycle of poverty through education, the Guadalupe Center provides early childhood education, after-school tutoring and high school Tutor Corps programs. It has prepared its youngest children for kindergarten, improved math and reading skills for elementary school children and helped more than 200 high school students realize the dream of a college education.
Barbara Oppenheim, president of Guadalupe Center, attributes student success to the dedicated staff of teachers, volunteers and the generous heart of the Southwest Florida community, which gave a recordsetting $1.3 million during the 2015 signature fundraising event.
“It’s only because of the community’s support we are able to truly change children’s lives,” she said. “Whether it’s a volunteer who is generously giving of their time to mentor a Tutor Corps student for college, a community rallying financial support from their neighbors or a local business sponsoring our events, we are fortunate to have so many people who are passionate about what we do.”
“Aqua,” the 2016 Guadalupe Center signature event, will take place Jan. 13 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples. The event features live music, a gourmet dinner, live auction, and the opportunity to make on-the-spot donations for college scholarships. It begins with a cocktail reception and a meet-and-greet with students enrolled in Tutor Corps, a comprehensive college-preparatory program that provides academically capable but financially needy students with the guidance and support to achieve a college education.
The Tutor Corps program boasts a 100 percent high school graduation rate and college acceptance for nine consecutive years, said Oppenheim. Ninety percent of its students have earned college degrees – well above the 59 percent average reported by the U.S. Department of Education.
“The program is all-encompassing,” she said. “We match students with volunteer mentors who are very involved in the children’s lives through high school and college. We also prepare students for ACT and SAT, writing and public speaking and help them find financial aid and scholarships.”
Tutor Corps students also earn college scholarships by tutoring children in the center’s after-school program. London Bay Homes President and CEO Mark Wilson was so impressed during his visit to Guadalupe Center, he shuttled his senior management team to Immokalee.
“These are children who are overcoming major disadvantages, circumstances most of us could never imagine, and through sheer willpower and determination are beating the odds,” Wilson said. “I knew we could help financially and in so many other ways.”
The company is among the business sponsors for “aqua.” “
Mark and the London Bay Cares committee have really embraced Guadalupe Center,” said Sabra Smith, human resources director and a committee member. “We’ve already outlined a plan to increase our involvement, host events to bring attention to the center and financially support the program’s growth. Several employees are interested in being Tutor Corps mentors. We’re also planning a career day to introduce students to job opportunities and educational requirements in homebuilding, architecture and construction.”
London Bay employees raised $1,100 for school supplies and several donated filled backpacks during an afternoon Christmas in July fundraiser. The company also provided paid summer internships to Tutor Corps students Alan and Israel Cuevas. Israel learned the nuances of the construction process and became an expert in permitting, earning the Hero Award for helping the team complete 17 permits in a week.
Working in accounting, Alan mastered data entry, monthly financial reports and “caught everyone up in their job duties,” Smith said. “He completed his tasks and asked for more with a smile on his face.”
“We plan to grow the intern program next summer,” she added. “Alan and Israel were wonderful and worked hard. They were professional and always willing to take the next step. We were impressed by their maturity and ability to seamlessly become part of our team.”
Southwest Florida’s leading luxury homebuilder is also partnering with Gulfshore Life to host “The Best New Restaurants” at Mediterra the following evening of “aqua,” with proceeds benefitting Guadalupe Center. Chefs featured in the magazine will serve small plates in several newly completed model homes.
“Mark Wilson and London Bay have really taken a vested interest in our students,” said Oppenheim. “They are setting an example we hope other businesses will follow.”
Ametek Foundation, Arthrex, City Mattress, David Meyer Trust, JP Morgan, Luma Capital and TD Ameritrade are additional “aqua” sponsors.
Businesses, families and individual philanthropists have the opportunity to support “aqua” through six levels of sponsorship ranging from $1,000 to $25,000, which includes tickets and acknowledgement in the official “aqua” program. Individual tickets are available for $500.
For more information about the Guadalupe Center and “aqua”, visit www.GuadalupeCenter.org or call 239.657.7158.