by Steven Kissinger
Since 1991, The Immokalee Foundation has worked diligently to empower Immokalee’s children. Through programs focused on education, vocation and life skills, the foundation is helping hundreds of students pave their path to success. However, the foundation doesn’t do it alone; we rely on the help of the community to help us make a positive difference in the life of a child. We are never disappointed. Year after year, sponsors, donors, mentors, board members, businesses, volunteers and more give of themselves to help TIF continue enriching the lives of Immokalee’s youth.
Community support has always been crucial to the success of the organization. When Parker Collier and other concerned citizens of Collier County founded TIF 24 years ago, their goal was to garner enough financial support to make an impact in the lives of Immokalee citizens.
And make an impact they did. With the generous help of philanthropic citizens, companies and assistance to initiatives in education, career development and health care in Immokalee. In the late 1990s, TIF began to concentrate its efforts more on education, believing education was an integral part of the economic development of Immokalee.
TIF began to provide its own scholarships and mentoring in 2009 through its partnership with Take Stock in Children, a statewide program that provides deserving students an opportunity to fulfill their potential and attend college. TSIC helps increase high school graduation rates by holding students to a pledge to stay out of trouble, keep their grades up and consistently meet with a mentor. These volunteer mentors – often community members passionate about making a difference – meet with their students on a regular basis, providing invaluable support, guidance, accountability and friendship.
Over time, new programs were introduced and today, in addition to TSIC, the foundation offers Immokalee Readers, Career Development and College Success. Immokalee Readers is an intensive reading intervention program targeting the bottom 17 percent of readers from kindergarten through third grade. The after school program matches elementary students with high school-aged tutors for enjoyable and productive reading lessons.
Through the Career Development program, TIF aims to increase awareness and knowledge of career paths through an array of career panels, seminars and industry-targeted tours. One popular event is TIF’s annual networking reception. Here, local business executives from companies such as Arthrex, Hilton Naples, The Ritz-Carlton and NCH Healthcare Systems provide valuable insights and real-life lessons important in helping students prepare for life beyond high school.
Understanding that college isn’t for everyone, the Heavy Equipment Mechanics program at the Immokalee Technical Center was launched as part of the CDP in 2010 thanks to the guidance of Don Fites, the former CEO of Caterpillar. Fites was instrumental in developing a collaboration with the public and private sectors to raise funds for the program. With the support of The Caterpillar Foundation, the Fites Family Charitable Trust, Kelly Foundation Inc. and Kelly Tractor, and The District School Board of Collier County, HEM was born.
TIF’s College Success program provides ongoing mentorship and academic advisement for students on a post-secondary path, helping them to set up individual academic plans to ensure graduation. They learn and develop important life skills such as financial responsibility, time management and study habits.
Most importantly, we are making a difference. One hundred percent of the students who participate in TIF programs graduate from high school, and 97 percent of those students go on to a college or vocational post-secondary path. Plus, about 75 percent of those students go on to graduate. We are giving students a chance to reach heights they never thought possible.
Community partnerships, dedicated supporters and volunteers, board members and more are essential to continuing our mission. Every person, family and business supporting TIF plays a crucial role in helping Immokalee’s children achieve their dream of economic independence and we are grateful.
The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to success through college and post-secondary preparation and support, mentoring and tutoring, opportunities for broadening experiences and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more about TIF, volunteering as a mentor or for additional information, call 239.430.9122 or visit www.immokaleefoundation.org.
Steven Kissinger, executive director of The Immokalee Foundation, can be reached at steven.