Gabe Ramirez spent most of his childhood in Immokalee, not venturing too far from his hometown. When it came time for college, though, Gabe headed north… way north. He enrolled at St. John’s University in Minnesota, 1,800 miles from home, and majored in education. However, his long-range plan always included a return to Immokalee so he could make a difference in his hometown.
What he didn’t know, though, was just how quickly that would happen.
After graduating in May, Gabe secured a job as a second-grade teacher at Eden Park Elementary in Immokalee. It’s a five-minute commute from home and less than a mile from his old stomping grounds at Immokalee High School. It’s also directly across the street from Guadalupe Center’s van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning, which houses the nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program and college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program that he participated in throughout high school.
“It was always my plan to come home and give back to the community that has given me so much,” said Gabe, who also will coach wrestling at Immokalee High and spend next summer teaching students in Guadalupe Center’s Summer Enrichment Program.
Since its inception, 244 Tutor Corps graduates have earned college degrees. For a small community like Immokalee, where just 7.7% of adults have a bachelor’s degree, 244 college graduates is a big deal.
“Poverty is an economic condition that can persist for generations, but a high-quality education has the power to create a cycle of prosperity in rural communities like Immokalee,” said Tutor Corps College Director Jorge Perez, himself an Immokalee native who graduated from Florida State University and returned home after graduation. “Gabe is one of many alumni who have come back to serve this community in the fields of education, health care, business, finance and other professions.”
Unlike many Guadalupe Center students, Gabe is not the first member of his family to earn a college degree. That honor went to his older sister, Jasmin, who earned an associate degree from Florida South Western State College in 2017, the same year she graduated from Immokalee High. Then in 2021, she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Arcadia University in Pennsylvania. This summer, she completed a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Florida Gulf Coast University. She, too, returned to Immokalee after graduation, first working at Pace Center for Girls, Collier at Immokalee and now at Children’s Advocacy Center of Collier County.
Gabe likely won’t be the last of the Ramirez siblings to earn a college degree, either. His younger sisters, Mikaela and Maya, are both enrolled in the Tutor Corps Program, and his younger brother, Emilio, is excelling in the Early Childhood Education Program.
“We see this all the time with families,” Perez said. “Education helps elevate one sibling, and younger brothers and sisters follow in their footsteps.”
The Ramirez’ story is one of many that fuel Guadalupe Center’s signature fundraising gala: Elevate the Journey of Endless Possibilities. The event theme directly relates to the world of possibilities that is created through high-quality educational programs. Those wishing to support students like Gabe, Jasmin and their siblings are invited to join Guadalupe Center staff and students at Elevate, which will be held January 12, 2024 at The Ritz-Carlton Naples, Tiburón. Proceeds from the event will help students reach new heights.
For more information about Elevate, please visitGuadalupeCenter.org/event/elevate-the-journey.
About the Author
Dawn Montecalvo is president and CEO at Guadalupe Center, which provides high-quality educational programs for nearly 1,950 students annually in Immokalee.