Alberta (top right) is a role model for her siblings, each of whom is following in her footsteps at Guadalupe Center.

By Dawn Montecalvo

There are gifts that almost certainly will create a magical Christmas morning for a child. A new smartphone. A train set. A bicycle.

Every gift-giver wants to see that euphoric state of joy and happiness last forever, but technology evolves, interests change and children grow.

For generations, people have been searching for a gift that truly keeps on giving, an item that is just as valuable today as it will be next month, next year and beyond. That gift is out there, though. It’s the gift of education.

Education can make dreams a reality. Little girls and boys can dream about becoming doctors, teachers, business owners, engineers, financial planners and more. A high-quality education can make it happen.

Of course, education is not a gift with immediate gratification. It’s a gift that requires hard work from the recipient, who must put forth effort in the classroom and show ambition, drive and determination. It’s a gift that needs mentoring and guidance along the way. It’s a gift that requires soul-searching and contemplation.

In the end, though, education creates endless possibilities by allowing children to set a goal and then begin charting their future.

Each year, Guadalupe Center serves more than 1,500 students through its nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program, After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program and college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program.

Guadalupe Center students are regular volunteers for Lipman Family Farms’ annual Backpack Giveaway each summer.

These programs are making a difference in the lives of Immokalee families, including one with four siblings all benefiting from Guadalupe Center’s educational programs. Alberta, the oldest, is now a sophomore at Roberts Wesleyan University majoring in business, with scholarships and grants covering nearly every expense. Rosaura, a Tutor Corps student, will graduate next spring among the top of her class at Immokalee High School, where she participates in numerous clubs and activities, and also is enrolled in Florida Gulf Coast University’s early admissions program. Elmer is an eighth-grader who has been able to receive specialized support and services that are helping him excel in middle school. Graciela, the youngest, is a second-grader whose reading, math and social skills soared after enrolling in the After-school TutoringProgram.

This is just one family. Guadalupe Center hopes to reach as many families as possible and accomplish its mission of breaking the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee.

That mission becomes clearer when reviewing statistical data. According to 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median income rises proportionately with educational attainment:

  • Less than high school diploma: $619/week
  • High school diploma: $781/week
  • Associate degree: $938/week
  • Bachelor’s degree: $1,305/week
  • Master’s degree: $1,545/week
  • Doctorate degree: $1,885/week

Money, of course, doesn’t buy happiness. For children who grew up living in poverty, though, it pays for three meals per day, rent or mortgage, utilities, reliable transportation, health care, clothing and other expenses.

Education can change lives and change an impoverished community like Immokalee.

Every December, generous residents of Southwest Florida open their hearts and wallets to support numerous charitable causes. Education is a gift unlike any other, one that helps students recognize that the impossible is actually possible and that their dreams are within reach.

Dawn Montecalvo is president of Guadalupe Center in Immokalee. To provide a lasting gift to students in Immokalee, please visit or call 239-657-7711. All donations are tax deductible.

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