Guadalupe Center Home Grown Initiative

Dawn Montecalvo

Education creates endless possibilities and opens doors to life-changing opportunities. However, not every child has equal access to a high-quality learning environment, especially in Immokalee. That’s why Guadalupe Center embarked on a monumental, transformational campaign to expand its educational offerings within the rural, impoverished Collier County community.

The first phase of that expansion, the Monaghan Family Early Childhood Education Campus, opened in 2020 and accommodates 64 children ages 6 weeks to 3 years old enrolled in the nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program.

The second phase, the van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning, is set to open this spring and serve another 154 Early Childhood Education students. It also will become home to 125 teens in the college preparatory Tutor Corps Program.

Once the new campus opens, Guadalupe Center will offer 39 early learning classrooms for 527 children under 5. In total, Guadalupe Center will serve more than 1,900 students across all programs and have nearly 100 full-time educators on staff.

A key to this impressive growth was support from generous lead donors like Rich and Helene Monaghan, Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, and other visionary leaders who opened their hearts so students in Immokalee could enjoy the same educational opportunities as their peers in Naples, Marco Island, Bonita Springs and other communities. Although fundraising certainly was not an easy task, Guadalupe Center is confronting another challenge – staffing.

Early childhood teachers must have a high school diploma or equivalent, earn a Child Development Associate Credential and complete 45 hours of training through the Florida Department of Children and Families. However, 60% of adults in Immokalee do not have a high school diploma, severely limiting the potential applicant pool.

Immokalee’s remote location also makes it difficult to attract teachers from Naples, Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres who have ample job opportunities closer to their homes. Plus, the unemployment rate for college-educated adults is at a historic low.

Guadalupe Center is taking matters into its own hands. The nonprofit created a three-part workforce development program that covers recruitment, training and on-the-job performance reviews. The new initiative is implemented through collaborations with Drexel University, Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida South Western State College.

Job candidates through the workforce development initiative likely will be parents of Guadalupe Center students, recent high school graduates who have yet to settle on a career path and retirees who want to make a difference in the lives of local children.

After the recruitment phase, the program will help qualified individuals obtain the academic credentials required by the state while learning the basics of teaching, such as setting up a classroom, implementing a curriculum and managing a classroom full of children.

Finally, the new teachers will learn as they go through on-the job training and feedback that will help educators build their skills.

Inspired, dedicated and compassionate teachers provide a safe, nurturing environment for children to thrive academically, emotionally and behaviorally. They can fuel students’ passions and guide them down a path of success. Quite simply, teachers transform lives. Guadalupe Center’s Annual Giving Campaign helps our team pull together the resources needed to truly impact each student’s chance of success. Please consider joining our quest to expand access to education in Immokalee and break the cycle of poverty for the next generation.

Dawn Montecalvo is president of Guadalupe Center in Immokalee. To help support the “Home Grown” initiative, please visit or call 239-657-7711. All donations are tax deductible.

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