by Dawn Montecalvo
Forty miles separates downtown Naples from Immokalee. The economic, cultural and generational divide make the distance seem greater, so much that residents of each community rarely cross paths.
Immokalee is a place where poverty and unemployment are high, and expectations historically have been low. For generations, youth have been discouraged from pursuing their dreams. They’ve repeatedly heard the words improbable, impossible and inconceivable.
Times are changing.
Today, with support from Guadalupe Center, students aren’t just dreaming about better opportunities… they’re living out their dreams. To eliminate the great divide between Naples and Immokalee, Guadalupe Center is telling the stories of students whose lives are being transformed through education.
“This is Me” stories showcase their determination, resilience and perseverance. Stories prove that possibilities, opportunities and potential impact are endless.
The transformation in Immokalee has begun. It started with education, and it started at Guadalupe Center. The five students featured below are exceptional, but they’re not the exception. Each one of the 1,400 plus students we serve annually is writing a similar life story.
This is Me: Marc Dorcin
Marc was born in Haiti, but moved to Florida in 2010 to escape devastation caused by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. He didn’t know English, but others in the community stepped up to help. Now, as an Immokalee High School student in Guadalupe Center’s college preparatory Tutor Corps Program, Marc is stepping up to help elementary school children in the After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program.
“Being a role model makes me feel I’m helping in the way I was helped,” Marc said. Marc is a senior at Immokalee High School and plans to study engineering at Roberts Wesleyan College. “Guadalupe Center has changed my life. Now, my dream is within reach.”
This is Me: Alberta Araceli Morales-Gonzalez
Alberta temporarily entered the foster care system at age five. Almost a decade later, when her mother suddenly passed away, she was thrust into more of a parental role, preparing meals for her dad and three siblings in addition to taking care of household chores. Despite the extra responsibilities, Alberta remained focused on academics and her dream of attending college. Following her lead, Alberta’s three siblings also have been impacted by education programs at Guadalupe Center.
Without Guadalupe Center, “My siblings wouldn’t have an opportunity to go to college and I wouldn’t have the ability to improve myself through education.”
Alberta is a freshman at Roberts Wesleyan College majoring in business, and already has emerged as a campus leader. She participates in the college’s nationally ranked Enactus team and was chosen to share information about Guadalupe Center with after-school programs in Rochester, New York.
This is Me: Lunex Illozier
College is expensive, out of reach for many working-class families in Immokalee. Lunex said his parents told him just that – they didn’t have the money to send him to college. Guadalupe Center is helping provide the means.
“I don’t have to struggle on the road by myself. I have people by my side willing to help me every step of the way.”
A senior at Immokalee High School, Lunex is a standout in the Tutor Corps Program who wants to be a biomedical engineer. Education is the only way he’ll be able to pursue his dream. “It allows us to get past those barriers that are stopping us from being the best we can be.”
This is Me: Elizabeth Midney-Martinez
From an early age, Elizabeth had her heart set on becoming a doctor, only to have her dreams dashed over and over. “A lot of people said ‘No, that’s too hard. We don’t have any doctors come out of Immokalee.’”
She joined Tutor Corps in the ninth grade, gaining the skills and knowledge to succeed in high school, college and beyond. She graduated at top of her class at Immokalee High School, and knew she was capable of more.
Today, people don’t call her Elizabeth. They call her doctor. Dr.
Midney-Martinez is a family medicine doctor with the Lee Physician Group in LaBelle.
This is Me: Mark Trejo
Mark is a “lifer” at Guadalupe Center, first enrolling as an infant in the Early Childhood Education Program and later participating in the After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program and Tutor Corps Program. He earned a Blankley Scholarship through Guadalupe Center to attend Arcadia University.
“Guadalupe Center has changed my life in one of the biggest ways you can think of, and that’s my education. Honestly, without this scholarship, I don’t know where I would be or if I would even be going to college.”
Mark has been inducted into Delta Mu Delta International Honors Society and will graduate this spring with a business degree. He already has accepted a position as an audit associate at a top firm in Naples.
Five students, five success stories.
Imagine how many more dreams can be fulfilled if we keep encouraging students to be all they were meant to be. Imagine how many children will grow up wanting to become the next doctor, engineer, auditor or business leader to graduate from Immokalee High School.
When motivated students, dedicated teachers and passionate supporters combine forces, the possibilities truly are endless.
Dawn Montecalvo is president of Guadalupe Center in Immokalee. To help create additional success stories, please visit GuadalupeCenter.org or call 239-657-7711.