The Guadalupe Center provides educational programs for more than 1,100 students a day in Immokalee, beginning at infancy and continuing through college. Each year at its signature fundraising event, in addition to dinner, dancing and a live auction of one-of a kind experiences and items, guests have the rare opportunity to hear remarkable stories of determination and triumph from Guadalupe Center high school graduates and college students. They are living proof that education can change one’s life, no matter where that life began. One such story is that of Immokalee High School senior Maria. This determined young woman is a member of Guadalupe Center’s college preparatory Tutor Corps Program and volunteers with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers advocating for their rights and fair treatment. This is Maria’s story.
My family is from a small, rural village in Guanajuato, Mexico. My parents, like most people from our village, have only a second grade education. This is the age at which they began picking produce in the fields.
In hopes of providing my six older siblings and me with the education they never had, my mom and dad brought us to the United States 13 years ago. We settled in Immokalee and my parents were hired as farm laborers, the only work they had ever known. They picked tomatoes every day from sun up to sun down, and each summer my whole family followed the harvest north to Georgia and Virginia. My siblings and I are grown now, but this pattern continues to this day. I stay with my older brothers and sisters while they are away, and we eagerly await our parent’s return from Georgia around Thanksgiving.
Education was so important to my parents that they always made sure my siblings and I were back in time for the new school year. I remember my school experience at Village Oaks Elementary as a very difficult time. I did not understand English or anything going on around me. Through hard work, however, I was fluent in English in about a year, and was soon placed in a program for gifted students.
In middle school, I began to volunteer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Witnessing firsthand the many injustices that occur in the fields, and the direct impact that had on my family, spurred my interest in advocating for the rights and fair treatment of farmworkers. I helped with the artwork for their Fair Food campaign, and in high school my involvement continued to grow. I completed a summer internship with the CIW and helped lead a special project documenting the organization’s history. I founded the Student Farmworker Alliance Chapter at Immokalee High School in hopes of forming student solidarity with the farm working community. Through the CIW, I advocate for the rights of farmworkers though community and educational events, as well as through peaceful demonstrations. I offer my support to all workers acting as a translator and interpreter. I hope that these efforts will improve the working conditions of farmworkers not only in Immokalee, but across the entire nation.
I first heard about the Guadalupe Center as a freshman through Immokalee High School’s Migrant Center. By this point, I knew I wanted to attend college and was so grateful that the Guadalupe Center was there to help me. They have supplied me with a paying job, an adult mentor, college scholarship money and the other support I need to prepare for college.
Being a tutor in Guadalupe’s afterschool program has impacted my life tremendously. I have been lucky enough to work with some students beginning in Kindergarten and seeing them through second grade. I have grown with them and learned from them as they have from me. In Immokalee especially, I know that having a good role model can change one’s life. Just as my mentor, Shirl, is a role model for me, I know that I am a role model for the children I work with.
My dream for next year and beyond is to attend Columbia University to study Economics and Political Science. I hope to go on to Columbia Law School to study civil rights, and then to work as a civil rights attorney with a firm such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.
I am incredibly grateful to be part of the Guadalupe Center program. Their support has been life changing, not only for me, but for all my nieces and nephews who are now in Guadalupe’s Early Childhood, afterschool tutoring, and summer programs. I am excited for the future when I can help others as I have been helped.
For more information on Guadalupe Center’s signature
event Dazzle, January 11, at the
Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, please call 239.657.7124
or go to www.guadalupecenter.org.