RETURNING THE FAVOR – One Teen’s Vision for Success

Dawn Montecalvo

by DAWN MONTECALVO, President & CEO / Guadalupe Center


Celena has become quite the art collector. Although her collection doesn’t feature a Rembrandt, Monet or da Vinci, it does feature a Juanito. The medium of choice in her collection isn’t oil or acrylic paints on a linen stretched canvas; it’s crayons, colored pencils and magic markers on copy paper and construction paper.

Celena, an 18-year-old senior at Immokalee High School, shares a special connection with each of the artists whose work is featured in her collection. They are original pieces created by students she tutors at Eden Park Elementary. “I will keep the artwork of all the first-graders who have shared their art with me, like I have since little Juanito gave me the first of his many masterpieces,” Celena said.

Celena participates in Guadalupe Center’s college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program, which offers guidance in college and career readiness, ACT and SAT test prep, mentorships, financial literacy, and scholarship assistance. Perhaps the most engaging part of Tutor Corps, however, is a component that brings Celena and her Tutor Corps peers into local elementary school classrooms. There, the teens work one-on one with students in kindergarten, first and second grade who need extra assistance in reading and math.

“Our Tutor Corps students spend seven hours a day taking their own classes, then dedicate the next two or three hours to helping elementary students improve their reading and math skills,” said Ellie Ramirez, director of the After-school Program. “They form bonds like an older brother or sister, so it’s no surprise when Celena and other Tutor Corps students grow attached to the children they are mentoring.”


Celena’s story is like many students who have enrolled in educational programs at Guadalupe Center. The oldest daughter of immigrant parents, Celena is being raised in a household that falls below the poverty line. She didn’t have an easy childhood but recognizes her way out of poverty is through education. This fall, she began the college admissions process, and knows when next August rolls around, she will become the first member of her family to attend college.

Like many students at Guadalupe Center, Celena is using her life experiences to chart her future. As a youth, she recognized a rural community like Immokalee lacks an appropriate level of health care facilities and doctors compared to more affluent, suburban communities.

When COVID-19 first started spreading, Immokalee became ground zero for COVID-19 cases in Southwest Florida, as testing sites, vaccination clinics and educational programs were slow to arrive.

“Growing up in Immokalee, I would see the need for further public
health aid on a daily basis and had even suffered the consequences of
limited advocacy for the community’s health during the early time
of COVID-19,” Celena said.

An astounding 100% of Tutor Corps students pursue a college degree, and many return to Immokalee to serve as teachers, health care workers, first responders, and business leaders. Celena plans to be the next. She intends to major in public health, a medical field focused on healthy lifestyles and disease prevention.

The average annual cost of attendance for college students can exceed the entire year’s income for families in Immokalee. Finances aren’t posing a roadblock, though. Every Tutor Corps graduate since the program’s inception more than a decade ago has been accepted to college, oftentimes elite private institutions offering specialized programs. And with a graduation rate of 94%, most students earn a bachelor’s degree without accruing any debt.

“Our dedicated Tutor Corps staff spend hours working one-onone
with students to help them understand the college admissions
and financial aid process, but the generosity of our supporters is truly
the difference-maker for our students,” said Kelly Krupp, Guadalupe
Center’s vice president of philanthropy. “Donations don’t just fund programs
or services; every dollar we receive helps fuel dreams and provide
endless opportunities for the next generation of leaders in Immokalee.”

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