Steve Kissinger, Widline Duvert, Sandra Andres, Xochilt Zaragoza, Noemi Perezby Steven Kissinger

As we celebrate our 25th anniversary at The Immokalee Foundation, we  look back with gratitude that, so often, the youth involved in our programs inspire their siblings to see brighter futures through our programs.

Perhaps no family illustrates this more than five of the Zaragoza siblings. Amadeo became involved with the Future Builders of America vocational education program in 2007. His sister Anita was accepted to the Take Stock in Children scholarship program while attending middle school in 2006; she is now a student at Florida Gulf Coast University with her sights set on attending medical school. And then came Veronica and younger sister Xochilt, both accepted in 2012. Xochilt graduated from high school in June and is heading off to the University of Central Florida to work on a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Meanwhile, Veronica will finish a degree in elementary education at FGCU in the fall and says her dream is to earn a master’s degree. “I want to go back to my community and make a difference in students’ education,” Veronica said. In fact, as a Career Development program specialist working with TIF high school juniors and seniors, she already has a head start. And fifth, but certainly not least, is Vianey, who was accepted into the Career Development program last fall. Veronica explains her siblings’ involvement this way: “When my younger sisters and I saw that my older brother and sister became involved with the foundation, it motivated us to join the program as well.

Everyone from my town has two choices: We can stay and work for low wages or continue our education after high school. Since I was a young child, I really could not do much to help my parents. All they really wanted was for my sisters, my brother and me to  focus on our education.” “My sister Veronica was able to see my progress through these past few years,” said Xochilt. “She was like a mentor. I don’t know what I would have done without her.” Ruben Lucio forged a similar path for his younger sibling, Benjamin. “As I came into TIF, I was already known because of my brother,” said Benjamin. The brothers ended up helping each other. “It also helped with networking as my brother and I knew different people andIMMOKALEE FOUNDATION opportunities within the program that we could share with each other,” he added.

Ruben graduated from Florida SouthWestern State College two years ago and began a teaching career by giving back the same way Veronica wants to: Lucio became a migrant resource teacher in Immokalee. This year, he will be a history classroom teacher and coach several sports teams, while also mentoring a TIF student. Ana Abarca also is returning to Immokalee this fall with a degree and the desire to teach math to middle school students. She was introduced to TIF by her brother, Jesus, who was in TIF’s Take Stock in Children program during middle school. Now 25, he holds a degree from Florida State University and is a young executive with Lipman Produce.

The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to success through college and post-secondary preparation and support, mentoring and tutoring, opportunities for broadening experiences, and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more about TIF, volunteering as a mentor, making a donation, including TIF in your estate plans, or for additional information, call 239.430.9122 or visit Steven Kissinger, executive director of The Immokalee Foundation, can be reached at

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