by Steven Kissinger

Jesus Abarca, who was accepted into The Immokalee Foundation’s Take Stock in Children program in middle school, is now 25 years old, and his list of accomplishments – and the way he has earned respect and admiration of adults – would do a man twice his age proud.

Lipman Produce CEO Kent Shoemaker remembers attending an event about five years ago during which students from The Immokalee Foundation – including Abarca – spoke about their TIF experiences. While the students all were impressive, Shoemaker saw something hard to define and extraordinary about the young man that led him to believe Abarca would fit into his company someday. He found Abarca right after the program, gave him a business card and invited him to stop by sometime.

Three days later, Abarca was in Shoemaker’s office. Shoemaker said he did what he always does with young people: He gave Abarca a book to read, something about business or economics, and told him to read it and call Shoemaker to talk about it when he finished. “And he called me the next day,” Shoemaker said, clearly still surprised. “He immediately grasped the concepts, and we offered him a summer internship as a management trainee. And he did a phenomenal job.”

Abarca wasn’t done surprising his boss. The next summer, Shoemaker offered him another internship during his summer break from college, but Abarca declined because of a school commitment that eventually fell through. Abarca called to see if Shoemaker’s offer was still good; unfortunately, the position had been filled, so Shoemaker offered Abarca the only job he had.

“Jesus spent the summer in a grape tomato-packing facility, punching a clock – he gave himself a pay cut,” Shoemaker said. But Abarca did a great job, and his perseverance led to a management track at Lipman.

Abarca, now armed with a degree from Florida State University, currently manages a staff of about 40 people in a quality control position where vegetables are packed in the company’s Arizona location.

Abarca’s parents work in the fields of Immokalee and wanted a better life for their son. Abarca said that when his father was
not pleased with his grades, he would take young Jesus along for a day of labor to motivate him to do better – and it worked.

That much is clear. Along with Shoemaker as an unofficial TIF mentor, Abarca has had an official mentor in Joe Zednik, chairman of the TIF board of directors. To Abarca, Zednik is “Papa Joe,” and the affection is mutual.

“Jesus is a wonderful young man,” Zednik said. “I am honored to know him. He is hard-working, dedicated to his family, his community and certainly his work. He’s just in every way a remarkable young man. He’s certainly had his adversities in life, and he has fought straight through them. He’s outgoing, does a great job of communicating, and if there’s anything I could do for him I would do it. It’s a privilege to know Jesus and to be a part of his life.”

Take Stock in Children is a scholarship and mentoring program that provides students with the promise of a two or four year
scholarship to a Florida state college, university or vocational school upon graduation. Students must maintain good grades, stay drug and crime free, attend required workshops and events, meet weekly with their TIF mentor, and volunteer in the community.

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 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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