Summer vacation is romanticized on TV and in movies –family road trips to national parks, daylong escapes to magical theme parks and flights to far-off places where you need passport to visit.
That isn’t the reality for Nallely Segura and many of her peers in Immokalee. Her memories of summer vacation include sweat, sunburns and physical exhaustion.
“It was the sun beating down your back in a tomato field,” recalled the 18-year-old senior at Immokalee High School.
Nallely’s parents are farmworkers, and because Immokalee’s agriculture season ends in the spring, the entire family travels north during the summer to pick tomatoes in other states. From sunrise to sunset, they are in the fields, day after day after day.
“Every year for 76 days, I found myself trapped in those fields,” she said. “I constantly dreamt of a better life, a better state, a better way to spend those 76 days. Knowing education was my only choice, I desperately devoted my entire being to it. It is the key to freeing myself from the chains of poverty.”
The correlation between education and income is well documented. According to federal data released in 2022, the median annual earnings for full-time young adults ages 25-34 rises significantly based on educational attainment:
- $29,800 : Less than a high school diploma
- $36,600 : High school diploma or equivalent
- $44,100 : Associate degree
- $59,600 : Bachelor’s degree
- $69,700 : Master’s degree or higher
In Immokalee, just 51.9% of adults have completed highschool. The median household income, which includes parents and children who work, is $40,114. Nearly 28.4% of residents live inpoverty.
Nallely doesn’t fault her parents for making her work in the fields each summer. They were right there with her, just a row away.
“Both came to this country with nothing but hopes and prayers for a better life,” Nallely said. “Truth is, those 76 days ARE their better life.”
Nallely is preparing for a future where her summers aren’t spent in the fields. She is in her final year of Guadalupe Center’s college preparatory Tutor Corps Program, which provides students with college and career readiness, ACT and SAT test prep, mentorships, financial literacy and scholarship assistance, as well as wages for tutoring younger students.
This summer, Nallely will be preparing to major in biology at The Ohio State University. She is pursuing a career in health care so future generations in Immokalee will have quick access to doctors and medical services instead of having to drive nearly an hour to Naples or Fort Myers for care.
“It inspired me to make a difference in the disparity of health care access,” she said of Immokalee’s shortage of health care providers. “I aspire to be the doctor my town needed when I was younger.”
Nallely shared her story and dreams with guests at Guadalupe Center’s signature gala, Elevate, which was held January 19 at The Ritz-Carlton Naples, Tiburón. Proceeds from the event support three programs that serve more than 1,750 students annually – the nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program, Afterschool Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program and Tutor Corps.
Guadalupe Center relies on philanthropic support to help Immokalee families with young children; the average weekly cost for students in the early learning program is just $40. Private donations also help high-achieving students like Nallely pursue their passions and attend college, with most Tutor Corps students having a significant portion of their tuition, housing and books covered by scholarships and grants.
For Nallely, Guadalupe Center is a life-changer – it truly will change her life, and most certainly change her summers going forward.
“Summer will not restrain me anymore,” she said. “It will not be what I dread or fear. It is now what motivates me to do better, to be better. It has changed my outlook on this journey. It is no longer what the world has done to me, but instead, what I will do to the world.”
About the Author Dawn Montecalvo is president at Guadalupe Center, which provides educational services to more than 1,750 students annually in Immokalee. To learn more, please visit GuadalupeCenter.org or call 239-657-7711.