Immokalee, a Florida town just 35 miles east of coastal Naples, is home to thousands of working poor who provide not only agricultural produce for much of the nation, but also the vitally needed service staffing for Collier and Lee counties. Many of Immokalee’s residents came to America from Caribbean and Latin American countries, enduring the often tedious travel and nationalization process in order to find better opportunities for their children. Hard work and optimism define the people of Immokalee. Yet according to the 2012 census, nearly 45% of this community lives below the poverty line.
In 1991, philanthropist Parker Collier founded The Immokalee Foundation (TIF) to help improve the future of Immokalee’s children by raising awareness and financial support from neighboring Neapolitans. Board members identified charities, organizations, and programs in Immokalee that could make critical differences in the lives of these children. TIF began to commit financial assistance to initiatives in education, health care, and career development — contributions that would help the children and the community as a whole. During these early years, horse trials comprised the primary fundraising events for TIF.
Toward the end of the 1990s, Collier aimed to expand TIF’s role in the community by administering programs in-house rather than simply funding external programs. This led to the Millennium Campaign, spurring a range of programs centered on an empowerment model that pairs opportunity with accountability. At the time, TIF narrowed its scope to focus specifically on education-based programs.
Six years and several programs later, TIF’s leadership took another look at the community through the 2006 Study of Immokalee’s Children, conducted by Dr. Don Pemberton and his team from the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning. Clarifying the need for after-school programming, early childhood reading development, and college and vocational training, the study became an important tool in measuring TIF’s impact and shaping its ambitions. In 2001, TIF’s education-based approach was solidified through its partnership with the statewide Take Stock in Children program for pre-college motivation and preparation.
Heightening TIF’s awareness of the needs, these measurements acted as a catalyst to expand their reach in Immokalee. By 2009, TIF successfully implemented educational programs such as, Immokalee Readers, Heavy Equipment Mechanics, College Success, and Take Stock in Children in Immokalee along with summer enrichment programs, workshops and camp experiences.
For almost 25 years, The Immokalee Foundation has committed itself to strengthening the Immokalee community with programs ranging from early childhood literacy education to college prep and advanced vocational training. Today, TIF fosters a brighter future by building individual Pathways to Success plans that nurtures each child’s development as a student, a citizen and a future professional. The foundation is devoted to enhancing the lives of Immokalee’s next generation by emphasizing education, vocation and life skills through programs that provide students with opportunities to grow, learn, and advance to educational and professional height that they never dreamed possible, leading to economic independence.