In Career Development

An etiquette luncheon and networking reception for students in The Immokalee Foundation programs underscored how invaluable the support of the professional community is to the foundation and the students of Immokalee.

Nearly 50 Southwest Florida professionals from a variety of fields attended the event and gave the students practice in meeting, greeting and conversing in a business environment. The results were important and immediate.

Luis Velazco, an Immokalee High School graduate and a Take Stock in Children scholarship recipient, attended the luncheon at Shula’s in Naples and reception following at Hilton Naples. Since then, he has met with a variety of university officials and attended a business meeting.

“Because I learned how to communicate with other people and talk professionally, I felt confident,” Velazco said. “I knew how you are supposed to greet everyone, shake hands and other things. I used the techniques.”

Students like Velazco also pass on what they have learned. Although he is the youngest sibling at home, Velazco has shared his new skills with his family and they have been receptive. Velazco will attend Michigan State University in the fall, taking steps toward his goal of becoming a special education teacher. He volunteered with this population at school during the past two years, and the experience confirmed his intention to make that his life’s work.

Meeting successful local adults at events such as the etiquette and networking afternoon helps students learn how to interact among professionals such as TIF supporter and sponsor Dr. Massoud Eghrari, a local surgeon. Eghrari points out that quite often the students’ exposure to professionals is mainly limited to their teachers.

“This helps them know what to do when someone introduces themselves, and what to do with a business card, for example,” Dr. Eghrari said. “It’s important for them to meet professional people in this society, to show them they are capable of getting to that level themselves.”

To recent high school graduates such as TIF student Widline Duvert, the benefits are clear. At 18, she is ready to move on academically. This fall she will attend Florida SouthWestern State College in hopes of becoming a music teacher. She attended the event to learn proper etiquette and business conduct, with her goal for the future in mind. “I hope to grow a mindset that is meant for the real world. I want to build character and make a difference in my family tree,” Duvert said.

That is the type of vision that Thomas DiBernardo, vice president of MidWestOne Bank, is proud to support. “I participate in the event because it is important to make the real-life connection for the students,” he said.

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

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