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Before COVID-19 interrupted Naples’ social season, U.S. Congressman and former Ambassador Francis Rooney and his wife, Kathleen, opened their home to former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner, the leadership team of The Immokalee Foundation, and invited guests for a reception to share information and hear testimonials about the foundation’s career-oriented educational programs.

Stephen D. Pryor, chairman of the board of directors for the foundation, discussed the new curriculum – Career Pathways: Empowering Students to Succeed – which offers specific educational experiences and pathways for students beginning in sixth grade that lead to professional careers most in demand in Southwest Florida.

Pryor said the foundation’s efforts include professions that may require certifications or credentials in addition to careers that require a two- or four-year college degree. The Career Pathways include Education & Human Services, Health Care, Engineering & Construction Management, and Business Management & Entrepreneurship.

“We are committed to preparing our middle and high school students for professional careers that are needed right here in Southwest Florida,” said Pryor. “We are by their side every step of the way, providing career exploration opportunities and learning experiences, scholarships, mentoring and career counseling. It’s a groundbreaking program that is changing the future for these students.”

Immokalee Foundation graduate Joel Garcia, now a professional engineer in Miami, shared with attendees his personal journey from Immokalee to Florida Gulf Coast University with the support of the foundation, a mentor, and his parents. Garcia was joined at the reception by his mother and three of his four siblings, all of whom are participants in The Immokalee Foundation’s programs.

“As the oldest child, I was always conflicted with following in my dad’s footsteps of working in the agricultural fields or taking my own path,” Garcia said. “After learning about the program, I knew that I wanted to be a part of The Immokalee Foundation, and my path shifted dramatically. I now had a goal to reach for. I could help support myself and my family and also continue to be a role model for my siblings and my community.”

“Education is the ultimate equalizer,” said Speaker Boehner. “You don’t need a world-class education; however, you need a chance at a respectable education. What The Immokalee Foundation is doing is so important. They are leveling the playing field for students who, despite limited resources, have an intense desire to learn, grow professionally, and break the cycle of poverty.”

“We are extremely appreciative of the generosity of Speaker Boehner and the Rooneys for this opportunity to share our mission with others,” said Noemi Y. Perez, president and CEO of The Immokalee Foundation. “Community support and engagement enable us to continue our life-changing programs for the youth of Immokalee.”

Perez added that the students’ educational and career programming have continued during the pandemic using virtual platforms for instruction, career counseling, mentoring, and virtual internships.

The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to professional careers through support, mentoring and tutoring, and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more about The Immokalee Foundation, becoming a mentor, its signature events, volunteering as a career panel speaker or host, making a donation, including the foundation in your estate plans, or for additional information, call 239-430-9122 or visit


Speaker John Boehner (center) with Immokalee Foundation team members Walt Buchholtz, Melissa Phillips, Noemi Y. Perez and Steve Pryor

Speaker John Boehner (center) with Immokalee Foundation graduate Joel Garcia, his mother Juana Lopez Reynoso, and siblings Sandra and Eric

Immokalee Foundation supporters Sonia McDonald, Louise Penta, Mac McDonald, Peter Negri and Bob Eaton at the home of Ambassador Francis and Kathleen Rooney









Photos by John Casagrande

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