Pay it forward—a simple phrase that gets used and discussed regularly, but for The Immokalee Foundation’s Postsecondary student, 19-year-old Stanley Bazelais, it’s the only way to live.
In 2018, Bazelais moved from Haiti to America and joined his brother for a better life and education. He had no idea what may lie ahead—but he knew that whatever happened, it would be because of the people who helped get him there. Little did he know that the decision to move to a remote agricultural town in Florida would be his one-way ticket to opportunity and success.
Located just 35 miles east of Naples, Florida, sits Immokalee, a small hidden gem of a town tucked neatly between open country and orange groves. Home to a dedicated and hardworking migrant community, many of Immokalee’s residents moved to America and became naturalized citizens, working hard in the agricultural fields to support their families.
In addition to an alarming poverty rate, 63% of Immokalee’s population primarily speaks Spanish, and the language barrier is a massive obstacle for adults and students.
For Bazelais, a member of our high school Class of 2022 and a current Florida Gulf Coast University student, it was like looking up a ladder with no rungs for support. But then, destiny intervened. During his senior year of high school, he found a lifeline to propel him closer to his American Dream. Enter, The Immokalee Foundation.
“It is important for students to have resources to succeed in school,” lamented Bazelais. “It is one of the things that pushes me to work hard because, in Haiti, I spent around eight years in school where students lacked resources. But, when I came here and noticed The Immokalee Foundation’s opportunities for students to succeed, I didn’t hesitate and took advantage of them.”
For over 31 years, The Immokalee Foundation has been preparing the next generation of leaders like Bazelais through a 100% focus on education, career readiness, and professional development for students in Immokalee—from kindergarten through postsecondary education.
“The Foundation was a great resource for me. My participation allowed me to receive help and guidance and maintain focus. Plus, it provided me with an internship opportunity at Taste of Immokalee that opened doors and greatly impacted my life. This was extremely important because it allowed me to gain hands-on experience and realize I could succeed in the workforce. It gave me hope,” he smiled.
Even with his dreams taking shape, Bazelais wanted to take his experience and help ease his community’s struggle. So, he decided to take his blessings and pay it forward. “The way I see it, paying it forward is simple,” he explained. “It’s about giving back—the next generation should be able to enjoy what you had growing up.”
So, inspired by his faith, family, the Foundation, and his community, Bazelais founded the English Learners Program (ELP) in 2022, a small online business focused on teaching residents of Immokalee English skills to help break down language barriers in the workforce and at home.
“The most valuable resource a person needs is a great environment where they can be inspired, gain motivation and receive help when needed,” said Bazelais. “I wanted to provide a platform that helps Immokalee residents learn English while making it cost-effective so they will stick with the program. Immokalee suffers from high poverty rates, and I had to provide this opportunity without adding stress. We are also looking at mentorship opportunities for our clients, and thanks be to God, we just had a mentor join our program from FGCU. It is all about support.”
Now in his Freshman year at Florida Gulf Coast University, Bazelais is pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Business Management and hopes to apply that knowledge to grow his company. “I hope to expand ELP’s learning levels to provide more assistance, and with the help of FGCU, we are exploring different opportunities to make that dream a reality,” he beamed.
With exciting new developments on the horizon and an appetite for knowledge, it is only a matter of time before Bazelais takes his rightful place as a local legend and leader.