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Supporters of The Immokalee Foundation have an unprecedented opportunity to make an impact and double their donation with a $500,000 matching gift challenge. Designed not only to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Heavy Equipment Service Technician program, but also ensuring the success of its students for years to come.

HEST graduates learn how to service heavy-duty, high-performance vehicles specially designed for executing earthwork operations or other large construction tasks, from forwarders, backhoes and boom lifts, to skidders, pavers and pipelayers. In fact, your home likely wouldn’t be standing if it weren’t for a skilled heavy equipment technician.

“Since the HEST program’s inception, more than 100 of its graduates have been hired by more than two dozen companies,” said Don Fites, the retired chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc., who played an instrumental role in guiding the HEST program’s creation a decade ago. “We invite the community to join us and help support the next 100 young men and women seeking the specialized training that leads to a successful career.”

The Immokalee Foundation covers the cost of tuition, training tools and equipment, and provides a foundation advocate to guide students successfully through the HEST program. The two-year, highly specialized curriculum administered at iTECH is designed to develop a foundation of technical skills that will prepare students to maintain, diagnose and repair heavy equipment systems.

The Immokalee Foundation and HEST program supporters Don Fites and his wife, Joyce Hagen, have offered a 100 percent match – up to $500,000 – for HEST donations made online at or by calling Melissa Phillips, The Immokalee Foundation Vice President of Philanthropy, at 239-537-8355.
“Don’s ongoing vision for the HEST program has been life-changing for so many of our students,” said The Immokalee Foundation President and CEO Noemi Y. Perez. “We are grateful for his and Joyce’s leadership and the community’s philanthropy that helps support our efforts.”

The HEST program launched in 2010 under the guidance of Fites, who played a key role in developing the public-private sector collaboration that raised money to create the program. That partnership included The Caterpillar Foundation, Fites Family Charitable Trust, Kelly Foundation Inc., Kelly Tractor and Collier County School District.

After the first year of HEST, students participate in paid summer internships, often leading to full-time employment at the company for which they interned when the students’ second year is complete. HEST students work toward earning the ASE certification that provides a pathway to well-paying technician jobs.

HEST alumni are prepared to enter the workforce without needing to go through a formal dealer apprentice program. Because of their training and experience, the HEST program graduates often receive seniority within the companies they join.

A HEST graduate, former Immokalee Foundation student Julio Estrella supports his family with his job at Kelly Tractor in Fort Myers. During the past few years, he has been developing his skills and knowledge, as well as networking and maintaining relationships, to further his goals within the company.

Estrella credits the foundation’s program with putting him on a life-changing pathway for a brighter future.

“The HEST course opened doors to my future and definitely was one of the larger impacts in my life,” Estrella said. “The foundation’s guidance and wisdom they’ve provided have been invaluable.”

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


Joyce Hagen and Don Fites join The Immokalee Foundation students Abigail and Emili at the 2019 Charity Classic Celebration

Julio Estrella supports his growing family with a high-wage job achieved after he graduated from The Immokalee Foundation’s Heavy Equipment Service Technician program

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