NAPLES, Fla. (May 3, 2021) – A $500,000 matching gift challenge by Naples philanthropists Don Fites and his wife, Joyce Hagen, to support The Immokalee Foundation has been met. The $1 million raised commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Heavy Equipment Service Technician (HEST) program at Immokalee Technical College (iTECH), which helps to ensure another decade of success for The Immokalee Foundation’s students who enroll in the specialized program.
Fites, the retired chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc., played an instrumental role in guiding the HEST program’s creation in 2010. HEST graduates learn how to service heavy-duty, high-performance vehicles specially designed for executing earthwork operations and other large construction tasks that are essential in Southwest Florida.
Launched in January, the $500,000 matching gift challenge reached its goal in just three months and supports a program that Fites is passionate about.
“It’s heavy equipment that delivers our water, power and food – all the things we take for granted require heavy equipment to deliver and produce them and make it possible for the lifestyle we enjoy here in Southwest Florida,” said Fites. “Florida, and our region in particular, is also in a significant building boom. People want to live here, and all the housing that you see would be impossible without heavy equipment.”
Since the HEST program’s inception, more than 100 of its graduates have been hired by more than two dozen companies. Through this match, Fites and Hagen invited the community to help the next 100 young men and women seeking the specialized technical training that leads to a well-paying career. This initiative has been supported by Caterpillar Foundation, Kelly Tractor Foundation, Everglades Farm Equipment and many others.
“Don has been a champion of the HEST program from the very beginning, and he has helped make a huge impact on the lives of many of our students,” said The Immokalee Foundation President and CEO Noemi Y. Perez. “We are so grateful for the support of Don and Joyce, who share the foundation’s commitment to helping our students achieve professional careers through postsecondary education, whether college or a technical program.”
Through Fites’ leadership, a public-private sector collaboration raised money to create the HEST program. That partnership included The Caterpillar Foundation, Fites Family Charitable Trust, Kelly Foundation Inc., Kelly Tractor, and the Collier County Public Schools.
The Immokalee Foundation covers the cost of tuition, training tools, and equipment, and provides a counselor to guide students successfully through the HEST program. The two-year curriculum, administered at iTECH, creates a foundation of technical skills that prepares students to maintain, diagnose and repair heavy equipment systems.
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, which 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.
For 30 years, he 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 https://immokaleefoundation.org.