In Post Secondary & Career Success

The Immokalee Foundation recently held a graduation ceremony and celebration at Ave Maria University to honor 98 high school graduates who have participated in TIF programs. The graduates included 61 Immokalee High School students, 23 post-secondary students, 12 iTECH Heavy Equipment Mechanics students and two iTECH Computer Numerical Control Machinists.

The students participated in one or more of TIF’s programs during high school, including Take Stock in Children, Career Development, Immokalee Readers and College Success.

One of the post-secondary graduates, Kristen Dimas, was the first TIF student ever to graduate with a doctorate. Dimas completed her M.D. at Florida State University’s College of Medicine.

The high school graduates will attend a variety of colleges in the fall, including Florida’s public and private universities, Michigan State University, Cornell University, Iowa’s Wartburg College and St. Ambrose University, Minnesota’s College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, and Allen Community College in Kansas.

Those students from TIF’s Take Stock in Children program will start their college careers with two or four years of tuition paid as the reward for fulfilling program commitments including maintaining good grades, exhibiting exemplary behavior, providing community service and working with a mentor.

Several graduates are looking ahead to military service. Luis Mendoza has enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Mendoza’s mentor, John Costigan, and his wife, Emily, attended the graduation ceremony to see Mendoza walk the stage. “We’re very pleased and happy tonight,” Costigan said. “Luis is a wonderful young man with the intelligence, character and commitment to make a fine member of the Marine Corps.”

The keynote speaker for the evening was another longtime mentor, Manny Touron, the former principal of several Immokalee schools. Former mentee Jesus Velasquez introduced Touron, calling him “a guiding force in my life … he is constantly reminding students to stay grounded and true to themselves.”

Better known to the students as “Coach Manny,” Touron congratulated all the graduates, saying, “Somehow at a young age you found out that mediocrity was not something in your plans. You come from many different economic and cultural foundations, but you have found common ground in success.”

Ana Abarca graduated in May from Florida Gulf Coast University with a degree in secondary math. She will be enriching her hometown by returning to teach math at Immokalee Middle School in the fall. She is grateful both for the scholarship she received that allowed her to attend college and also the support from TIF staff. “They helped me get through college, whether I needed advice or help academically,” Abarca said.

Among other post-secondary graduates are students with degrees in business, international studies, nursing, community health, hospitality management, economics and accounting. One student, Fritz Henry, is a future law enforcement officer and a graduate of Valencia College School of Public Safety in Orlando.

Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kamela Patton attended the inspiring event. “This evening was an incredible time to celebrate our students from the Immokalee community,” Patton said. “We are fortunate to have such incredible support – both with time and financial resources – for our students from The Immokalee Foundation.”

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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