The largest group of graduates in The Immokalee Foundation’s 25-year history was celebrated May 9 at a dinner at Ave Maria University. Among them were 67 high school graduates, 41 graduates of traditional post-secondary programs, and five graduates of the Heavy Equipment Mechanics program.
Students were joined by their families, friends, foundation staff and volunteers, and dignitaries including local government officials, school administrators, Ave Maria’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement Brian Couch, and Florida Rep. Byron Donalds.
The keynote speaker was Take Stock in Children President and CEO Jillian Hasner, who oversees 45 Florida affiliates, including The Immokalee Foundation’s Take Stock program. “Currently in the state, more than 10,000 mentors have served more than 2 million hours, and 28,000 high school students have graduated with scholarships,” Hasner said. “And our success doesn’t stop there. Ninety-six percent of our Take Stock students graduate high school, 96 percent of our students go on to college, and 67 percent of our students graduate from college – a rate five times higher than their peers. And we aren’t stopping until that final number reaches 96 percent.
“We are working every day to build ‘Take Stock Nation,’ an alumni network of Take Stock in Children students who will go on to be the next generation of mentors,” Hasner added.
Among that next generation is University of Florida computer engineering graduate Richard Martinez, who will begin law school at UF in the fall. His sister, Heather, has been involved in the foundation’s Career Development program. A high school graduate, Heather plans a career in biology and hopes to stay in the Immokalee area after college graduation to work in the Everglades.
High school graduate Luzceleste Herrera will study nursing at Florida Gulf Coast University. “I’ve had my mind on many different careers, but nursing definitely has my attention now,” said Herrera, a TSIC student since seventh grade. The Herrera family sat for dinner with Valerie Soto and her family; Soto plans to attend Florida SouthWestern State College to prepare for a career in law enforcement.
Along with the graduates, honorees at the ceremony included longtime mentors for The Immokalee Foundation Manny Touron, John Henry and Bobby Gonzalez.
Board member Mac McDonald offered closing remarks, during which he recalled being present at the first graduation of The Immokalee Foundation, which included 12 Take Stock in Children students. “How far we have come,” MacDonald said.
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 The Immokalee Foundation, volunteering as a career panel speaker or host, becoming a mentor, making a donation, including the foundation in your estate plans, or for additional information, call 239-430-9122 or visit www.immokaleefoundation.org.