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Above: (From right to left) Student Eduardo M., Deputy Superintendent of Collier County Schools Dr. Jose Dotres, Superintendent of Collier County Schools Dr. Kamela Patton, Representative Lauren Melo, President and CEO of The Immokalee Foundation Noemi. Y. Perez, Operations Director of The Immokalee Foundation Walt Buchholtz and student Elvis V.

NAPLES, Fla. (Sept. 21, 2021) – During a recent tour of The Immokalee Foundation’s 18-home Career Pathways Learning Lab construction project, Representative Lauren Melo met with the motivated students who are gaining real-world work experience building new homes for their community. Melo witnessed all of the hard work and passion these students put into building these new homes firsthand and was impressed by the project.

The Learning Lab is an 18-home subdivision in Immokalee that serves as a hands-on professional career experience for students participating in the foundation’s Business Management &

Representative Lauren Melo and The Immokalee Foundation’s VP of Philanthropy, Melissa Phillips

Entrepreneurship and Engineering & Construction Management pathways. During a tour of the construction sites, students demonstrated how they are learning technical and professional skills that are in high demand throughout Southwest Florida while they work alongside homebuilding industry partners.

“It was inspiring to learn about the vocational training The Immokalee Foundation provides to their students and the amount of focus they place on career development,” said Melo. “As a business owner, I understand how critically important it is to maintain a prepared and well-educated workforce so that they have the skills they need to participate in Florida’s evolving economy.”

The Immokalee Foundation students were excited to meet Melo and take her on a tour of the homes. Some of the students said it was extremely rewarding to be able to show Melo their hard work and hear how invested she is in the program.

“It was such an honor to be able to give Representative Lauren Melo a tour of the Learning Lab,” said student Eduardo M. “She was so supportive and asked us so many questions throughout the tour. It was an incredible experience.”

Student Elvis V. added, “I enjoyed giving Representative Melo a tour and showing her what I have been learning during my internship at the Learning Lab.”

Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kamela Patton and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jose Dotres both joined Melo on the tour.

Collier Enterprises generously donated 8.3 acres of land for the Learning Lab subdivision on Foundation Way in Immokalee and helped underwrite the cost of the permitting and infrastructure work with an investment of more than $1 million. The Ray Foundation’s $250,000 matching grant provided a significant boost in getting the Learning Lab underway. Four homes have been underwritten by generous donations from Patricia and Donald Altorfer, the Community Foundation of Collier County, Barbara and Dale Morrison, and the Wasie Foundation.

The three-bedroom, two-bath single-family homes will have a two-car garage and an outdoor lanai. Each home will take approximately seven months to complete and sold at market price, with proceeds funding The Immokalee Foundation’s Career Pathways Learning Lab program.

Through the Learning Lab program, participating students learn about land development, home construction, marketing and sales, in addition to their education curriculum. As a result, these students graduate high school with a resume of marketable skills of interest to both postsecondary admissions directors and future employers.

Melo expressed appreciation for how this program is not only helping students earn valuable life skills, but also that it’s giving them an opportunity to give back to their community.

“It was a wonderful surprise to witness the Foundation’s students expanding their skills and knowledge,” said Melo. “Part of living the American Dream is owning a home. The Immokalee Foundation is helping our citizens achieve the American Dream by giving their students opportunities to use their skills and find jobs out of high school, as well as building homes that families can afford.”

Melo left the tour amazed at the incredible work students are putting into the Learning Lab and The Immokalee Foundation’s success rate.

“With 100% graduation rate for students who participate in the program, the Foundation should feel exceptionally proud knowing that the work they do has a direct and positive impact on the lives of others in our region and state,” said Melo.

The Learning Lab is part of The Immokalee Foundation’s Career Pathways program, which provides the youth of Immokalee with robust after-school and summer programming that prepares them for well-paying, in-demand professional careers. Career Pathways empowers students to pursue careers in Engineering & Construction Management, Business Management & Entrepreneurship, Education & Human Services, and Healthcare.

For more than 30 years, The Immokalee Foundation has provided 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

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