In Career Development

Lieutenant Gregory S. Bueno (Florida Highway Patrol) with Jacqueline Perez and Leann Campbell

A recent networking reception introduced students in The Immokalee Foundation’s programs to more than 20 Southwest Florida professionals from a variety of career fields. The event, held in the offices of the Community Foundation of Collier County, also gave students practical experience in meeting, greeting and conversing in a business environment.

Thirty Immokalee High School students participated, along with professionals from Collier ACI Worldwide, Arthrex, Barron Collier Cos., BMO Private Wealth Bank, Collier County Medical Society, FineMark Bank, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Highway Patrol, Patrick Neale & Associates, Paychex, PK Studios, Poz-Art, Pulte Homes, Score Naples and Smart Marketing.

Alyssa Norris (Arthrex) with Luis Vasquez

Luis Vasquez, an Immokalee High School sophomore and a Take Stock in Children student, attended the reception. “The foundation gathered respected people in their professions, and we were able to talk with them one-on-one for several minutes,” he said. Vasquez also attended a career panel the foundation previously organized, which piqued his interest in biomedical engineering; at the networking event, he connected with representatives from Arthrex, who talked with him about educational requirements and showed him various prostheses manufactured by the company.

“They demonstrated how the prostheses work, described them and how they were useful to people of various ages,” Vasquez said. “It interested me knowing that’s one way to help a person.”

Meeting successful local adults helps The Immokalee Foundation students learn how to interact among professionals, such as Dr. Massoud Eghrari, a local surgeon who supports the foundation. Eghrari believes that, quite often, students’ exposure to professionals is mainly limited to their teachers.

Carla VanderHeyden (ACI Worldwide) with Marilyn Gijon-Diaz

Audra DiNanno, The Immokalee Foundation’s development coordinator, said, “These business receptions not only help our students learn etiquette, networking and socializing skills, but it’s also a way to meet working professionals in their potential fields of interest.”

Brett VanderHeyden of the Pulte Group was one of the professionals who participated, along with his wife, Carla, a financial analyst for Collier ACI Worldwide.

“We thought it was fantastic,” Brett Van der Heyden said. “It was awesome to see that an opportunity exists for these kids to succeed. My wife and I both were blown away at how advanced and extremely engaging the students were. Many had already figured out their career paths. Many already had been accepted to a university or knew where they wanted to go. A lot of them were in dual enrollment, going to college at the same time as high school.”

Brett VanderHeyden (Pulte Homes) with Sesar Lorenzo Valle

Van der Heyden handles the construction schedule for Pulte, a national home builder. “It was good that they learned you don’t have to swing a hammer or pour concrete to be part of the construction business here in Southwest Florida,” he said.

The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to success through support, mentoring and tutoring, and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more about The Immokalee Foundation, volunteering as a mentor, making a donation, including The Immokalee Foundation in your estate plans, or for additional information, call 239-430-9122 or visit

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