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Like many students involved in The Immokalee Foundation and its programs, Jesus Velazco has had his fair share of challenges. He struggled to learn the English language after coming to Immokalee from his native Mexico, and school was difficult as a result. But, Velazco was determined to build a better future for himself.

By the time he was in fourth grade, his grades had improved and he discovered a love of soccer. He also met a man that would change his life: Manny Touron, a former principal at Lake Trafford Elementary, Immokalee Middle and Immokalee High schools, and a TIF mentor.

Touron said from the moment he met Jesus, he recognized something special, “There was always a sense of maturity and great leadership qualities. Jesus was always the first person at practice and the last to leave. The kids looked up to him for direction. I knew big things were coming for him.”

He was right. As a freshman, Velazco entered the foundation’s Take Stock in Children program, a scholarship and mentoring program that provides students with the opportunity to attend four years of college tuition free if they earn good grades, exhibit good behavior and meet weekly with a mentor. Although Velazco didn’t know it at the time, his involvement with TIF, and the people he would meet along the way, would help pave his path toward achieving his dreams.

John Henry, a TIF board member and mentor, met Velazco before he entered TSIC his freshman year. Thanks to Touron, “Manny knew I was involved in the Take Stock in Children program so he called me. He told me he had a guy I needed to interview; a remarkable young man and we should give him a shot.” Henry agreed to the interview. That year, TIF accepted 25 kids into the program and Velazco was one of them. The TSIC scholarship made him realize that if he worked hard, he could go to college. It changed everything.

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