The Immokalee Foundation recently recognized the accomplishments of 87 graduates participating in TIF programs, including Take Stock in Children, Career Development, Immokalee Readers and College Success, during a graduation ceremony and celebration held at Ave Maria University. The graduates included 62 Immokalee High School students, 13 post-secondary students and 12 Heavy Equipment Mechanics students.
Of those, 48 high school students are enrolling at a college or university, five are attending a post-secondary vocational training program at iTECH in Immokalee and one is entering the military.
Bernardino Valdez is among those scholars headed to college. In the fall, he will attend Florida SouthWestern State College, majoring in performing arts. He is already off to a great start. To the delight of audience members, Valdez performed an original rap song, “Graduation.” He credits TIF for providing him the opportunity to move forward in his academic career, “TIF helped me to improve my math and reading skills. After-school tutoring helped a lot; it made studying enjoyable and really helped with my ACT.”
His fellow graduates were in agreement. Alvaro Soto Jr., said TIF also helped him keep up his grades with after-school tutoring, “They helped me keep on task.” For him, the next step is the Heavy Equipment Mechanics program at iTECH.
Sisters Gabriela and Elizabeth Hernandez were both in attendance and both celebrating. Gabriela, involved in Take Stock in Children and Immokalee Readers, graduated from high school, and Elizabeth, in the College Success program, graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
Both have big plans for the future. Gabriela, who wants to be a pastry chef, is attending iTECH and Elizabeth is returning to Immokalee to teach at Eden Park Elementary. Elizabeth said, “I’m very proud that I was accepted into the TIF program. They helped me meet people, provided great advice and assisted with obtaining scholarships.”
Naturally, their mother, Eliva, was elated, “I’m very proud of the accomplishments of my daughters.”
Immokalee High School’s principal, Abel Jaimes, was the evening’s keynote speaker. Jaimes grew up in Immokalee so understands the struggles of many in the room that evening. He thanked the educators in his life and reflected on the impact those individuals had on him. He also recognized outsiders who came into the community and have gone above and beyond, such as Linda Ayers, a TIF mentor, and former principal Florence Jelks. He acknowledged his parents, who had no education, for the positive impact they had on his life and emphasized the importance of students having a strong foundation from which to grow and learn. Plus, he offered some sage advice to scholars, “Use your experiences and cultural values; don’t be afraid to venture into the unknown.”
Joe Zednik, chairman of the board of directors, praised the students, saying, “We have watched each of you embrace challenges and overcome obstacles to reach your goals. Your drive and determination will serve you well as you move into the next phase of your life. Whether you are heading to college, training or moving into the workforce, the skills that you have attained will allow you to continue on your pathway to success.”
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 or for additional information, call 239-430-9122 or visit www.immokaleefoundation.org.