NAPLES — For 30 years, The Immokalee Foundation has been breaking down barriers, forging new pathways, and changing the lives of Immokalee’s youth through innovative educational and professional development programs. The impact is real: 100 percent of The Immokalee Foundation students graduate high school and move ahead to pursue postsecondary education through college or a technical program, which 92% complete.
Similarly, the foundation’s supporters have discovered innovative ways to serve and support the students of The Immokalee Foundation. Businesses, organizations and individuals alike have gotten creative in ways that inspire others to make a difference.
One example for local companies is hosting The Immokalee Foundation students for an office field trip, providing an internship to a deserving student, or participating as guest speakers in the foundation’s career panels to share insights into career paths and successful business models. These efforts are part of Career Pathways, which prepares students for in-demand careers in Business Management & Entrepreneurship, Education & Human Services, Engineering & Construction Management, and Healthcare.
Along with leading businesses including Babcock Ranch, Bank of America, Entech, FGCU, Hertz, Naples Daily News, NeoGenomics, Physicians Regional Healthcare System, and PulteGroup, Naples-based Arthrex has supported The Immokalee Foundation. The company has opened the doors to its global headquarters, as well as its manufacturing complex in Ave Maria, to help foundation students learn about different career opportunities. Last year, Arthrex team members worked side by side with foundation staff and volunteers to distribute food and household items to families in need when COVID first began affecting Florida, with Immokalee among the hardest-hit communities in the state.
The Immokalee Foundation also works with companies to design volunteer opportunities for teambuilding while addressing one of the foundation’s immediate needs. For example, when the pandemic disrupted the celebration plans for The Immokalee Foundation’s high school graduates last year, 20 associates from Gartner in Fort Myers volunteered to write letters of encouragement for each student to celebrate their achievements. The inspiring and uplifting messages from experienced members of the local workforce offered the students hope and a sense that their plans for the future would continue on course.
“We strive to be strong advocates of our local Southwest Florida community,” said Laura Medrado, chair of volunteer events for the Women at Gartner - Fort Myers, who coordinated the letter-writing effort. “There was a great response from our associates in this initiative.”
Residents who are able to offer 40 minutes each week can consider mentoring an Immokalee Foundation student on their way toward academic and personal success.
“Mentoring is not a major time commitment, but it definitely has a monumental impact on someone else’s life by just being encouraging, loving and kind,” said Chris Farley, who became a mentor with The Immokalee Foundation in 2019. “We all need to support the future of our young people.”
Organizing a third-party event is another inventive option. In 2018, foundation alumnus Jonathan Cantu nominated The Immokalee Foundation for an annual philanthropic program at Altar’d State, the clothing and gift store at Coconut Point where he is assistant manager. His initiative resulted in a more than $8,000 in contributions to the foundation over the past three years.
Even high school students can make a difference. Twins Kevin and Katherine Hawkes are leading a service project with a group of fellow freshmen from Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers. Together, the students are creating graduation gift bags for each of The Immokalee Foundation’s 60 graduating seniors, including a book, personalized poster, and fun items to celebrate the milestone in style.
For 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, 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 immokaleefoundation.org.