By Dawn Montecalvo
Special to the Immokalee Bulletin
Bright, talented students like Alan Cuevas Villagomez are, as they say, “college material.” They have the grades, they have the ambition and they have the dedication.
They just might not have the money or a support team working tirelessly to make it happen.
Alan’s father worked in the fields, traveling between farms in Immokalee and California for seasonal jobs. His mother worked in a restaurant and later as a custodian. Money was hard to come by, and neither parent had experience navigating the complex higher education system.
Not only did Alan attend college, but he excelled, graduating May 10 with a stellar 3.91 grade point average while majoring in biology and minoring in psychology. And he did so at an elite private school in Pennsylvania, Allegheny College, which estimates its annual cost of attendance at $63,524. Alan’s student loan debt upon graduation: $0.
How did he do it? Alan, now 21, sought as much help as possible while a student at Immokalee High School. He credits Guadalupe Center, which operates the highly successful college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program, the Immokalee Foundation and his mentors from both organizations with helping and supporting him throughout college.
“I cannot imagine my world without Tutor Corps,” Alan said. “Every person I came into contact with at Guadalupe Center has been extremely supportive and helpful throughout high school and college.”
Tutor Corps offers guidance in college and career readiness, ACT and SAT test prep, mentorships, financial literacy and scholarship assistance. Participants also have an opportunity to earn wages for tutoring younger students.
Being selected into Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps Program is the first of many achievements by our students. Since 2005, 100 percent of Tutor Corps graduates have been admitted into college, and 92 percent of them have earned a degree. Within the past year, 32 additional Tutor Corps alumni, including Alan, have earned college degrees in psychology, social work, education, business, communications, health and other disciplines.
Tutor Corps offers an avenue for talented Immokalee youth to use their intelligence to make a difference in their hometown. Our mission at Guadalupe Center is to break the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee, and the fact that so many Tutor Corps alumni are now returning to Immokalee as teachers, first responders, health care workers, engineers and other professionals is proof of its success.
Jasmin Jaimes, 21, graduated in May from the University of Florida and is completing a summer internship at Guadalupe Center before returning to Gainesville this fall for graduate school. In the meantime, she will be helping high school students in the Tutor Corps Program prepare essays to accompany college applications, as well as build their resumes. Jasmin hopes to someday work in the nonprofit sector.
Edwin Herard, 22, also graduated in May from UF and is evaluating multiple job prospects in the field of finance. He, too, recognized that college offered the best opportunity for a stable future, and says “It’s hard to say where I’d be right now without Guadalupe Center.”
Alan, Jasmin and Edwin are perfect examples of why we need to invest in education. It truly has the potential to change lives, regardless of one’s background financially, geographically, culturally or politically. Our experienced staff does everything in their power to prepare children for the next level, whether that’s kindergarten, high school, college or beyond. Our generous donors have endowed scholarships and provided financial support that helps students realize the possibilities are endless if they’re willing to work for it.
Within a few years, we’ll be calling Alan by a different name – Dr. Cuevas Villagomez. He’s been accepted into the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and will continue pursuing his dream of becoming a sports medicine doctor.