On Saturday, Feb. 17, more than 100 Immokalee second-graders participated in Buddy Day at Hideaway Beach on Marco Island. The students attend Guadalupe Center’s After-School Program, which focuses on improving math and reading skills. (Photo by Tony Zollo)[/caption] More than 100 second-graders from four Immokalee elementary schools learned about Southwest Florida’s coastal wildlife and habitat at Guadalupe Center’s 26th annual Buddy Day on Saturday, Feb. 17. The program paired “little buddies” from Pinecrest, Lake Trafford, Highlands and Village Oaks elementary schools with “big buddies,” dedicated volunteers from area communities including Hideaway Beach, Fiddler’s Creek, Verona Walk and many others. Together, they rotated through fun, educational stations including beach exploration led by Everglades National Park at The Gulf Coast Visitor Center, a birding program with the Big Cypress National Preserve Rangers, games run by Marco Island YMCA and crafts overseen by community volunteers. Nearly 200 volunteers, along with generous business partners, helped make Buddy Day a success yet again. “Buddy Day is a fantastic opportunity to reward students in our After-School Program for working so hard to improve their reading, math and English skills,” said Dawn Montecalvo, president of Guadalupe Center. “Creating hands-on learning experiences like these and developing stronger academic backgrounds for the children of Immokalee will ultimately help us accomplish our mission of breaking the cycle of poverty through education.” Buddy Day was held at Hideaway Beach on Marco Island and many residents of the community served as “big buddies,” even offering children rides on their decorated golf carts. Every child also received a new book, while Kids 2 Camp provided stuffed animals.