Advocacy & Activism, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Education

Reaching for the Stars: Bus Tour Participants Find Out What TIF Offers to Immokalee Community

From, Jennifer Whitis, Community Contributor, 25 Apr 2011.

[Immokalee, FL] — On a recent Monday morning in Naples, a magnanimous group of individuals boarded a bus bound for Immokalee. Their mission: to learn more about the Immokalee Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides educational opportunities for Immokalee’s children, as well as the community in which it is based.

The morning began with a driving tour of the northern Collier County community, including the Immokalee Farm Worker’s Village and Immokalee Housing & Family Services, along with local schools and housing districts, but the biggest impact of the day came when the group ended its tour at the Immokalee Technical Center, Florida’s newest technical training center. Here, tour participants learned about the numerous opportunities available to the children of Immokalee, and specifically those enrolled in Immokalee Foundation’s (TIF) programs.

TIF administers a range of programs that focus on mentorship, after-school activities, college scholarships, the development of vocational skills and incentives for educational growth. On this day, attendees had the opportunity to come face-to-face with the very kids these programs have helped along the way, with the program managers that make it happen.

Vocational Success Manager Elda Hernandez said it is important for those enrolled in the programs to understand that success is not just about money.

“We help them to understand that it is also about finding their passion and giving 100 percent to that passion,” she said. “Most importantly, we want them to know that we are here to support and encourage them.”

Perhaps no one knows that better than Jonathan Cantu, a 17-year-old senior and aspiring fashion designer. Last summer, Cantu spent a month as an art student at two prestigious schools in Chicago. It is a trip that would not have been possible without the support of TIF and board member Joe Zednik, who invited Cantu to stay with him and his wife, Dee, at their northern home in Chicago.

“I had never flown, never been on a train or a taxi,” said Cantu. “I knew I loved fashion design, but had never taken a class or had any experience.”

He said the experience only encouraged him more and ignited his passion.

“I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without the generosity of the Immokalee Foundation and the Zedniks. It changed my life,” he said.

Through its Pathways to Success program, TIF provides ongoing mentorship for students, helping them set up individual academic plans that allow them to graduate from college, and help them develop important life skills — such as time management and effective study habits.

One participant, 17-year-old Benisa Cherry, noted the program has taught her that nothing can stand in her way.

“All my life, I’ve been told I’m not good enough, or not going to make it,” she said. “This program has taught me that I am good enough, I can make it and I’m somebody.” For her, that means aspiring to be an obstetrician.

The Immokalee Readers program matches high school tutors with children from kindergarten through second grade to provide reading lessons after school. Juan Sandoval has been a tutor for more than two years. He knows the struggles many of the kids face – he came to the community from Mexico when he was 8 years old. He had a difficult time learning to read and write English. Now, he’s able to show these kids that someone cares about them and their education. In fact, it’s this experience that has given him the desire to be an elementary school teacher.

Listening to high school students benefiting from the programs is one thing, but seeing incredible success stories is quite another. David Turrubiartez became involved in TIF during his senior year in high school. Like many others before him, he had a hard life growing up, working in the fields and trying to juggle schoolwork and family life. However, it also taught him hard work and determination. Through TIF, Turrubiartez earned a four-year, full tuition scholarship to any school in Florida. He chose Edison State College in Fort Myers.

Now he is enrolled full time and working a full-time job. His goal, he said, is to be president of the United States. In fact, he said it’s not a matter of if he becomes president, but when. And, it’s easy to believe coming from him. He credits TIF for giving him the opportunities he never would have had otherwise.

“They taught me to reach for the moon,” Turrubiartez said. “And even if I miss, I know I’m among stars.”

The Immokalee Foundation has a range of programs that focus on building pathways to success through college and vocational school, mentoring and tutoring, and opportunities for broadening experiences and life skills development.

To learn more about volunteering as a mentor or for additional TIF information, call (239) 430-9122 or visit

Jennifer Whitis is director of development of the Immokalee Foundation and can be reached at

Source:, “Reaching for the stars: Bus tour participants find out what TIF offers to Immokalee community” by Jennifer Whitis, Community Contributor, 25 Apr 2011.


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