Guest column: Barbara Oppenheim ... Helping break the cycle of poverty

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Graduation season is upon us, yet for many Immokalee teenagers graduation and college are not in the plans. Many watch their parents holding down multiple jobs in the fields, hotels, restaurants and other businesses of Naples and surrounding areas. (Only 30 percent of Immokalee’s residents over 25 hold a high school diploma.) Often these kids are also working so they can help their families financially. And this is just to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table.

Recently, at our annual Tutor Corps Celebration Dinner, 23 Immokalee High School seniors who have served as tutors in the Guadalupe Center’s After-school Program were congratulated as they head off to college. For the past seven years, the Tutor Corps college acceptance rate has been 100 percent — the same as the best private schools in Naples. This year’s graduates have aspirations to be neurosurgeons, teachers, pediatricians and film producers, to name just a few professions. Thanks to the support of the Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps program, these 23 will join more than 100 former Tutor Corps members already in college, graduate school or entering meaningful careers.

How does that happen?

It happens thanks to the motivation and hard work of these teens, the generosity of hundreds of individual and corporate donors, and the hardworking, dedicated staff of the Guadalupe Center, which offers a number of educational programs to at-risk children.

Our Early Childhood Education Program serves at-risk children from 6 weeks old through prekindergarten; the Guadalupe After-school Program (GAP) and summer program offer remedial and enrichment support for kindergarten through second-graders, and the Tutor Corps program puts high school students in classrooms as tutors in GAP.

Guadalupe Center pays these tutors so they can contribute to their families.

Each of them earns up to $4,000 a year for college; this money comes directly from funds raised by the Guadalupe Center. This year’s Tutor Corps class earned a total of $16,000.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of the Tutor Corps program is that each high school student is matched with adult mentors — an individual or couple who take each college-bound teen under their wing through high school, college and beyond. As one mentor recently commented while speaking to a group of would-be mentors, “It’s just like having another member of my family — like another grandchild!”

In the fall, these bright, motivated young scholars will attend Michigan State University, Arcadia University, the University of Florida and others. They will join their Tutor Corps peers already enrolled in universities around the country, including two Gates Millennium Scholars and one in graduate school as a pre-med student.

The annual dinner’s keynote speaker was Tutor Corps and Bowdoin College graduate Primitivo Garza.

Garza asked the attendees to close their eyes.

“Imagine a small boy from Mission, Texas. This boy is given every chance to fail. Every obstacle thrown his way is an invitation to give in. Drop out of school, jump from low-paying job to low-paying job, keep the cycle of poverty going, because once you’re in that cycle, how do you get out?

“This boy was destined to fail.

“Now open your eyes and look at me. I am a college graduate. I did not give in and I did not fail. And my life is one of limitless possibilities in part due to my determination, and in part because of you.”

The night marked yet another giant step taken in the Guadalupe Center’s mission: “Breaking the cycle of poverty through education.”

The center also runs a number of specialty programs for Immokalee families including a back-to-school shoe drive, Thanksgiving in the Park and a holiday gift shop for families.

Guadalupe’s major annual fundraiser, A Taste of New York, will take place on Jan. 15, 2014, at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples.

I urge anyone interested in learning more about the Guadalupe Center and its educational programs, volunteer opportunities or touring our beautiful Early Childhood Center in Immokalee, to call us at 239-657-7158.

© 2013 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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