The Immokalee Foundation students are sailors for a day on Sweet Liberty catamaran

Mary Ann Debes, Aida Garcia, Samantha Huapilla, Lizette Silva, Israel Estrada, Ana Vega-Arreola, Harry Debes, Thianica Previlus, Fabian Arreguin, Elmer Santiago and Linda Gomez-Trejo. (Submitted photo)

Students in The Immokalee Foundation’s programs spent a recent Saturday on a 53-foot sailing catamaran in the Gulf of Mexico on an outing sponsored by Harry and Deborah Debes of Naples, who are longtime supporters of the nonprofit.

Aboard the Sweet Liberty, 24 students enjoyed their first experience on a sailboat. They boarded the 44-passenger vessel at Landings Park and journeyed to Keewaydin Island off the coast of Naples. They went shelling as part of an environmental scavenger hunt, bringing their findings back to the boat for identification by a marine biologist the Debeses hired for the day. As they learned about local ecosystems and the importance of conservation, some of the students took turns steering the boat under the watchful eye of the captain and announced their presence by blowing on a conch shell.

“Only five of the two dozen students had seen the Gulf before, so it was great fun to provide this experience,” said Harry, a retired chairman of the board of P2 Energy Solutions.

Harry grew up in Canada under similar circumstances as most Immokalee youth – as the child of immigrants who spoke limited English and struggled financially. “I was one of those kids,” he said. “Education was my ticket to greater possibilities.”

As part of their commitment to the youth of Immokalee, Harry and his wife also sponsor 14 students in The Immokalee Foundation’s Take Stock in Children scholarship program. “I’m aware of the potential these students have, given the opportunities, but so many of them don’t even know the possibilities exist.”

“Supporters like the Debeses help us open up a world of opportunities for Immokalee students,” said the foundation’s executive director, Steven Kissinger. “We are so grateful for their dedication to these kids.”

The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to success through college and post-secondary preparation and support, mentoring and tutoring, opportunities for broadening experiences, 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 www.immokaleefoundation.org.

The Immokalee Bulletin is published every Thursday.

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