TIF commemorates students’ successes with pride

NAPLES – The Immokalee Foundation recently commemorated with pride, the academic accomplishments of participants in its youth empowering programs at its annual Graduation Celebration.
Held May 14 at Ave Maria University, the event recognized 102 high school, college and trade school students who successfully completed graduation requirements from their respective institutions. They have all been participants in TIF’s Take Stock in Children, Career Development, Heavy Equipment Mechanics, Immokalee Readers and College Success programs.
Included among them were 75 Immokalee High School seniors, 10 graduates of Immokalee Technical Center’s HEM program and 17 college and technical school graduates.
Of the Immokalee High grads, 74 are enrolling at a college, university or technical school, while one is entering the military. Many of them will pursue degrees and certifications at in-state schools, but others will venture outside Florida to study at such institutions as Columbia University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Brigham Young University and Iowa’s Grinnell College.
They intend to seek degrees in such academic concentrations as social work, accounting, nursing, and education, biomedical science, sports management, and arts and entertainment.
Among the institutions TIF’s Class of 2015’s post-secondary graduates matriculated were Florida Gulf Coast, Florida State, Florida Atlantic and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical universities, as well as the University of Central Florida, iTECH and Georgetown University. The degrees they earned range from public communication, community health and graphic design, to licensed practical nurse, civil engineering, international economics and molecular biology.
Daniel Hernandez was one of the TIF graduates in attendance, having earned a bachelor’s degree this spring from Florida Gulf Coast University. He majored in business management, with a concentration in entrepreneurship, and minors in marketing and advertising.
Hernandez was home-schooled for six years, before entering Immokalee Middle School and he credits TIF’s programs and staff with easing that transition and placing him on a path to success. He singled out Elda Hernandez, TIF’s Career Development program manager, and Noemi Perez, TIF’s Program Services director, for their efforts on his behalf.
“Honestly, without The Immokalee Foundation, I don’t think I would have gone to college,” said Hernandez, who is the first person in his family to graduate, not just from college, but high school, as well. “I think I’d be working in the fields with my uncles, just making a living. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for TIF. It’s an amazing organization helping low-income students in Immokalee to realize their dreams.”
Hernandez’ sentiments were echoed by Jay Richardson, a recent graduate of iTECH’s Heavy Equipment Mechanics program, who is employed at Linder Industrial Machinery in Plant City.
“TIF helped me through the HEM program by providing a scholarship which helped ease the burden of having to travel for the internship,” said Richardson. “Having a degree is a great feeling. I worked hard and it is literally paying off. For the future and even in the present, having this education has and will help me enter at a higher level than many people who are starting off in this industry.”
The ceremony and celebration was attended by a multitude of the students’ family members and friends, school officials, and TIF staff, board members, program mentors and other volunteers, who descended upon Ave Maria’s student union to honor the graduates.
Steven Kissinger, executive director of TIF, opened the festivities by welcoming the attendees, who a short time later, heard a keynote address delivered by Luis Cartagena, a member of TIF’s board of directors, and a vice president and branch manager for Florida Community Bank. The many community members who mentor youths participating in the Take Stock in Children program were recognized by Michelle Kennedy, TIF’s mentor and volunteer coordinator.
Awards were handed out by Joseph Zednik, chairman of TIF’s board of directors, who also presented the closing remarks.
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 TIF, volunteering as a mentor or for additional information, call 239-430-9122 or visit www.immokaleefoundation.org

Tom and Ann Stallkamp, Ilbia Perez and Brigida Perez find a lot in common. (submitted photo)

Tom and Ann Stallkamp, Ilbia Perez and Brigida Perez find a lot in common. (submitted photo)

The Immokalee Bulletin is published every Thursday.

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