Immokalee is a close-knit, rural community comprised of hard workers who value family, friendship and a spirit of service.
Historically, though, Immokalee’s educational attainment rate lags behind many communities. U.S. Census data show just 5% of Immokalee adults have a bachelor’s degree. That rate is among the lowest in America and substantially less than Naples’ average of 57%.
That’s what makes Guadalupe Center’s latest accomplishment a milestone worth celebrating. This summer, the nonprofit cheered as Mateo Alexander Mateo-Mateo became its 200th alumni to earn a college degree. It took just a few days for Guadalupe Center to note its next college graduate, and then the next one, and then the next one.
In addition to the 200-plus graduates as of this summer, an additional 122 additional students were still enrolled at colleges and universities around the country. Another 30 seniors from Immokalee High School’s Class of 2021 also headed to campus this fall.
In 2017, Mateo-Mateo completed Guadalupe Center’s college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program, which provides Immokalee High School students with college and career readiness, ACT and SAT test prep, mentorships, financial literacy and scholarship assistance, as well as wages for tutoring younger students.
Mateo-Mateo, 22, completed the bachelor’s degree portion of his accounting program this spring at the University of Missouri and will earn a master’s degree next year. Over the summer, he completed an internship with an investment bank based in New York City. Although he admits the thought of going from a small, impoverished town to working on Wall Street would be a challenge, he keeps referencing an old adage.
“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” Mateo-Mateo says.
Guadalupe Center’s mission is breaking the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee. Although Mateo-Mateo is still writing his story, Guadalupe Center is excited about his future, as well as the next set of Tutor Corps students starting college. The Class of 2021 set a record with $4 million in scholarship offers and grants.
We celebrate high school graduates as they head off to college and college graduates as they start their careers. Dozens of alumni have returned to Immokalee as educators, doctors, financial professionals, health care specialists, engineers, public service workers and business leaders.
The pipeline of college graduates will transform Immokalee. Education has a direct correlation to poverty, so the lower the educational attainment rate, the higher the poverty rate, and vice versa. Census data show more than 37% of Immokalee residents live in poverty compared to just 8% in Naples. Education brings individuals, families and communities out of poverty.
Guadalupe Center will honor Tutor Corps college graduates on its Tutor Corps Wall of Fame at the van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning, a new educational campus under construction in Immokalee. The Wall of Fame will be a key feature of Brynne & Bob Coletti Hall, the new home for the Tutor Corps Program.
Mateo-Mateo hopes his story, as well as those of other Tutor Corps graduates, shows the youth of Immokalee that the possibilities are endless through education.
“You can do whatever you want to in life, but you have to clench your teeth and do 100% honest work to get there,” Mateo-Mateo said.
– By Dawn Montecalvo, President of Guadalupe Center.