Guadalupe Center receives $55,500 grant from United Way

Guadalupe Center has received a $55,500 grant from the United Way of Collier and the Keys to enhance its After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program.

The United Way’s Community Investment Award will help provide academic enrichment to an estimated 600 Immokalee students in kindergarten, first and second grades who are designated as “at risk” for falling behind in school. Guadalupe Center’s program focuses on reading, math and science, and 100% of students show learning gains on standardized tests after participating in the program.

The grant covers part-time wages for 117 tutors, each of whom is a student at Immokalee High School and participant in Guadalupe Center’s college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program. Many Tutor Corps students help supplement their parents’ income to help pay for housing, utilities, transportation and food. Tutors complete a training program through Guadalupe Center and the Collier County School District, and collaborate with certified instructors to deliver academic assistance to younger students.

“The United Way grant allows us to serve two separate groups of students, providing academic support to our younger students while providing financial assistance and valuable experience for our older group,” said Guadalupe Center President Dawn Montecalvo. “Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee, and we are incredibly thankful to count the United Way as a partner year after year.”

Guadalupe Center is among 23 partner agencies supported by the United Way, which directs its assistance to organizations addressing health, education and financial stability.

United Way of Collier and the Keys was founded in 1957 and has a rich history of bringing together individuals, nonprofits, businesses and government entities to fight for a strong, vibrant and healthy community. United Way works to advance the common good by focusing on the building blocks for a good quality of life – education, income and health. As a volunteer-driven organization, United Way partners with hundreds of volunteers and more than 40 local charities to provide hundreds of human service programs to nearly 200,000 residents of Collier and Monroe counties. 

Virtual buddies continue Buddy Day tradition for Immokalee students

Buddy Day has become an annual tradition for students in Immokalee, a much-anticipated reward for second graders in Guadalupe Center’s After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program.

Each spring for nearly three decades, more than 100 students have boarded buses bound for Marco Island, where they pair up with adult volunteers for a day of outdoor learning and fun as they explore Southwest Florida’s unique coastal habitat. Pairs of buddies participate in environmental workshops, arts and crafts, outdoor games and other learning activities.

The 29th annual Buddy Day, however, looked different. Because of the pandemic, Buddy Day transitioned to a virtual event. Guadalupe Center staff didn’t want this to be just another Zoom session, so extra thought went into developing the 2021 Buddy Day program.

Just like in previous years, there would be a fire truck, park rangers and outdoor games, and not just for one afternoon, either. Buddy Day became Buddy Week to allow for social distancing.

Representatives from Big Cypress National Preserve typically lead students through a birding expedition, pointing out various species prevalent on Marco Island. Instead, rangers created a series of birding videos that children watched before heading outside of their classrooms to explore. Big Cypress even provided handmade binoculars from toilet paper rolls. One highlight was the Birding Olympics in which rangers acted like birds to demonstrate how they fly and explain migratory patterns.

“They couldn’t smell it, feel it or touch it, but hopefully we were still able to give them a valuable experience through the videos,” said Lisa Andrews, Big Cypress’ outreach and education coordinator.

Firefighters from the Immokalee Fire Control District led students through a fire safety program and demonstrated equipment.

“I liked the fire truck because we got to pull the cord to make the alarm,” said Eulalia Juan Alonzo.

Guadalupe Center’s After-school Program serves Immokalee students in kindergarten, first and second grades in need of additional reading and math instruction. Their hard work pays off as 100% of students in the program demonstrate reading and math gains on standardized tests.

In prior years, big buddies traveled from more than a half-dozen residential communities in Naples and Marco Island. Oftentimes, big buddies were just as excited as little buddies leading up to Buddy Day.

“We knew that we needed to explore other ways to give some semblance of Buddy Day to keep the tradition going,” said Hideaway Beach Club resident Mark Ryan, who along with his wife, Linda, have helped organize Buddy Day for many years. “Buddy Day is a way to reward the children for the efforts they put in. We were not going to let COVID stop Buddy Day.”

Hideaway’s food and beverage department donated snacks for the children, while other supporters provided books, arts and crafts. Kids 2 Camp furnished stuffed animals. Another Hideaway resident packaged everything into goody bags for the students.

After enjoying Buddy Day, Ricardo Hernandez had a simple message for everyone involved in creating Buddy Day activities.

“Thank you for everything that you did for the week,” he said.

– By Bob Spano, Vice President of Programs at Guadalupe Center