Guadalupe Center celebrates 200th alumni to earn college degree

Guadalupe Center Celebrates 200th Alumni to Earn College Degree

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%.

mateo alexander mateo mateo (option 2)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.

van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning

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.

200th alumni– By Dawn Montecalvo, President of Guadalupe Center.

Araceli Anzualda: Guadalupe Center makes success possible for myself, Immokalee

Immokalee High School’s Class of 2020 faced enormous challenges along the way – Hurricane Irma, COVID-19 and everything in between.

Graduating from high school certainly is a milestone worth celebrating, but I’m already looking toward the future.

In August, I will have an opportunity to become the first person in my family to attend college. For my parents, college simply wasn’t a possibility. My father comes from generations of farmworkers and my mother’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba.

I am fortunate to have this opportunity because of Guadalupe Center, which has been such an important part of my life over the past four years. Honestly, I do not know where I would be right now if I did not decide to apply for a spot in the Tutor Corps Program during my freshman year.

Through Tutor Corps, I have learned so much from workshops, like how to prepare for college and careers, apply for scholarships and study for tests. Tutor Corps also provided me with a job tutoring students in kindergarten, first and second grades. Beyond just earning money for college, the program also allowed me to learn two very important characteristics that will help me going forward – patience and responsibility. I absolutely love being able to be a mentor and serve as a role model to younger students, and also have learned so much through volunteering in the community.

In addition to help from the staff at Guadalupe Center, I also was provided a mentor, Jacquie McIntyre. She means the world to me and my family. On top of being my mentor, Jacquie has also become a family member. I look up to her and truly value every piece of advice she gives me.

Now that I am a graduate of Immokalee High School, I’m ready for the next step – majoring in nursing at the University of Toledo with an ultimate career goal of becoming a nurse practitioner.

Many students have the desire and talent to attend college, but two things often keep higher education from becoming a reality – guidance and financial resources. Jacquie is from Ohio, and her support and encouragement convinced me to leave home for college and experience a different environment. Through the Sandy and Roger Vasey Scholarship at Guadalupe Center, I will be able to pay for many of my college expenses over the next four years.

None of this would have been possible without Guadalupe Center. The entire organization – staff members, volunteers, donors and board members – wants to see students succeed, but they also want to see Immokalee as a whole succeed.

Being the first person in my family to attend college is such an honor. I have been given so many opportunities and learned so much during the last four years, and this experience has made me into the young woman I am today.


About the Author

Araceli Anzualda is a 2020 graduate of Immokalee High School and Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps Program. She will be attending the University of Toledo in the fall.