From hope to opportunity: Early childhood education brings optimism to Immokalee

A quarter-century ago, Immokalee was a much different place. 

Although the economy was agriculture-based then, like it is now, today’s children have so much more opportunity than was offered a generation ago. Hope is in Immokalee, and it comes in the form of education. 

Guadalupe Center recently broke ground on an additional education campus, the second such ceremonial event in as many years. The van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning will open in early 2022 and will accommodate up to 154 students in the Early Childhood Education Program, as well as 125 high school students in the college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program. In August, Guadalupe Center opened the Monaghan Family Early Childhood Education Campus, which can serve up to 64 students ages 6 weeks to 3 years old. 

Once the new campuses are complete, Guadalupe Center will serve more than 1,800 students annually. 

When a ribbon-cutting ceremony is held for the van Otterloo campus, Guadalupe Center will simultaneously be celebrating the 25th anniversary of its Early Childhood Education Program. Through research, Guadalupe Center staff uncovered minutes from a Board of Trustees retreat held more than two decades ago that described the “uphill climb” associated with creating the Early Childhood Education ProgramThen, the program offered hope. Today, the program is offering opportunities and a rising sense of optimism. 

Below is a look at notes from that board retreat: 

Staff qualifications 

  • Then: Recruiting was difficult because applicants had limited or no experience in child care, as well as limited education backgrounds. 
  • Now: Educational staff have two- and four-year college degrees, and every teaching position is filled with an experienced instructor. Some employees are former Tutor Corps students at Guadalupe Center. 

Student recruitment 

  • Then: Few families recognized the long-term benefits of early childhood education and were reluctant to register their children, so Guadalupe Center relied on local churches for referrals. 
  • Now: The popularity of Immokalee’s only NAEYC-accredited program has led to a waiting list that exceeds 500 students. 


  • Then: Guadalupe Center initially averaged 34 students daily when the program started in 1996. An expansion raised the capacity to 85 children in the Early Childhood Education Programs and up to 20 in the After-school Program. 
  • Now: With 371 students currently, the Early Childhood Education Program has grown tenfold. Once the van Otterloo campus opens, the program will be 14 times as large as it was in 1996. 

Financial stability 

  • Then: Funding was tight and federal subsidies were not easy to obtain on behalf of students. 
  • Now: Philanthropy accounts for almost 80% of the annual operating budget. “Guadalupe Center: 2020 & Beyond” nearly met its goal before the fundraising campaign was publicly announced. 

As a soup kitchen in the 1980s, Guadalupe Center fed the body. As an education provider today, Guadalupe Center nourishes the mind and is giving energy to Immokalee. Supporters like Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, along with hundreds of other generous individuals, couples and foundations, have helped create a culture of academic success in Immokalee. 

“The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation is proud to support the great work accomplished through the Guadalupe Center,” said Mary Beth Geier, the foundation’s Florida directorTheir expansion and continued commitment to early learning is greatly needed and will continue to make a profound impact on the families in Immokalee. We are grateful to have an opportunity to be a part of these life-changing moments in the community! 

The minutes from that board retreat in the late 1990s concluded that Guadalupe Center’s quest to provide new educational opportunities to families “who make their home in Immokalee has been filled with the challenges and frustration that come with ‘hills and valleys, sunshine and rain.’” 

Today, even during these unprecedented times, Guadalupe Center is experiencing blue skies and brilliant sunshine. The hope from 1996 is now fostering opportunity. Generous supporters and hardworking staff are making certain that students receive a high-quality education that will propel them to endless possibilities. 

– By Dawn Montecalvo, President of Guadalupe Center

Guadalupe Center breaks ground on van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning

Guadalupe Center broke ground on Oct. 30 for a new educational campus that will create lasting, transformational change for students in Immokalee. 

The van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning will feature two academic buildings with multiple classrooms, a library, learning lab, cafeteria and kitchen, playground, administrative offices, mentor lounges, commons areas, medical and dental suiteoutdoor gardens and a student wall of fame. The campus will accommodate up to 154 students in Guadalupe Center’s Early Childhood Education Program, as well as 125 high school students in the college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program. 

Guadalupe Center named the campus in honor of Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloowhose generous $5 million matching gift helped launch the project and inspired others to give. Within the campus, Brynne & Bob Coletti Hall will become the new home for the Tutor Corps Program. Barron Collier Companies donated 9.5 acres for the new campus. 

A strong early childhood education gives children the best opportunity for future success, and this expansion will allow more students to get a head start on an education that will carry them through school, into college and beyond,” said Dawn Montecalvo, president of Guadalupe Center. “We are truly grateful for all of the generous donors who stepped forward to help this dream become a reality for families in Immokalee. 

Guadalupe Center’s Early Childhood Education Program is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and Accredited Professional Preschool Learning Environment (APPLE). It also is recognized through the Southwest Florida Stars – Quality Rating and Improvement System and Gold Seal Quality Care Program through the Florida Department of Children and Families. Additionally, Guadalupe Center has a five-star rating from the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida. 

Tutor Corps is a highly selective, college preparatory program that offers guidance in college and career readiness, ACT and SAT test prep, mentorships, financial literacy and scholarship assistance, as well as wages for tutoring younger students at Guadalupe Center. 

In August, Guadalupe Center opened the Monaghan Family Early Childhood Education Campus, which can accommodate up to 64 students ages 6 weeks to 3 years old. The addition of the van Otterloo campus will bring Guadalupe Center’s total student population to more than 1,800 students annually. 

Guadalupe CenterConstruction costs for both new campuses are being funded through “Guadalupe Center: 2020 & Beyond,” a capital and operational campaign raising money to build new educational centers, hire additional staffexpand academic programs and establish an operational endowment fund. 

“When our children were old enough to have conversations about philanthropy, we discussed creating a foundation and what causes we’d like to support as a family, such as a hospital or museum,” Rose-Marie van Otterloo said. “Everyone said education, and that’s what we’ve been supporting for the past 20 years.” 

After moving to Naples, a friend introduced the van Otterloos to Guadalupe Center. After that first visit, Rose-Marie was hooked. 

“I fell in love with this place because of its mission,” she said. “The only way to get out of poverty is through education, and Guadalupe Center is providing hope to so many families in Immokalee.” 

Construction on the van Otterloo campus, which will be located at 3655 Westclox St. in Immokalee, is expected to be complete in late 2021. Project partners include Heatherwood Construction, David Corban Architects and Peninsula Engineering. 

Guadalupe Center is recognizing donors through a naming opportunity campaign. Several investment opportunities are still available, including classrooms, building wings and offices. For information about additional giving opportunities, please contact Senior Director of Philanthropy Kelly Krupp at 239-657-7711. 

When opportunity knocks: creating endless possibilities through education

They say education is the great equalizer, an avenue to transform lives for generations to come.

Education, however, cannot be a difference-maker without opportunity. Students must have access to a high-quality, affordable education to reap its benefits, like higher earning potential, economic security and career satisfaction.

Through education, Guadalupe Center is offering an opportunity to the students of Immokalee: an opportunity to graduate from high school and earn scholarships for college, an opportunity to work in their career field of choice and an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty that for generations has defined the impoverished community of Immokalee.

Starting with children as young as 6 weeks old, Guadalupe Center’s Early Childhood Education Program helps students develop the social, emotional and academic foundations to be ready for kindergarten. Staying by their side through early elementary years, Guadalupe Center offers an After-School Tutoring Program to continue building students’ reading and math skills. The Summer Enrichment Program helps students maintain their academic momentum during summer break. In high school, students can join the Tutor Corps Program to grow their confidence, prepare for higher education and ultimately become first-generation college graduates.

The impact on the lives of students and their families is unmistakable.

Guadalupe Center serves more than 1,300 students, but its programs and physical space are at capacity. The Board of Trustees at Guadalupe Center wants to extend the nonprofit’s impact to additional students. In the spring, Guadalupe Center will open the Monaghan Family Early Childhood Education Campus, which will enroll an additional 64 students ages 6 weeks to 3 years old. Generous supporters made the expansion possible, but Guadalupe Center needs additional funding for operational expenses.

In 2021, Guadalupe Center will open the van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning, a 31,000-square-foot facility that will accommodate another 154 students in the Early Childhood Education program, as well as house The Brynne & Bob Coletti Hall, the new home of the Tutor Corps Program. Additional funds also are needed to prepare for students’ arrival.

Since 1984, Guadalupe Center has been a model of success, proving that education – and opportunity – can redefine a community. Guadalupe Center students have made the honor roll and become high school valedictorians. They’ve earned full-ride college scholarships, made the Dean’s List and graduated with honors. They’ve returned to Collier County and become gainfully employed as educators, health care specialists, engineers, public service workers and business leaders.

Expanding Guadalupe Center’s programs to serve additional students comes at a cost. That’s why the Board of Trustees is establishing an endowment that will sustain Guadalupe Center through its upcoming expansion and beyond. An impressive 100% of board members and full-time staff already have contributed, and as a community, we all can play a role in this transformation of Immokalee, and these families’ lives, by supporting proven high-quality education programs.

Education drives success. Students deserve this opportunity.

Gifts of any amount can be made securely online at Guadalupe, or you can text GC1Mission to 52182. All donations are tax deductible and warmly appreciated.