Guadalupe Center receives $15,000 grant from Community Foundation to continue virtual programs in wake of COVID-19

Guadalupe Center has received a $15,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Collier County to continue providing virtual learning opportunities for more than 1,400 students in Immokalee. 

Guadalupe Center temporarily closed its physical campuses in March to thwart the spread of COVID-19, immediately launching a comprehensive virtual program for students in its Early Childhood Education, After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment and Tutor Corps programs. 

The Community Foundation grant will help cover salaries of teachers and staff, provide tuition assistance for families, and purchase and upgrade technology used to deliver remote instruction. 

“Across the country, economically disadvantaged students are having the most difficulty adjusting to virtual education because of technology, language and educational barriers,” said Guadalupe Center President Dawn Montecalvo. “By offering a robust virtual program, and even providing computers to some families, we are ensuring that the temporary closure of traditional learning environments isn’t disproportionately impacting the students of Immokalee. We’re thankful that the Community Foundation recognizes the importance of leveling the playing field so students don’t fall behind academically during this challenging period in their lives. 

Guadalupe Center’s teachers have been holding class discussions and leading lessons over Zoom, as well as offering workshops that demonstrate how parents can take a more active role in their children’s education. Students in the college-preparatory Tutor Corps program have participated in weekly online workshops covering essay writing, the college application program, test prep and more. 

The Community Foundation of Collier County awards annual grants through a competitive application and review process through its Changing Needs Fund. The Community Foundation is a tax-exempt, public, charitable organization, established in 1985 to increase and focus private philanthropy in the area. Today, the Community Foundation manages more than 750 funds, serves hundreds of nonprofits, holds $214 million in assets and has distributed more than $183 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and community programs. 

Guadalupe Center receives $10,000 grant from Bank of America to support educational programs in Immokalee

Bank of America Charitable Foundation has awarded a $10,000 grant to support students in Guadalupe Center’s three educational programs.

Guadalupe Center serves 1,400 students annually through its nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program, After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program and college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program. The nonprofit recently announced expansion plans that will allow it to serve several hundred additional students by the end of 2021.

Bank of America Charitable Foundation’s Community Partners Grant Program helps build thriving communities by addressing issues fundamental to economic health and sustainability. The Foundation is advancing economic mobility by addressing issues related to workforce development and education, community development and basic needs. Guadalupe Center’s mission is to break the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee.

“A high-quality education is the single-most important factor that determines an individual’s future success, and the programs at Guadalupe Center are nationally recognized for their proven ability to prepare students for school, college and beyond,” said Dawn Montecalvo, president of Guadalupe Center. “That’s why investments from Bank of America Charitable Foundation and other corporate partners are so important. A high-quality education offers the best opportunity for the students of Immokalee to overcome poverty.”

To help Guadalupe Center support Immokalee families through education, please visit or call 239-657-7711.

Couple’s generosity fuels Immokalee families during tough times

No one is immune from the coronavirus.

While the number of COVID-19 cases is relatively small compared to the region’s population, there isn’t a single person in Southwest Florida who has not been impacted by the virus. Financial markets and 401(k) plans have collapsed. Schools, businesses and restaurants have temporarily closed. Supermarkets and big box stores cannot keep essential items in stock.

However, the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting lower-income families, particularly those in the service industry – hotels, restaurants, retail stores and attractions.

In Immokalee, nearly half of families were living in poverty before the crisis, and that figure is certain to rise in the coming weeks and months as the service industry staggers and agriculture jobs disappear for the summer. Those workers are the parents of students at Guadalupe Center. They work hard, but live paycheck to paycheck. Now, that paycheck is either smaller or non-existent.

Thankfully, local school systems are providing “grab-and-go” meals to students while schools are closed. For many children, it’s the only nutritious, well-balanced meal they will receive. Unfortunately, those programs don’t operate on the weekend, and that concerns Debbie and Bill Toler, community leaders with a passion for helping nonprofits, particularly those focused on education and youth. The Tolers were exploring ways to help locally owned businesses impacted by the economic and health crisis, like Jonesez BBQ, a Fort Myers-based caterer recovering from a barrage of cancelations. Debbie contacted Guadalupe Center to begin developing a plan to feed students and their families.

Jonesez BBQ’s three food trucks rolled into Immokalee on Saturday, March 21, serving 1,000 hot meals – pulled chicken and pork, rice, beans and rolls – in drive-thru style lines to minimize contact and follow federal guidelines for social distancing. To increase the impact across several geographical areas and reach more families, the trucks were stationed at Guadalupe Center’s Monaghan Family Early Childhood Education Campus, as well as at community partners Pathways Early Learning Center and Redlands Christian Migrant Association. All three organizations serve the students of Immokalee. The Tolers have generously supported Guadalupe Center for years and were happy to partner on another meaningful event.

“We truly believe in their mission and they service some of the neighborhoods that really need it the most,” Debbie said. “They take care of educational needs of so many children in the community and it’s beyond just the children – it’s the entire family.”

Guadalupe Center’s weekly Smart Start family literacy program, for example, shows parents how to facilitate in-home learning and ensure that children are reaching age-appropriate development milestones. Guadalupe Center also has partnered with the Immokalee Unmet Needs Coalition to help provide housing for families whose homes were severely damaged by Hurricane Irma.

Guadalupe Center relies on assistance from generous supporters like the Tolers to carry out its mission of breaking the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee. The center’s nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program, After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program and college preparatory Tutor Corps Program have become models for communities serving similar demographics.

“Really, it’s more than the food that we’re serving them,” Debbie said while helping package meals for families. “It’s providing additional support and letting them know that as a community, we’re here for them.”

Dawn Montecalvo, president of Guadalupe Center, said support from the community is helping deliver exceptional results, like statistics showing that 95% of children meet or exceed kindergarten readiness measures and 94% of Tutor Corps students graduate with a postsecondary degree.

In a time of crisis, Dawn hopes the Tolers’ act of generosity serves as an inspiration to others in Southwest Florida.

“Take care of your family’s needs first, but if you have the ability and means to help others, please go ahead and do it,” she said. “There are so many families and children in Southwest Florida that are going to have a very difficult spring and summer, but coming together as one will help our community grow stronger.”

To help Guadalupe Center students and their families, please visit or call 239-657-7711.

Impacting Immokalee and its students through early childhood education

For the 307 students who attend Guadalupe Center’s nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program, the future is extremely bright.

Children who attend a high-quality early learning program experience a higher rate of academic and career success. Guadalupe Center students have become valedictorians of their high school class, dean’s list college graduates and successful professionals making a difference in their community.

Unfortunately, Collier County has a shortage of seats in accredited early learning centers. Of the estimated 5,000 children under the age of 5 who live in poverty, just 1,000 are enrolled in a high-quality pre-school program. Guadalupe Center operates at capacity and has a waiting list that surpasses 500 students. If Guadalupe Center is not able to accommodate these students, it’s likely they will remain at home until age 5 when it’s time to begin kindergarten. That’s too late to start school!

Thanks to generous individuals who recognize the importance of early learning, Guadalupe Center has launched an ambitious plan to expand its Early Childhood Education Program to more children. This spring, the nonprofit organization will open the Monaghan Family Early Childhood Education Campus, which will serve an additional 64 students ages 6 weeks to 3 years old. Then in 2021, Guadalupe Center will open the van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning, which will accommodate another 154 students in the Early Childhood Education Program as well as the 108 students in Tutor Corps at the Brynne & Bob Coletti Hall.

To understand the potential impact of these programs, one only needs to connect with Crystal Wood-Morales, director of the new Monaghan campus. After receiving a high school diploma, Crystal worked in the restaurant industry for seven years. Her career path changed after enrolling in college, where she earned two associate degrees and ultimately a bachelor’s degree that led to her promotion from teacher to site administrator and now center director.

“Growing up, I overcame many obstacles that made me the strong, independent, responsible and hardworking person I am today,” Crystal said. “I want to teach the children of Immokalee to overcome any obstacle they encounter. I want them to know that through determination, hard work and education, they can accomplish anything in this lifetime. My goal is to teach students that they can do great things and that this is their time to learn, grow and to shine.”

The Monaghan and van Otterloo campuses will create jobs in a community where economic growth is challenging, adding 58 new full-time positions. The expansion will further help children in Immokalee see that they have what it takes to overcome the profound challenges of living in an impoverished community. This is all done through education! As adults, Guadalupe Center students will enjoy higher earning potential, economic security and career satisfaction, thereby changing their family’s destiny for generations to come.

Through the Guadalupe Center 2020 & Beyond campaign, you can help build endless possibilities for students in Immokalee today, tomorrow and beyond! Gifts of any amount can be made securely online at, or you can call Tracy Connelly at (239) 657-7711 to make a pledge. All donations are tax deductible and warmly appreciated.