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.

Why high school freshmen should think about college now

Today’s high school freshmen are 14 or 15 years old. 

They’ve just gone from top dogs in middle school to the smallest fish in a big sea. Academics are a cut above their previous studies. Their bodies and minds are going through periods of change, too. 

With high school just starting, college probably is the last thing on the minds of high school freshmen. But it should be. In fact, freshmen year helps lay the groundwork for sophomore, junior and senior years, and ultimately college.  

Below are five tasks that ninth-graders should be doing now to get a head start on their college planning.

High School Freshmen Checklist

(1) Meet with a school counselor. Academic advisors and guidance counselors help students set course schedules and monitor grades, but they’re also experts on college planning. Advisors can explain the college admissions process, financial aid, placement testing and what to expect from campus life. 

(2) Explore college options. Across America, there are more than 4,300 degree-granting institutions, according to the U.S. Department of Education. No two schools are alike. There are two- and four-year schools, public and private colleges, and liberal arts and research institutions. Colleges are located in urban, suburban and rural locations. There also are trade schools that offer certificates and professional licensure. 

(3) Understand finances. Colleges are expensive. That’s why it is important for parents and students to have a conversation about finances. Published tuition prices, however, aren’t necessarily the amount that all students pay. There are an abundance of scholarships, grants, loans and work study programs that help reduce the cost of attendance. You just need to know how to find them. 

(4) Review college majors. Teachers start asking this question in kindergarten: what do you want to be when you grow up? Now is the time for freshmen to start answering it. Guidance counselors can help students narrow down possible career choices based on abilities and interests. Another way to begin narrowing the list is by visiting websites of colleges to see what degree programs are available. 

(5) Study, study, study. High GPAs and test scores unlock the majority of colleges, and thus more academic opportunities. By ninth grade, elementary and middle school grades are wiped clean, and every freshman starts the school year with a clean slate. Planning, time management and effort are critical factors that determine academic success. Freshmen should begin studying for the ACT or SAT, and set a goal of finishing the first semester with a 4.0 GPA. 

In high school, it’s easy to get off track with so many potential distractions. That’s why Guadalupe Center emphasizes college, and what it takes to get there, from day one. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators should all be willing to help. After all, today’s high school students represent the next generation of leaders. 

Freshmen essentially have four years to pave their path to college. Although the ship hasn’t necessarily sailed for sophomores, juniors and seniors, delaying the planning process only cuts down the time students have to make these incredibly important decisions. The clock is ticking. 

By Daniel Martinez, Tutor Corps Program high school director at Guadalupe Center. For more information, please visit or call 239-657-7711. 

Tutor Corps students shop for future at Guadalupe Resale Shop

Each year, Guadalupe Resale Shop welcomes high school graduates of Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps Program for a fun shopping trip.

Students are allowed to select up to 10 items priced at $40 or less, at no cost. Students often use this opportunity to add pants, long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, jackets and coats to their wardrobes, as well as business attire for job interviews and formal events.

Check out photos of the Tutor Corps Class of 2021 shopping at Guadalupe Resale Shop.

Tutor Corps Shopping Trip

Guadalupe Center welcomes 3 additions to Board of Trustees

Guadalupe Center has added three new members to its Board of Trustees, including a former student who returned to Immokalee after graduating from college.

Maria Munguia Cortes, Liz Curtin and Susan Duke have joined Guadalupe Center’s governing body, which offers oversight for the education-focused nonprofit and advocates for students and families in Immokalee.

Cortes is a 2016 graduate of Guadalupe Center’s college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program who attended Wartburg College in Iowa on scholarships earned through Guadalupe Center. She returned to Immokalee and now serves as management trainee in community relations for Lipman Family Farms in Immokalee.

Curtin is an active community volunteer who is currently a co-mentor in the Tutor Corps Program, sharing her experiences, insights and advice with an Immokalee High School student. She also serves on the University of Notre Dame’s Undergraduate Experience Advisory Council.

Duke is a dedicated philanthropist whose charitable causes focus predominantly on education, children and families, basic needs, faith-based needs, health and hygiene, disaster relief and refugee relief. A former foster parent, Duke served as a court-appointed child advocate for youth in the child welfare system.

“We’re excited to welcome these three incredibly talented women to our Board of Trustees,” said Dawn Montecalvo, president of Guadalupe Center. “Their insight and leadership will be invaluable as Guadalupe Center expands its programs to provide additional students with access to high-quality educational programs.”

Guadalupe Center offers a nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program, After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program and Tutor Corps Program. The nonprofit serves more than 1,400 students annually and will grow in early 2022 with the opening of the van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning. Guadalupe Center’s mission is breaking the cycle of poverty through education for the children of Immokalee.

Immokalee teens Zoom toward dreams of college, careers

John Mayer retired in 2016 as vice president of U.S. retail sales for J.M. Smucker, a company known for iconic brands like Smucker’s jelly and Jif peanut butter. The part-time Naples resident has traveled extensively and dined on cuisine from around the world, yet offered a surprising anecdote about his meal of choice.

“One of my favorite sandwiches is still a peanut butter and jelly on wheat bread,” he said.

Mayer was the keynote presenter at Guadalupe Center’s Leadership Day on April 21. Unlike a career day, where speakers discuss their industry, a dozen professionals instead shared insights, experiences and lessons learned with dozens of Immokalee teenagers. One of Mayer’s tips was to be passionate about your job and love what you do. He parlayed his love for peanut butter and jelly into a successful 35-year career with Smucker, making him a better salesman as he approached distribution partners and a better executive who understood consumer trends and demands.

Although Mayer’s example is a unique one, other Leadership Day presenters shared similar advice.

“There is not anybody in the world that can take your dream away from you,” said Sgt. Natalie Ashby, the only female SWAT member in the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. “Nothing comes easy in life. Stick with it, and you’ll get what you want.”

Guadalupe Center created Leadership Day in 2019 as an opportunity for Immokalee High School students to not just hear from successful business leaders and entrepreneurs, but to engage in dialogue with them. This year’s Leadership Day was virtual, putting groups of three to five students into Zoom breakout rooms for 10 minutes each. The students, upperclassmen in Guadalupe Center’s college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program, were able to ask about how presenters settled on a career choice, what inspires them, how they overcome challenges and other topics.

This year’s panelists included Regine Cooper (construction), Sheri Oganowski (nursing), Sgt. Natalie Ashby (law enforcement), Tom Costello (advertising/motivational coach), Christi Finger (graphic design), Mark Nagan (engineering), Dan Miller (musician), Kellie Burns (journalism), James Ragusa (education), Jane Sussman (social work), Kasimir Oganowski (physician) and Margie White (attorney).

Just six years after graduating from Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Cooper is Suffolk Construction’s project engineer managing a $98 million construction project at Gateway High School in Fort Myers. The youngest of the 12 presenters, Cooper’s background is similar to many students served by Guadalupe Center. Her advice to the college-bound students was simple: “Don’t go to parties. Spend your time in career services.”

Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps Program provides college and career readiness, ACT and SAT test prep, mentorships, financial literacy and scholarship assistance, as well as wages for tutoring younger students. Two years ago, Leadership Day emerged as another opportunity to better prepare students for the challenges ahead.

“We are so thankful for each presenter who shared his or her time, talents and wisdom with students, as well as our staff,” said Guadalupe Center President Dawn Montecalvo. “It’s incredibly important for students to recognize that you don’t just learn in the classroom; you also learn by watching, listening and talking to others.”

– By Sheila Oxx, Director of the Tutor Corps Program.

Welcome to college: quarantine, coloring books and pursuing a dream

Note: This article was written by Alberta Araceli Morales-Gonzalez, a freshman at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York. She is a 2020 graduate of Immokalee High School and Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps Program.

For an incoming college freshman, those first few days on campus should be the time of your life – total freedom, endless social events, memorable experiences and making new friends.

Unfortunately, I had to spend the first two weeks of college locked alone inside my dorm room.

To help prevent further spread of COVID-19, New York implemented a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for anyone traveling from the state from Florida. That meant I had to arrive at Roberts Wesleyan College two weeks ahead of schedule and couldn’t see anyone or do anything outside the four walls of my dorm room. My phone was my primary entertainment source for music, videos, TV shows and movies. I also read, colored, made a friendship bracelet and organized my room – it felt like kindergarten all over again!

My two-week quarantine ended with no symptoms, and I was free to start my college career and begin pursuing a dream I’ve had for many years. In Immokalee, graduating high school isn’t a given, let alone going to college. Yet, here I am, the daughter of a construction worker and the oldest of four siblings, majoring in business at a private, out-of-state college with an annual sticker price of $44,910.

How did this happen? Well, now, students like myself have a whole community in their corner, helping us blaze a trail toward a brighter future through education.

After my mother suddenly passed away, I had to balance schoolwork with additional responsibilities at home as the eldest. I set a goal of not only becoming the first in my family to graduate from high school, but also the first to attend college. I was accepted into Guadalupe Center’s college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program, which gave me opportunities to overcome barriers I was facing. I learned how to properly shake hands and make small talk in a professional setting. I learned how to write essays, complete financial aid forms, apply for scholarships and fill out college applications.

As I progressed through high school, I considered staying local for college. After my junior year, though, I had an opportunity to attend a summer program at Roberts Wesleyan through Guadalupe Center’s E.G. Salisbury Tutor Corps Summer Academy. That experience opened my eyes and helped me realize that while I wanted to be near my family, this was an opportunity that would help me reach my full potential. I decided to leave home to focus on school and my future.

Roberts Wesleyan College is an elite academic institution, and I had the grades and the motivation to succeed there – I just didn’t have the money. Again, Guadalupe Center stepped up. Through my work with the Tutor Corps Program at the Guadalupe Center, I earned scholarship funds that I could apply towards my Roberts tuition. Roberts also acknowledged my academic achievements in high school by awarding me the Presidential Scholarship, and I received federal grants and loans. Finally, I received a new scholarship from Roberts Wesleyan College, established by generous donors, that is specifically for students from the Guadalupe Center. It was this new scholarship, a partnership between Roberts Wesleyan College and the Guadalupe Center, that made it possible for me to attend the college of my choice.

Guadalupe Center then helped provide essentials for my dorm room and even worked with donors to cover my flight to New York.

Leading up to that flight, my dad became more comfortable with the thought of me leaving home. When I left, his words of advice were to study hard and set a good example for my brother and two sisters. They’re also a part of Guadalupe Center programs, and I’m hopeful they’ll be following in my footsteps to become the second, third and fourth members of our family to attend college. I want them to see that life can improve once you let go of any negativity that might be holding you back and simply follow your dreams.

– Alberta Araceli Morales-Gonzalez

Tutor Corps students use summer downtime to help a community in need

COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans this summer, including high school students. 

Many teenagers typically spend June and July working part-time jobs, taking a family vacation, hanging out with friends and touring college campuses. None of that happened this year. 

Facing the prospect of sitting at home all summer, bored with nothing to doJennifer Santos-Martinez dedicated her summer to helping neighbors in need. 

“People really do appreciate everything that they are given,” said Santos-Martinez, a 2020 graduate of Immokalee High School and incoming freshman at Augustana College. 

Two to three days each week this summer, Tutor Corps students have been logging long shifts, sometimes more than six hours, in the blazing heat to distribute fresh vegetables, fruits, cheese, proteins and essential supplies to Immokalee residents in a drive-thru line. When vehicles roll up, four at a time, students already have items boxed and ready for residents to place inside their vehicles. Once they leave, another set of cars pulls up, and the process repeats itself for six hours or whenever they run out of food – whichever comes first. 

Per capita, Immokalee has one of Florida’s highest COVID-19 infection ratesan alarming statistic that has generated statewide and national media attentionbut also has brought relief groups and support to town. The community traditionally faces higher unemployment rates during summer months as the agricultural industry slows, but COVID-19 also impacted adults working in restaurants, retail stores, hotels, salons, tourist attractions and other sectors of Southwest Florida’s economy. As a result, families who never relied on assistance now find themselves struggling to put food on the table. 

Frank Rincon, director of the Benison Center, said the nonprofit is serving about 300 families weekly thanks to help from Guadalupe Center students and staff, as well as volunteers from other organizations. The Benison Center was founded in 2017, shortly after Hurricane Irma devastated the rural community, and has helped fulfill the needs of numerous charitable groupsAfter coronavirus began sparking economic devastation, though, the Benison Center transitioned to begin distributing food and supplies directly to Immokalee families. 

“Without Guadalupe Center and Dawn Montecalvo, I could dare to say that the Benison Center would not exist,” Rincon saidShe had the foresight to see what this could become and made one of the first seeds that allowed this to come into fruition. The beautiful thing about what’s going on here behind me is that it is Immokalee serving Immokalee. All of these young people are from the community. They’re invested in the community.” 

That’s exactly why Jesus Vasquez wanted to help. 

“There are a lot of parents who cannot work right now and cannot afford food,” said Vasquez, a rising junior at Immokalee High School and a Tutor Corps student. “We’re blessing someone’s life. It warms my heart to know we’re feeding other families who might not be able to get food during the pandemic. 

Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps Program offers guidance in college and career readiness, ACT and SAT test prep, mentorships, financial literacy and scholarship assistance. Students also have opportunities to earn wages by tutoring younger students, but COVID-19 forced Guadalupe Center to cancel its Summer Enrichment Programthus leaving downtime for students that turned out to be extremely productive. 

They didn’t only step up,” Rincon said of Tutor Corps students. “They came in and filled a gap. Without all of these young people here, this would be impossible.

Tutor CorpsBy Ellie Ramirez, programs assistant


Immokalee’s rising seniors using summer to virtually prepare for college

The summer before students’ senior year of high school is usually when they get serious about college planning.

By June or July, they’ll have ACT or SAT scores in hand and begin touring college campuses to find the right fit – financially, socially and academically.

For the class of 2021, though, this summer is different. Spring test dates were postponed, so many students don’t have any qualifying test scores to report. College campuses are closed, so tours are canceled. Admissions officers and counselors are harder to reach because they’re working remotely.

Despite the challenges, rising high school seniors in Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps Program are still preparing for August 2021, the date when they’ll start college.

Normally, Tutor Corps students would have opportunities to participate in one- to six-week pre-college experiences at universities across the country through the E.G. Salisbury Tutor Corps Summer Academy, a program funded by Guadalupe Center’s generous supporters. Instead, Guadalupe Center enrolled all 28 rising seniors in an online, general education course through Roberts Wesleyan College in New York.

Tutor Corps students are learning how to communicate professionally with professors and classmates over video calls, email and messaging platforms. They are beginning to understand the academic expectations of college students and recognizing the keys to success include initiative and self-motivation. And when the course is finished, each student will have three college credits on their transcript, which puts these first-generation college students one step closer to a college degree.

Beyond that, Guadalupe Center is providing an essay writing workshop over Zoom that offers assistance drafting essays required in college applications. Colleges received thousands upon thousands of applications from prospective students, with nearly everyone possessing strong GPAs, academic accolades and a lengthy list of leadership positions. What differentiates applications is the essay, so Tutor Corps students are learning writing tips and strategies to draft standout essays.

One of our volunteers is leading College 101 sessions that cover the basics of college life and lingo, like explaining the difference between liberal arts institutions and research universities, general education classes and courses required for a major, and two- and four-year schools.

Another summer session focuses on leadership, professionalism and other traits necessary to succeed in college and beyond.

Guadalupe Center also is registering Tutor Corps students for free virtual college fairs, where they can “visit” admissions officers to learn about degree programs, campus life, scholarship opportunities and more.

This most unusual of summers may actually be working out in students’ favor. Instead of limiting their opportunities, the move to virtual everything is creating endless possibilities for students to learn and grow. They will be better prepared for their senior year at Immokalee High School and in a great position to transition to college. Higher education may look different when they arrive on campus – or in a virtual classroom – but Tutor Corps students will be prepared.

College Education– By Sheila Oxx, director of the Tutor Corps Program 

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.

Guadalupe Center to host ‘Discover Mentoring’ event on Jan. 29

Guadalupe Center is seeking community members to serve as volunteer mentors for first generation, college-bound high school students as they navigate through high school and beyond.

On Jan. 29, Guadalupe Center will host Discover Mentoring, a social event and informational session exploring the role of mentors in the nonprofit’s acclaimed Tutor Corps Program. Tutor Corps is a college preparatory program that provides Immokalee High School students with mentors, academic guidance, scholarship assistance, financial literacy and wages for tutoring children in Guadalupe Center’s educational programs. Current mentors are invited and encouraged to invite others interested in learning about mentoring. Guests will hear from current mentors, mentees and Guadalupe Center leadership.

Each year, Guadalupe Center accepts 25 to 30 talented teens into Tutor Corps, pairing them with mentors who offer advice, support and a listening ear. Mentors come from a variety of backgrounds and include retirees, business leaders, educators and other professionals from Naples, Marco Island, Golden Gate, Immokalee, Bonita Springs and other communities.

“Mentors are an incredibly important part of our Tutor Corps Program,” said Guadalupe Center President Dawn Montecalvo. “Many of our students have credited their mentors for serving as role models and helping keep them focused on academics throughout high school and college.”

Discover Mentoring begins at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at the Terrace at Caxambas in Fiddler’s Creek, 8152 Fiddler’s Creek Parkway in Naples. The cost is $30 per person, plus tax and tip, and includes a dinner buffet, program overview and opportunities to connect with students and other mentors. Attendees may purchase cocktails at Happy Hour drink prices.

RSVP by Jan. 22 to Linda Fox at 908-581-4754 or