Blog | UnidosNow

My UnidosNow Story: “Retirement With Benefits” for Sandy Chase

When Sandy Chase read the UnidosNow placard her husband, Gary, had brought home from a local exposition several years ago, she knew she wanted to learn more about the organization. 

“This card, a little larger than a bookmark—with three words:  Educate, Elevate, and Integrate, and quotes like ‘I have found my own path to success,” and a list of such programs as Future Leaders Academy, UnidosNow Clubs, and College Prep Workshop Series—motivated me to explore volunteer opportunities.”  

Since that time, Sandy has been collaborating with the Dream Team and Future Leaders Academy (FLA) Barancik scholars to help bolster the UnidosNow mission—whether as a writing coach or part of the newsletter team, led by Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, an experienced communications director.  Most recently, Sandy has also been working with Cintia Elenstar, program manager, on her important alumni e-newsletter.

Sandy says, “My role at UnidosNow intrinsically rewards me, especially when high-school seniors reach and often times exceed their goals—graduating with honors, being accepted to the college of their choice, and receiving scholarships to fund that educational experience.”

Sandy further explains how editing the newsletters—with her “eagle eye” and relentless “red pen”—is win-win. 

“Even if I’m not involved in all UnidosNow programs, I’m learning firsthand how this organization helps students and parents embark on their journeys to success—whether it’s the FLAG ‘Mighty Queso Coders,’ parent-leaders at Gocio and Tuttle Elementary schools, or Peer Buddies, alumni giving back to the community.”

As an UnidosNow EDITOR, Sandy’s life has been:

  • Enhanced by
  • Dedicated staff who are
  • Intelligent
  • Tenacious 
  • Organized and
  • Respected in Sarasota and Manatee counties for furthering the goals of the Latino community

Sandy summarizes her appreciation: “Gracias por la oportunidad de disfrutar de mi jubilación.”

The Many Gifts of Altruism

by Sandy Chase

Altruism is win-win for everyone—for those who receive a gift (beneficiary) and those who give of themselves (benefactor).  It’s like a circle that can’t be broken—each group evolving into the other.  

For example, benefactors (donors, volunteers, and sponsors) are rewarded—deriving satisfaction from knowing they have made a difference in others’ lives.  And beneficiaries (receiving money and other contributions) give back—especially to the community—when they use their newly found gifts for improvement.

The 2018 Giving Challenge, sponsored by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and supported by The Patterson Foundation, the Manatee Community Foundation, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, and the Herald-Tribune, exemplified that synergistic relationship for UnidosNow and Florida Studio Theatre (FST), two nonprofits that partnered to write, produce, and perform El Camino—a heart-wrenching play depicting the challenges, resilience, and dreams of Latino teens trying to live in two cultures.

The performance of El Camino at the FST. Sitting, the students who performed it, and next to them UnidosNow Executive Director Luz Corcuera and FST Associate Artist Catherine Randazzo.

As beneficiary, UnidosNow was most fortunate to work with Florida Studio Theatre (FST), under the supervision of Associate Artist Catherine Randazzo, who praises the Future Leaders Academy (FLA) for sharing personal stories.

Fifteen scholars were all-time beneficiaries because they learned so much more than playwriting, acting, and theatre.  In this safe environment, many first-generation Latino students became role models for one another, learning about common challenges and ways to overcome them—striving to turn them into dreams. 

Catherine was the ideal mentor, given her expertise and experience as a theatre educator in Manatee and Sarasota counties.  “A large number of my students were Latino, drawn to the world of theatre—a discipline they didn’t have much exposure to—so it became my mission to introduce them to its importance.  For some, it was life changing.”

Highlighting FST’s role as beneficiary, Catherine says, “I’m grateful that I could once again mentor a group of gifted Latino students.  My gratitude goes to Executive Director Luz Corcuera, the UnidosNow team, and the students who made me realize how much I don’t know about their world.  Their community-service project has changed me—for the better. That’s the POWER of theatre.”

And that power was evident when FST offered this poignant theatrical piece as a play reading to the public in May 2018.  This performance helped “enlighten the audience,” to use Catherine’s words. Attendees learned about the unique experiences of Latino students and common issues faced as teens. 

UnidosNow also helped FST promote its mission to create a public forum for the issues of our day that will foster positive change in our community and beyond—while FST helped to support UnidosNow in its efforts to empower Latinos—making a difference in this region.

Warmly, Luz remembers how an individual in the audience approached her after the show.  “He said, ‘Keep doing this amazing work,’ folding a check in my hand—a significant donation to add to the Giving Challenge goal.  He left as quickly as he came.”

UnidosNow received other donations.  FST donated the proceeds of the evening to UnidosNow, and together they received Best Community Event Award during the Giving Challenge.  The Latino organization reaped tremendous benefits from this experience.

The gifts UnidosNow gives to the community know no bounds.  Dedicated to empowering low-income, first generation Latino students and their families, it also helps fortify the community—and beyond:

  • 100% of its scholars entered college—40% to selective institutions—culminating in earning over 2.5 million dollars in scholarships and grants.
  • Many high-school and college students volunteer at UnidosNow and elsewhere.  Recently, a Princeton student interned at an Ohio nonprofit media thinkhub, and a high-schooler was chosen to spend a week at the Florida Capitol in the House Page & Messenger Program.  
  • Future Leaders Academy for Girls prepares younger students to explore different and careers, notably related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).  

Luz proudly says, “We are building the next generation of leaders through education, leadership, and community service.”

As exemplified by the 2018 Giving Challenge, benefactors and beneficiaries will evolve—for the better.  Most important, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and The Giving Challenge partners, continue to be the catalyst.

Cultivating talent, intelligence, and hard work for the benefit of our community and beyond, UnidosNow looks ahead to the April 2020 Giving Challenge.

My UnidosNow Story by Rey Claro

Back in the start of freshman year in high school, sweets and a well-lit room welcomed me. And there he was: Hector Tejeda was sitting there, smiling looking at everyone and asking their names. That is when I knew: this club is The One. 

I got to understand UnidosNow’s vision and what they wanted us to grasp from them: presentation skills, communication skills, and most importantly, loyalty. 

UnidosNow showed me the ins and outs of college, starting with New College, all the way to talks with an admissions officer at UPenn. These skills were fully grasped with the Future Leaders Academy program. 

With special training and dedication from the UnidosNow team, they helped me succeed in my college journey. I can’t be grateful enough for the whole team starting with Juan Arcila, who was funny, but got serious when he wanted to, to Hector and Luz, who started this whole connection together. 

FLA helped me step out of my comfort zone by hosting classes at Mote Marine with a professor from USF showing me new scientific instruments I had never seen. With this being only one of the many things they provided me with all along the way. 

There are two days I will never forget from FLA and those are the days that I first heard of Vassar College and when Robin gave me the final push to making my college essay amazing. For the first day, Robin was calling out students and giving them clear cut matches on what schools they should be looking at according to their criteria. She calls me out and she reads me off a list of schools that I would like, and then I sat down. Paula, one of my classmates, came back and we compared lists; she had a school that I didn’t get, Vassar. That was then the day I first learned about Vassar and also the day I applied to their fly-in program. The second day, Robin was going around giving college essay help, and she gave me the final boost to help perfect my application. 

All in all, I’m very grateful for FLA and the UnidosNow program for all that they’ve done for me and for all they have continued to do!

A Mighty UnidosNow High School Club

Bella Macias and Xavier Rosado, Braden River High School UnidosNow Club President and Vice President.

The Braden River High School UnidosNow Club features Bella Macías as President, Xavier Rosado as Vice President, Sophia Innocenti as Secretary, Michael LaPointe as Treasurer, and Ayaka Quesen as Publicist. 

This mighty group of five work extremely hard to prepare an informative presentation every other Friday at their advisor’s—Mr. Kirchberg’s—classroom. The team usually meets on the Fridays when they do not have a club meeting, establishing their topic for the upcoming presentation. The club also consists of four committees: Community Outreach, FAFSA & Marketing, Workshop, and Essays, and each committee has their own committee chair.

Moreover, to encourage ESL students to participate in the club, they have an ESL Outreach Ambassador who bridges the communication between the two parties. The main goal of the club is to provide enough information to their members, where they feel confident enough to tackle the college application process. Whenever anyone has a question of any sort, they are always free to ask questions to any of the officers. 

  • Besides the many informative meetings the officers have scheduled, each committee has a particular goal they set for themselves for the year: 
  • The Community Outreach committee, with Orlando Chinchilla as chair, has aided the club in establishing a sister program with Oneco Elementary’s Boys & Girls Club. They volunteer there every other Thursday, where they offer help in tutoring for all sorts of academic topics, while also offering some support for the kids. 
  • The Essays committee has received multiple college essays at the beginning of the year, and Demi Dionela, the chair, has organized the committee members to edit specific essays depending on their strengths. The project was a success, and many seniors were grateful for the grammar and spelling checks that were provided by the club. 
  • The FAFSA & Marketing committee, with Fiorella Recchioni as chair, was instructed to create the FAFSA video during the first semester, where they helped the club win the prize of a pizza party. Overall, the video helped inform not only the club about the FAFSA application process, but many other students who follow them on social media. 
  • Finally, their Workshop committee, led by Khushbu Patel, is currently working on constructing a College/Job Resume Workshop, where any student from the school could attend the meeting in order to learn how to write a resume. The Club has also held a few workshops led by the officers team, including their College Kid Workshop, which featured previous BRHS students who gave advice to their members on college information during the potluck meeting.

This club has not only allowed students to grow and learn, but they are all able to work through their struggles and hopefully attend the college of their dreams. “When convincing my many friends to join the club, I always say that it’s worth it, because everyone needs help, even me,” says Macias.

My UnidosNow Story by Bella Macias

UnidosNow is turning 10 this year, and we are asking our scholars, parents, mentors, volunteers, staff, and board members to share how they first heard about UnidosNow and how they’re involved with our organizations. This month we highlight Bella Macias’ story:

“I first heard about UnidosNow from Mina Quesen who founded the club at my high school, and also participating in the Future Leaders Academy (FLA). Mina eventually became one of my closest friends and mentor. 

The FLA program allowed me to connect with those dedicated to help shaping my future, and putting me on the path to achieve my goals. Without the FLA program, I would’ve been completely lost when applying to colleges, especially since both my parents came from out of the country. This program paired me with a mentor that could relate to my struggles, as well as friends that could understand the problems I faced when applying to colleges.

The FLA program has not only guided me through the difficult terrains of applying to college, but the UnidosNow team has supported me in achieving my goals in becoming an astrophysicist with their personal statement workshops. This program has allowed me to feel more empowered to reach the stars and receive a PhD. in the future, while also giving me great feedback as I run the Braden River High School UnidosNow Club as the President.”

An Internship in Toledo, Ohio: Mina Quesen’s Experience

Future Leader Academy Alumnus Mina Quesen shares her experience as an intern with MidStory Media Thinkhub in Toledo, Ohio.

“’I have an internship in Ohio.’

‘Why?’

This was the conversation I had over and over in the weeks coming up to my internship with MidStory Media Thinkhub. What text doesn’t convey is that the “why” wasn’t a subject of, “Why do you have an internship?” but rather, “Why Ohio?” Ironically, this response was exactly why my internship existed at all.

In the last week of January, I had the opportunity to participate in a week-long internship with MidStory. This was part of a program hosted by Princeton’s Career center in which alumni host students for a day or week for a Princeternship. Where others had a job-shadowing experience, I would certainly say that my experience was a week for an intern. 

MidStory is a non-profit media thinkhub located in Toledo, Ohio, a city I didn’t know existed prior to January. The company was founded by three Princeton alumni and an MIT graduate in 2018 with the goal to “retain, cultivate, and attract the youth and public” to the post-industrial cities of the midwest through creative storytelling and solution-oriented projects. In other words, the MidStorians are working to revive the midwest starting with Toledo. The midwest which is often overlooked and talked about in major news located on the coasts. 

As I was scrolling through the options of companies I could get matched with, MidStory stood out because it combined my love writing but also a love I had formed by working with UnidosNow. Non-profit was so familiar and became so dear to me because of how much UnidosNow helped me throughout high school. I initially ranked MidStory as my second choice. In between the application and interview, I couldn’t help but think MidStory was a better fit. In the interview, I asked for my options to be reordered, putting MidStory first. 

Through my week with Midstory, it was odd that I felt closer to home in Toledo than I did in Princeton (it helped that I75 that I lived next to my entire life also ran through Toledo). At Princeton, you’re surrounded by so many people who have passion, but often they are work-oriented. They live day to day for classes and clubs and teeter on burn-out. Although I love my school and the people I’ve met here, it is sometimes easy for us to forget to do something we enjoy outside of academia. In Toledo, I was thrown back into an environment where people worked for passion. I was shown to how much work and detail goes into every day let alone every event. I saw first hand how much work volunteers do, how much is hand-made, how many hours are spent outside of a 9-5. I was reminded of how families are built and how they grow.

My responsibilities throughout the week were to help prepare for their Annual Review event and prepare my own self driven project about Toledo. I took to writing about how on the first day me and my fellow interns were dropped off in the middle of the city and told to explore. As I worked through this reflection, I had guidance with any question and support for any idea. When I wanted to create a map of our path, one of the MidStorians took the time to teach me about design and helped me produce a final project that I’m proud of. From the very start, we were welcomed into MidStory and taken under wing. We were invited to a dedicated staff and volunteer network. Non-profits are projects of passion and love, and my week in Toledo made me realize that even though the future is unclear, that environment of passion is one I want to find and contribute to. 

Beyond that, I got to explore Toledo, Ohio, which doesn’t seem like something I should be excited about but really is something I’m glad to have done. It’s a city of promise. It’s quiet, which is shocking considering there are world class attractions in Toledo, including a free art museum that challenges those in New York. It’s a city waiting for rebirth, and the Midtorians are taking the first steps toward it.”

Board Member Kathy Schersten Recognized As Women in Power

Kathy Schersten (third from the right) at the Women in Power event with, from left to right, co-chairwoman Jessica Rogers, honorees Sandi Stuart, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Patti Wertheimer and co-chairwoman Jo Rutstein. Photo courtesy of Your Obsever.

Last week, UnidosNow board member Kathy Schersten was recognized as a 2020 Women in Power by the National Council of Jewish Women. Congratulations, Kathy! We are very proud and grateful for her many years of service—empowering women and youth. Her passion and commitment have made a difference in the Latino community.

Our FLA Students Present at PINC

The PINC Conference, which stands for People, Ideas, Nature, and Creativity, hosted by Dream Large in Sarasota. Thanks to the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, two of our Future Leaders Academy Scholars were invited to attend along with their favorite teachers: Nicholas Coehlo, a junior at Riverview High, chose Ms. Es Swihart, and Nahyara Piedrahita, a junior at Sarasota High, chose Ms. Casey Garrett.

During a showcase at Dream Large, the participants shared their experience at PINC where they presented their work in front of their teachers, community, and sponsors. Nicholas created a song that he composed to illustrate the impact of PINC, and Nahyara, a drawing about her experience. They both were exceptional.

Below you can to read about the experience directly from our students. We thank the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, DreamLarge (organizer of PINC), the School District of Sarasota County, and, last but not least, our students for being amazing ambassadors of UnidosNow.

Nicholas Coehlo

“How do I present something completely original? There are no guidelines, or examples to follow, there’s no one to copy, the pressure is on. So, I made my own path, unique to me and my PINC experience.

On presentation day, I was ready to show PINC what they taught me. I walked into the Dream Large studio feeling confident and prepared. Then I saw the stage, so small and close to the audience, I imagined cameras pointed in my direction and 40 pairs of eyes looking back at me. I wasn’t feeling so good anymore.

Feelings of intimidation and worry flooded my mind, if I didn’t get a grip on my emotions, my presentation would be a train wreck. As the event began, the audience and presenters took a seat. I closed my eyes and prayed, I breathed deep, then I drank some water and breathed deeper.

Slowly, my confidence returned. In good timing too, because now it was my turn to present. I smiled at Mrs. Luz as she introduced me, making my way to the stage with a gulp of courage in chest. 

I started to speak:

‘Hi everyone! PINC was great! I learned so much from people I never thought I would meet. But my main take-away is the process of creativity. Creativity is a process that takes failure and perseverance until you reach the goal.

When I chose to write a PINC inspired song, I learned that failure was a great teacher. I also learned that inspiration was everywhere, in my everyday experiences. I was inspired to write about something we all have, problems. I could list so many and so could you. With that said, its normal to not be normal, which makes it normal.

When I feel the pressure of problems surrounding me, I pray and think of every good thing I’ve been given, then I feel peace unlike anything else. That’s what the song is about. Problems and how I handle them.’

The song played as I flipped through the projected lyrics. The presentation ended, and the audience applauded, I smiled. All I had to do was be was me and that was enough.”

Nahyara Piedrahita

“I am beyond grateful to be able to be part of the PINC Experience 2019, It motivated me in many different ways and there are no words to explain how great this conference is. 

They asked me if I could in some way or form describe my experience with PINC so I combined it with what I love most, art. I made an acronym of my own depicting what I obtained from this conference.

PINC originally stands for People, Ideas, Nature, and Creativity but as  I sat in the audience from my perspective I viewed the definition of PINC differently, the talented people brought on stage their Passion, the love for what they do or the talent they carry. 

Imagination, the way they created new concepts or ideas and made it their unique way.

Nurture, the speakers expressed a caring heart for the individual uniqueness and as an audience, you could observe the way they took care of it.

And finally, they brought Culture into their ideas whether it was their own culture or the culture we live in today but all in one they brought the audience in awe, and that’s what made 2019 PINC and unforgettable experience for me.”

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune wrote this article about the event.

Future Leaders Academy Barancik Scholars and Alumni Connect

On December 20th, we held the Winter Alumni Reunion, with participation from current Future Leaders Academy (FLA) Barancik scholars from the college-prep and career-readiness tracks, UnidosNow high-school club members, parents, mentors, board members, and staff. We had a great turnout.

The event featured both an alumni and parents’ panel, enabling attendees to engage in a conversation pertaining to critical issues that students and parents face during the transition to college. Attendees participated in a trivia contest and interactive activities that encouraged networking and sharing. 

One of our FLA alumni said: “Thank you for inviting me. This gathering is great and I’m happy to have reconnected with so many people. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for UnidosNow. I’m so happy to be a part of the family!”

During the reunion, we officially launched the “Peer Buddies” program, which pairs up college and high-school students. The goal of this program is to enhance our mentoring program by providing peer-to-peer coaching and to provide our alumni with the opportunity to give back by supporting younger students.

We wholeheartedly thank everyone who attended in person, video-conferenced via Zoom, and sent us messages. We are also very grateful to the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation for supporting our scholars and to the Scheidel Foundation for supporting the College Success Program.

An International Group Strengthens Parent Leadership

Our Parent Leadership Program began October 1st of this year, again with strong parental participation at both Gocio and Tuttle elementary schools. Our new participants give our program an international flare, hailing from the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Ukraine, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Chile, Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia. Besides learning life skills and English so we can succeed in our new country, we’re also learning about one another’s culture.  

An important component of our program is a monthly session with Cintia Elenstar, our program manager who teaches parents the various options in education as the students exit elementary school and have to navigate both middle school and high school to prepare for post-secondary education.

Participants are enjoying their “My Garden” membership cards, generously donated by one of our partners: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Our families enjoy viewing the orchids and beautiful trees, plants, and art displays, as they walk through the Gardens.

We closed 2019 with a wonderful Christmas party. Families prepared native foods, shared with donors and other supporters. We started the year attending the beautiful show Caroline, or Change on January 18 thanks to the generous support of the West Coast Black Theater Troupe.

We are fortunate to partner with so many organizations and to receive the vital support of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, which brightens the lives of our participants in so many ways.

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