Blog | UnidosNow

Learning Beyond the Classroom

The end of July marked the successful culmination of our 2019 Summer Parent Leadership Program, when our participants met to celebrate their accomplishments. What brought us together was a love of learning—extended beyond classroom walls.

We proudly recall:

  • Visiting the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Library, and the Women’s Resource Center and its Unique Boutique (career closet). 
  • Inviting such amazing community partners to our classes, such as author and business woman, Jane Plitt; artist and Reiki master, Ingrid Brandt; officer and commercial associate of Bank of America, Paula Rincon; and program coordinator for JFCS Healthy Families/Healthy Children, Anna Baker. 
  • Receiving copies of Jane Plitt’s book, Martha the Hairpreneur has inspired participants to start their own business. 
  • Obtaining library cards, learning about managing money, and signing up for programs offered by both the library and the JFCS. 
  • Improving English skills and learning about leadership—thanks to Ingrid and Marnie Howell.  
  • Expanding horizons and becoming aware of many organizations to explore further.
  • Building bridges and fostering lasting friendships.

Thank you to all our partners, especially St. Jude Catholic Church, who generously hosted our parents and children. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Without their generous support, none of these experiences would have been possible.

A Passionate Associate’s Experience

by Jackie Perez

Dear reader,

My name is Jacqueline Perez and I’m a rising junior at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina (Go Blue Devils!). As a first-generation college student from a low socioeconomic background, I know firsthand the issues UnidosNow is tackling. In high school, I had a dream team of my own: three amazing teachers who pushed me into achieving something greater, ultimately, becoming a National QuestBridge Scholar. This summer, I’ve been fortunate to meet and work alongside another dream team—a dedicated group of individuals who are doing incredible things in the Latino/a/x community. 

Being an associate at UnidosNow has provided me with the opportunity to explore my interest in educational access and outreach—a passion that somehow always ended up being placed on the back burner. But UnidosNow challenged me to think critically. My main UnidosNow project was working with the Future Leaders Academy (FLA). I was responsible for establishing a foundation to strengthen career-exploration opportunities for these students. 

For someone who enjoys solving puzzles, I didn’t mind spending hours brainstorming what an effective career-exploration curriculum would look like. I was also able to strengthen my communication skills by going into the community and initiating dialogue on future collaborations. I had the opportunity to meet both community partners and employment-agency professionals, and educate myself on the resources available at State College of Florida and Manatee Technical College. 

Given the size of UnidosNow, I learned how to adapt and wear many different hats, so to speak, which I appreciate because it gave me the opportunity to work with students one-on-one, from mentoring students seeking to become QuestBridge Scholars to helping other students reflect on who they are and what they value. For a long minute I could see myself as a college advisor. 

Moving forward, I have no doubt that I will apply the skills I’ve learned during my UnidosNow experience, whether it’s in the education field or in public health (another passion of mine). What I am sure of is that I want to continue serving the Latino/a/x community in the U.S. and affecting the lives of future generations.

I’m extremely grateful to everyone at UnidosNow for an amazing and welcoming experience. Thank you for all the work you do to help students dream big!

Mil gracias,

Jackie 

Jacqueline Perez

She/Her/Hers

Duke University Class of 2021

QuestBridge Scholar

Palmetto High Alumnus

Mina Quesen, First 30 at Princeton, Gets Ready for Her Next Chapter

by Mina Quesen, Class of 2023

Three weeks ago, I was packing my things and getting ready to leave sunny Florida for Princeton University. Although I can’t seem to escape the Florida heat—even in New Jersey—I’ve found myself in a whole new world ready for discovery. I’ve met people from across the globe, found new challenges in classes, and even gotten rubber chickens stuck on the ceiling. My experience with Princeton’s Freshman Scholar Institute—a summer program for incoming freshmen who are connected as first-generation, low-income students—has been irreplaceable. 

The interim between high school and the start of fall term allows me to ease into college life and to learn about the campus before the rest of the students arrive. I’ve already learned the importance of using a planner and keeping a budget since events—and expenses—quickly add up. 

I’m learning to take things in stride and push forward when faced with challenges, especially when it comes to classes. My greatest challenge, thus far, is learning that it’s okay when I don’t understand something on the first try. My coding class taught me very quickly that there will be times when I’ll be totally lost, but there are always resources waiting to guide me out of the dark. I must seek them out.

Even after these last few weeks, I’m still excited. I’m excited about new ideas and memories I’ve yet to make. I don’t know if the allure of Princeton will ever wear off for me, especially when I hope to continue to be excited by endless possibilities.

Eric Daniel Silva-Gomez: Turning Pretext Into Promise

Eric after his interview for the Selby Foundation Scholarship.

By Sandy Chase, a UnidosNow volunteer writing coach and co-editor of the monthly newsletter, who has been working with Eric on his college essays.

Excuses can crush us—only if we let them.  

As a high-school freshman, Eric had finally realized that he was nurturing deception, so he began starving it.  A “highest-honor” graduate and multiple-scholarship recipient entering Flagler College this fall, he’s determined that success will thrive.  

“I let poverty, immaturity, and academic challenges dictate my life—although my mom tried valiantly to protect my sisters and me.  By attacking faulty thinking, I’ve overcome obstacles—the biggest one, me.”

Eric reflects on his poor choice of friends, who scoffed at college.  Mob mentality reinforced his excuses for failure.

“As a terrified eighth grader failing math, I deceived myself, thinking that dropping out would be the right path.  If my dedicated drama teacher, Ms. Mills, hadn’t come to my rescue, providing math tutoring, I don’t know what would’ve happened.”    

Eric continues, “I got a fresh start at Booker High School (BHS).  Looking back, I can say that mistaking the College and Career Resource Room for the guidance office was the best mistake I could’ve ever made, even if that room intimidated me at first—with all those smart kids.”

Eric looked for an escape but couldn’t come up with any excuses.  Lured back to that room, he met Saul Coplan, a volunteer for Take Stock in Children (TSIC), and others who have been a positive influence.

“Mr. Coplan, who’s relocated to CT, is the reason I joined TSIC.  I’m convinced I wouldn’t be a multi-scholarship winner without him.”  

Eric attributes his triumphant journey—quashing excuses—to other BHS and UnidosNow mentors and coaches as well.

“Mr. Coplan’s successors, Mr. Downing and Dr. Mims, have encouraged me to reach my goals.  And Mr. Andrews, BHS’s postsecondary advisor—renowned amongst his colleagues and prized by his students—has helped me navigate the college application process, including scholarships.”

Downing and others attribute Eric’s success to his communication skills and critical thinking:  “Eric has demonstrated that he’s a focused life-long learner in pursuit of personal and educational goals.”

For Eric, post-Christmas was a whirlwind of completing college and scholarship applications—all while working part time at Detwiler’s Farm Market; volunteering at the North Sarasota Library, shelving books and reading to the kids; and assuming a leadership role.

Eric knows his direction.  “Time management is critical to accomplishing my academic and career goals.  I now have a weekly schedule.”

Eric’s diligence has “paid” off—receiving scholarships from the following organizations, foundations, and institutions—enabling him to pursue a tuition-free political science degree towards a political career.

A frequent visitor to the college room, Eric also learned about UnidosNow at the beginning of his senior year.  Since then, Eric has worked tirelessly with Hector Tejeda, his mentor, who’s provided a writing coach, transportation—even an “interview suit.”

Eric at his graduation.

Hector attributes Eric’s exemplary achievements to who he is:

“Eric is the epitome of grit. Faced with hardships, he’s demonstrated courage and resilience in overcoming every obstacle.  He’ll make a difference in this world.”

Eric has already made a difference because he’s committed to others—bolstered by his leadership skills.  

Eric’s community service began as an adolescent, helping to feed the homeless through MIRA, a community nonprofit.  As a senior, he became a peer counselor for BHS’s College for Every Student (CFES) program, introducing freshmen to the college room and CFES.  (For information about CFES, click on here).

“Through CFES, I helped distribute canned food to Hurricane Irma victims.  I’ve also mentored Take Stock underclassmen about preparing for interviews.”

Closer to home, he’s turned bilingualism into a strength and has been a role model for his two sisters.  In fact, his older sister has joined the UnidosNow Future Leaders Academy (FLA).

“I helped save my neighbor:  I was his wife’s translator so she could understand what information the EMT needed when her husband was having a heart attack.  I’ve also translated for my mom during parent-teacher conferences. At Flagler, I want to use this skill once I’ve adjusted to college life.”

Introduced to politics by Jose Maldonado, a senior Eric befriended as a freshman during gym class, Eric is determined to learn everything about the political process.  “Jose is my role model.”

Inspired by Maldonado, Eric also donates monthly to Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign.  Moreover, Eric’s interested in volunteering, saying “I’ll go door-to-door and speak with the St. Augustine community, encouraging constituents to exercise their right to vote.”

Eric—the first in his impoverished family to attend college—will be facing unknown hurdles.  

“I can’t wait to start Flagler.  I realize I’ve much to learn between now and August—and excuses are out!  Money management is critical. Hector will teach me budgeting. As a Selby scholar, I’ll also be provided with a community mentor whose background is related to political science”

Dr. Rachel Shelley, BHS’s esteemed principal, who has worked with Eric as a student-government officer, says, “Eric has flourished, demonstrating unbelievable leadership skills, especially in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting.  As a Booker Ambassador, he has a passion for helping others.”

She continues to say, “I’m proud to be his principal.”

UnidosNow Receives 2019 Spirit of Manatee Awards

Mina Quesen, Future Leaders Academy Scholar, receives the Young Spirit Award (left), and Luz Corucera is honored with the Charles Clapsaddle Community Spotlight Award (right).

Bradenton, FL – UnidosNow Executive Director Luz Corcuera received the inaugural Charles Clapsaddle Community Spotlight Award at the Manatee Community Foundation’s 2019 Spirit of Manatee Awards on March 20th.

“Luz Corcuera is regarded as an inspirational leader by foundations, donors, nonprofit colleagues as well as local colleges and universities, students, and parents. Together with the community leaders that created this award—Paul Sharff, Amanda Horne, Ashley Brown, and Judge Durand Adams—we are delighted that Luz is the first recipient,” said Susie Bowie, executive director of Manatee Community Foundation.

The Charles Clapsaddle Community Spotlight Award is a new honor, this year, created to recognize an outstanding nonprofit professional who embodies the spirit of philanthropy and community in Manatee County and has transformed normal projects from ordinary into extraordinary, according to the foundation, and is named for Clapsaddle, “whose dedication to the nonprofit community is well-known and celebrated through Manatee Educational Television.”

“I am deeply honored and humbled by this very special recognition. Charles Clapsaddle embodies selflessness and service.  I am privileged to collaborate with many organizations to empower remarkable young people to Dream Big and to call Manatee, a community with a heart, my home.”

In addition to Corcuera’s recognition, one of UnidosNow’s outstanding Future Leaders Academy program participants, 17-year-old Mina Quesen, also received the Spirit of Manatee’s Young Spirit Award. A senior at Braden River High, Quesen leads her school’s creative writing club, newspaper, and academic team. She also founded and served as president of the Braden River High UnidosNow Club, where she promotes and fosters the group’s mission of empowering students to obtain a post-secondary education.

“Mina is a natural leader and a great role model for her peers,” said Corcuera, “We are thrilled

for her that she is the Young Spirit awardee and, of course, we’re extremely proud of her.”

About UnidosNow

With a mission to elevate the quality of life of the Latino community through education, integration, and civic engagement, UnidosNow aims to empower first generation, low income students to successfully pursue higher education.  For more information, visit www.UnidosNow.org.

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Our Leader Recognized

Luis Corcuera, Luz Corcuera (the honoree), and Cathy Layton.

On January 16th, Luz Corcuera, UnidosNow’s Executive Director, was honored—together with Jo Rutstein, Julie Leach, and Diane Roskamp—at the National Council of Jewish Women, Sarasota-Manatee award ceremony:  “Women in Power.”

Below is an excerpt of Luz’s speech, which had stirred the attendees:

“When I was seven years old, I was introduced to the kindness and giving spirit of the American people through the Peace Corps volunteers who went to Peru.  Not only did they teach me English and sports, but they reinforced my confidence and my mother’s encouragement that I was capable of doing anything if I put the work into it, and, most important, that I have a voice.  

Through my work at UnidosNow, I’ve met outstanding young people and parents who have made extreme sacrifices to give their children a life of dignity and the opportunity to live out their true potential.  

My dream is that our next generation of leaders will use their gifts and passion and will become the type of leaders who lead honorably—with love, with kindness, and nonviolence of the heart.

I call upon all of us to be a voice for the voiceless and to empower others to find their voice.  Let’s work together across generations, cultures, religions, and languages. It is the strength of our diversity that makes America great.  

Let’s knock down the walls of indifference and fear and build bridges of love, hope, and compassion—empowering our next generations to be the ordinary Americans of extraordinary character.”

The College Experience of Our Scholars

Our scholars are seeing the fruits of their hard work. They are on the path to success because of years of determination and goal setting.

Liam Ordonez

Having joined the Future Leaders Academy (FLA) as a junior, Liam says that his week at Cornell University this summer has convinced him to pursue a career as an epidemiologist. Accepted to the university, he will graduate with the Cornell Class of 2023.

Liam, we are very proud of you. Thank you for being a role model—showing your fellow scholars that it is possible. Continue Dreaming Big!

Daniel Paredes

Daniel’s words echo those of many of our scholars:

“I can say without a doubt that I loved my first semester at Haverford College. At first, I was anxious, but those fears dissipated quickly because I soon learned that I would be living with two of my fellow Chesick Scholars.

I’m thankful for having been chosen to the Haverford scholars program, which selects 15 exceptional students from either underrepresented, first in their family to attend college, or under-resourced backgrounds to participate in a five-week summer program that helps make the transition from high school to college easier.

Knowing that I had a support group of friends enabled me to benefit from the rest of orientation week. And meeting other first-year students and upperclassmen advisers living at the same hall made the transition almost seamless. It’s great sharing classes with my friends.  

My first semester included STEM courses such as physics, calculus, and computer science, and Spanish literature. Although my first semester was challenging academically, my professors—especially those in physics and calculus—helped me meet those obstacles head on.  

What’s great about a small liberal arts college like Haverford is that you can meet with your professors—instead of speaking with a TA (teaching assistant)—and that’s not a guarantee.

A key to success is meeting with your professors and working with fellow classmates on assignments.  Also, you learn pretty quickly that you must devote three hours of studying for each hour of lecture.  

I started improving by taking advantage of my professors’ office hours and asking for extra help. Even when I didn’t have questions, I would still meet with my professors—a concept that may sound bizarre to high schoolers.

Unlike your high-school experience, you learn so much outside the college classroom. I’ve also become involved in such extra-curricular activities by:

  • Being chosen as one of two first-year representatives for the QuestBridge chapter at the college, where students shadow upperclassmen in helping to organize school events. More important, as a member of the QuestBridge board, I’m also giving back.
  • Participating in the soccer, badminton, and dance clubs.

Next semester, I’ll be exploring other fields by taking courses in city development, environmental studies, English, and drawing/sculpture … all thanks to the extensive liberal arts curriculum.

I’m looking forward to completing the rest of my first year at Haverford. And I’m especially grateful to UnidosNow, who has helped me pursue a meaningful college education.”

Marilyn Gurrola

Our FLA Scholar Marilyn Gurrola was determined to fulfill her dreams—no matter what. This young woman couldn’t find a program like FLA in her town of Cape Coral, so she drove more than an hour-and-a-half each way so she could participate in ours. Because of her resolve, she has been accepted to Case Western Reserve and the University of Seattle, intending to pursue a degree in nursing.

We are very proud of you, Marilyn.

Alec Lemus

Alec, one of our featured scholars in our Giving Challenge 2018 video, has had a great start to his college life—achieving a 4.0 GPA—in his first semester. He has also come to realize—by taking various assessments; working with his mentor, Alan Brumagin; and participating in the State College of Florida STEM Program—that his passion is science.  Alec has changed his major from accounting to biology, aspiring to earn a Ph.D.

Alec has also been selected as one of two students to attend (all-expenses paid) the National Emerging Science Researchers Conference in Washington, DC, at the end of February.

Your story makes us smile, Alec. Continue Dreaming Big!

Services Expanded to Help First Generation Hispanic/Latinos Go to College

Sarasota, FL – UnidosNow is expanding its Future Leaders Academy (FLA) initiative, which empowers first generation Hispanic/Latino students with the tools, information, and support to realize their dream of going to – and graduating from – college. The organization will broaden its geographical reach to offer its FLA program to high school students in South Sarasota County.

Currently, the program engages close to 100 students and families in Manatee and other parts of Sarasota counties in comprehensive college prep services, such as career exploration, mentoring, college selection, SAT/ACT prep, college tours, and ongoing parental engagement. The organization received a $75,000 grant from Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation to support the program expansion.

The FLA program also ensures participants complete the Federal Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA), which helps prospective college students determine their eligibility for student financial aid. Research shows that completing the form is an indicator of whether a student will enter college and those who complete the FAFSA have an 85% chance of accessing money for college.

Additionally, $7,000 of the funding will go towards bolstering UnidosNow’s fledgling College Transition Fund (CTF), which assists FLA graduates with unexpected costs associated with starting college, such as books and supplies that might not be covered by their scholarships or financial aid. While sometimes small, these costs can still be significant barriers to students’ overall ability to be successful, making UnidosNow’s CTF and important piece of the comprehensive puzzle to college access and graduation.

“UnidosNow is dedicated to helping bright, diligent students who want to gain career readiness skills, go to college, and, ultimately, be the future leaders of our community,” said UnidowNow, Executive Director, Luz Corcuera. “We are grateful to Barancik Foundation for supporting this impactful work.”

About Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation

The Charles and Margery Barancik family has long believed in the power of philanthropy to shape our world and enrich the lives of all people. It was the expression of this belief that led them in 2014 to establish the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation—a private, family foundation located in Sarasota, Florida. The Barancik Foundation creates initiatives and awards grants in Sarasota and beyond in the areas of education, humanitarian causes, arts and culture, the environment, and medical research. Visit BarancikFoundation.org to learn more.

About UnidosNow

With a mission to elevate the quality of life of the Latino community through education, integration, and civic engagement, UnidosNow aims to empower first generation, low income students to successfully pursue higher education.  For more information, visit www.UnidosNow.org.

UnidosNow selected for Margin & Mission Ignition program

Do not miss the article published in the Herald-Tribune about UnidosNow’s venture with No Margin, No Mission:

UnidosNow will participate in Margin & Mission Ignition 2018, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation designed to strengthen entrepreneurial capacity and increase nonprofit mission impact through the development and implementation of earned-income strategies.

UnidosNow, which was one of five regional organizations selected for Margin & Mission Ignition, will participate in the 30-month consulting process with No Margin, No Mission, a social enterprise and national consulting firm engaged by The Patterson Foundation that will work with the nonprofits to develop and implement business plans for revenue-generating ventures.

Luz Corcuera, executive director of UnidosNow, said, “This is not only a unique learning opportunity, but a venture that will allow us to expand our programming to a larger part of the population while continuing to focus on our mission.”

“Margin & Mission Ignition has served as a platform for nonprofits to learn and take the evolutionary steps necessary to become thrivable, sustainable organizations with greater impact in our region,” said Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation. “The leadership, willingness, readiness, capacity and culture demonstrated by this cohort will facilitate their efforts to strengthen their entrepreneurial capacity over this 30-month process.”

For more information about The Patterson Foundation’s Margin & Mission Ignition 2018 initiative, visit thepattersonfoundation.org. For more information about UnidosNow, visit www.unidosnow.org.

UnidosNow Board Member Visits Families Together


Board Member Kathy Schersten joined the Families Together class at Gocio Elementary School in the Life Skills-English classes, led by Marnie Howell.

As an experienced teacher, Kathy was thrilled to see the high-quality classes Marnie is delivering to these parents looking to better themselves in order to have a higher quality of life in the United States, and to help their children reach their goals, educationally and in life.

It was a memorable day in which children and parents experienced together the joys of reading and learning.

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