By Sandy Chase
The UnidosNow of 2010 was much different from what it is today. The philanthropy of such organizations as Manatee Community Foundation (MCF) has enabled the nonprofit to define its mission—refocusing on the future of Latino in this community.
A grant from the Knight Donor Advised Fund of the MCF supported the Future Leaders Academy—helping to create the current robust educational program for adolescents and their parents.
Beholden to MCF, Luz Corcuera says, “Over the years—thanks to their leadership and generous support, we have been able to work closely on several initiatives—striving to make a difference for those who need it most.”
Some of those programs to which Luz is referring reflects how the MCF-UnidosNow partnership has:
- Strengthened the signature FLA—helping college-bound participants realize their educational goals.
- Established the first FLAG (Future Leaders Academy for elementary-school Girls) in Manatee County.
- Introduced FLAM ((Future Leaders Academy for Middle School).
- Supported the local college access network (REACH Manatee), which bridges gaps to help low-income students achieve their highest potential, educate parents about the value of college and the trades, and improve FAFSA completion rates.
- Helped create an emergency fund in collaboration with local foundations and donors.
MCF Executive Director Susie Bowie says, “UnidosNow is well-known as a valuable catalyst of change in Southwest Florida.
During her interview, Susie stressed how UnidosNow is a role model for other nonprofits.
As one of the first foundations that supported UnidosNow, why did your organization choose to assist the new nonprofit and its executive director?
Manatee Community Foundation’s Knight Fund awarded early multi-year grants to UnidosNow, attracted by its unique focus on shifting educational opportunity and changing the story of generational poverty for participating Hispanic/Latino students.
From the beginning, UnidosNow’s approach of working in partnership with churches, nonprofits, colleges, universities, and the school districts was an appealing way to utilize existing resources, while adding elements of advocacy, cultural competency, and multigenerational connections. We feel proud of the distinction to be an early partner.
What did that support look like?
Manatee Community Foundation’s support enabled UnidosNow to boost Youth Collaborative on College Preparation (YCCP), a then new and unparalleled collaborative community effort in which UnidosNow partnered with Take Stock in Children, USF Sarasota-Manatee, and Sarasota and Manatee County school boards to pool resources for college guidance and scholarship dollars to increase college success and graduation rate of 500 first-generation, low-income students (majority Hispanic).
At that time, there was no other outreach program of this kind building our community’s and schools’ ability to prepare this student population for college and ensure that families understood it was within reach of their students. That distinction remains today.
By educating students, parents, and guardians on the critical issues of college preparation and financial literacy, the goal of UnidosNow was to change the system—one student and family at a time.
How is it different from current collaboration?
MCF currently partners with UnidosNow on similar education initiatives—now with an extensive history of success and expanded programs that reach students as early as elementary school. The proof of its success is in the faces and stories of the many dedicated students who have participated in UnidosNow programs who are now pursuing their dreams.
In recent years, UnidosNow’s leadership of REACH Manatee, our local college access network, has led to a greater focus on a central community goal to prepare both traditional students and adults for college and workforce readiness, meeting the demands of tomorrow for Manatee County.
UnidosNow approached partners to start the formal partnerships four years ago and has grown participation and buy-in from leaders of local colleges and universities, nonprofits, foundations, and the School District of Manatee County.
How does UnidosNow continue to contribute to our community?
While UnidosNow continues in its specific mission to build postsecondary attainment for Hispanic/Latino youth, it has become a voice for the Hispanic/Latino community in many ways.
Through trusted leadership and its long-standing relationships with families, UnidosNow is frequently called upon for insights that can make grant making in Manatee and Sarasota counties more effective.
Its work throughout the pandemic has provided key insights that have helped grant makers reach individuals with basic needs—and some of these delivery methods have rested specifically with UnidosNow—proven as a flexible and highly responsive organization.
I remember many people asking, “Who/what is UnidosNow?” after it climbed to the top of the leaderboard in the first Giving Challenge years ago. Now the nonprofit is well known among those who support education and opportunity in Southwest Florida.