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Marvict Rodriguez-Benkert: Dreaming for Herself and Others

by Sandy Chase

Marvict Rodriguez-Benkert

Marvict is determined to excel in all she does—serving as a role model for her students and mentees.  Having faced challenges head on, she’s become a stronger person.  Those who know her say that she has grit—courage to accomplish whatever she sets her mind to.

A seventh- and eighth-grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher, Marvict enjoys discussing stories and poems that help her students learn about themselves, others, and their world.  

“The satisfaction I feel when my students understand the importance of working on critical thinking and communication skills is invaluable.”

For Marvict, “It’s rewarding when my students tell me that they enjoyed a specific piece of literature, connected with the characters or events, or they’re able to understand a viewpoint that’s different from their own.” 

Having received her bachelor’s degree in English from University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, Marvict has been teaching ELA for four years, her first two at Bradenton’s W.D. Sugg Middle School.  

Currently, Marvict teaches at the State College of Florida Collegiate School (SCFCS), a charter school providing a dual enrollment program:  a high-school diploma and an associate’s degree.  

Teaching at SCFCS gives Marvict more freedom to develop her curriculum—with more technology at hand.  As a new teacher, she devoted countless hours planning her lessons—questioning her strategies.  Over the years, she’s become more confident in her informed instructional decisions. 

However, an ongoing challenge is reaching every student.  Marvict has come to realize:  “Those who want to learn will, and those who don’t—won’t.  Ensuring that students are using technology appropriately is another challenge.”

But Marvict embraces challenges:  obstacles won’t prevent her from realizing her dreams.  During her college-application process, that determination was tested repeatedly.  

An ex-Dreamer, Marvict and her family immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela 22 years ago.  Because of her undocumented immigrant status, Marvict couldn’t attend any of her choice schools—even though she excelled in high school and received several scholarships.  

Marvict explains, “I couldn’t apply for financial aid or claim any of my scholarships.  My single mom couldn’t afford to pay my tuition.”   

Refusing to accept the inevitable, Marvict says, “I was angry for a while.  It wasn’t until years later that I learned to value what my Dreamer experience had taught me—persevere and never give up on my dreams.”

True to herself, Marvict became a U.S. citizen in 2014.  Before then, she pursued an associate degree and worked at Starbucks, setting aside part of her salary for school and helping her mom.

Fortunately for her students and UnidosNow mentees, Marvict continues to make a difference in others’ lives.  Without a doubt, her 10-month-old daughter, Emilia, benefits from continual “learning” opportunities.  Laughing, Marvict says, “Soon she and I will be dancing together, one of my favorite pastimes.”

Kelly Monod, senior head of school at SCFCS, applauds Marvict’s determination to excel, reach new levels of expertise in her field, and inspire her students to achieve the highest standards of which they’re capable:  

“Marvict has grit—shown by her professional goals and in the classroom. Never giving up on her students, she always meets them at their academic level.  She asks them to grow in their learning, while celebrating their successes.”

A colleague attests to Marvict’s refusal to be defeated.

“Marvict can best be described as fearless—especially when facing challenges.  Looking at what needs to be done, she’s one of the first people to present viable ideas.  Not shying from the unknown, Marvict has an ability to connect with students.  She always goes the extra mile for them.”

UnidosNow Executive Director Luz Corcuera also praises Marvict:

“Marvict brings passion, knowledge, and dedication to UnidosNow—whether as a volunteer at our Noche Latina celebration or for our mentoring program.  We are forever grateful for her time and talent over these last four years.”

One of Marvict’s ex-mentees Daisy Mendoza, a psychology major at Florida Gulf Coast University says, “She was a big help when I needed to have my college essay revised.  Always available, she made sure I filled out my applications correctly.”  

Marvict replies:  “My mentees and students inspire me to continue learning and become a better person so I can help others.  Staying involved in my community has helped me focus on my next dream—that of attending graduate school.”

Law fascinates Marvict. “I want to use my critical thinking skills to change a person’s life in a positive way.  Immigration law interests me because I’d be able to help, guide, and represent others in an emotionally taxing process.”  

Marvict wants to apply her writing skills and life experience to draft laws that would improve people’s lives in a diverse society.  She’s also interested in exploring leadership roles in the public-service sector.

Wherever Marvict’s journey takes her, she won’t stop striving until she’s realized all her dreams and helped others to achieve theirs as well.

Together in the Distance. Our Parent Leadership Program Participants Stay in Touch

By Marnie Howell, Parent Leadership Coordinator

When we couldn’t attend a classroom, our Parent Leadership group created a WhatsApp group for our classes at Gocio and Tuttle elementary schools. We found a new way to connect with students, and our site has been unbelievably busy.

Our daily communication consists of a small lesson that’s posted in the morning. Some of our favorite themes have been flowers, recipes, specific foods, history behind holidays and celebrations, and lessons parents can do with their children.

We also use the group to post news of locations of food banks, where masks are being handed out and any other critical information. Our participants have become very adept at using new technology, and are constantly sending pictures of the food they’ve received, wishing each other happy birthdays, as well as uplifting each other in any way they can.

Here are some comments from our moms about what this online tool has meant for them:

“It is very fulfilling for me opening up a chat and that someone is always there wishing well, or sharing something good, or learning something in this beautiful group; all that happens to me. So when I open WhatsApp, this is the frist chat I open… I miss you.” |“Es muy satisfactorio para mí abrir un chat y que alguien siempre esté deseando algo bueno o compartiendo algo bueno o estar aprendiendo algo en este bello grupo; me pasa todo esto. Así que cuando  abro el WhatsApp, el primer chat que abro es este… Las extraño”.

“Personally, I want to thank you, for the teaching, the time shared, and your dedication to continue giving your best to us every day. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed and made the most of each class, and learned new things.” | “Personalmente quiero agradecerle,  por las enseñanzas, el tiempo compartido,  y su gran dedicación a seguir cada día dando lo mejor de ustedes hacia nosotros. Gracias. He disfrutado y aprovechado cada clase, he aprendido cosas nuevas”.

A Future Leaders Academy Scholar Provides Summer Enrichment Sessions

The name of our college and career readiness programs is the Future Leaders Academy, but we know our scholars are already leaders: Denny Lu is a perfect example.

Knowing the challenges many low-income families face in supporting their children to keep up with their school work, Denny has created a nonprofit organization to help these children with tutoring sessions over the summer: Your Advance is now in full session, and Denny and his volunteers are already working with our younger scholars in the areas of reading, science, and math.

This month he connected with our team to ensure our Future Leaders Academy for Girls scholars could benefit from it. Hear from Denny himself his motivation to create this organization:

“Recently, I launched my new non profit organization called Your Advance. Because of the interruptions we all experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is already stressful for many students—especially those who don’t have the financial means to afford tutors or classes outside of their school time—to enrich their learning and refine the skills to excel for the upcoming school year.

“This became personal for me in fourth grade when I was truly helpless in math class and felt overwhelmed, but fortunately I was connected to a volunteer tutor that still inspires me on to this day to achieve the most I can in school and in life. I wanted to create an organization that aimed to inspire youth and foster a growth mindset, which laid the foundation for my non-profit Your Advance.

“Over this summer, my intention is to continue providing students—regardless of economic hardships or barriers—an opportunity to have free enrichment and tutoring that prepares them for the rigor and challenges of the upcoming school year.

“Summer is always the best time to actively continue education, not in an overwhelming matter, but constantly engaging students is part of the process of continual learning.”

Thank you for using your leadership skills to be there for our community.

Seven Awards, and Lots of Love From Our Community

This year’s Giving Challenge brought one more challenge: working remotely during the Challenge. But that didn’t stop our community to show up or UnidosNow from giving our best to participate.

Our successful challenge—together with the seven prizes we won after the 24-hour event—prove that we’ll never give up.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank the students and families we serve, our mentors and other volunteers, and our staff, board, and sponsors who made this year’s Giving Challenge possible:

¡Muchísimas gracias!

Our Required Work

By Kelly Kirschner, UnidosNow Board Chair

2020 marks the tenth anniversary since the local immigrant-integration, non-profit UnidosNow was formed. I am proud to be one of the founding members, having done so amidst the backdrop of local, state and national issues negatively impacting immigrant communities. On a local level, from 2009 to 2012, a period during which I served as City Commissioner and Mayor, the bright light of disparate treatment of minorities by law enforcement focused on the City of Sarasota’s Police Department. 

Similar to recorded killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, the only reason that this came to the public’s attention and outrage was due to the Sarasota Herald’s publication of a video recording showing an SPD officer allow an inebriated immigrant, Juan Perez, climb out of a squad car and fall six feet onto his head, his hands handcuffed behind his back. The officer then proceeded to kick and stand on the man. It ultimately led to the firing of the officer, the resignation of the Chief of Police, the creation of a City Police Complaint Committee and an Independent Police Advisory Panel. In spite of a history of other complaints of excessive use of force against the offending officer, similar to what is seen in Minneapolis with former Officer Chauvin’s record, he remained and advanced with the force prior to the Perez incident that ultimately cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuit settlements and legal fees. Perhaps most disturbing, three years after the incident, a panel of Sarasota residents that included a former and current City Commissioner on the Civil Service Review board voted unanimously to reinstate the fired officer, giving him three years of back pay, in spite of the then African-American Chief of Police appearing before the board advocating that they ratify the officer’s termination, due to his dangerous disregard of policies and protocol in caring for a handcuffed individual.

I share this story because the frustration and the violence we are seeing in our country today is not just about the individuals who police us; it is really about us and a four-hundred year history since African slaves were brought to these shores of not demanding better, in spite of our insistent belief in American exceptionalism. When I say ‘us’, I’m really referring to us, the majority white population of this country that inherit, whether we like it or not, the legacy of our nation’s forefathers who wrote and signed a “Declaration of Independence” that declared “all men are created equal”, while many of the signers, including the principal author, Thomas Jefferson, owned thousands of African slaves, including their own children. A little over a decade later, this caste system was enshrined in the Constitution, an amended version that we still use today, determining that a slave was only 3/5ths of a human being. This year’s Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones, wrote in her award winning New York Times essay last fall, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.”

UnidosNow was formed in many ways, then, to stand in solidarity with our black community and join the fight to make these ideals true as we seek to integrate our vibrant immigrant community into the social, economic and civic weave of the American Dream. The fight is not a struggle that our black and LatinX neighbors (many of whom are also descendants of African slaves brought to Latin America) must wage on their own. Indeed, the truth and reconciliation process must take place within our nation’s Caucasian community where the hope of any progress to get us beyond where we are now will take place. As Dr. Ibram Kendi in his best-selling book, “How to be an Anti-Racist”, points out – it is not acceptable to simply say, “I am not a racist.” The question for all of us is rather, “how are we being and behaving in an actively anti-racist manner?” Anyone who has watched the videos from Georgia and Minneapolis this past month is horrified. Many are moved to action, as witnessed Sunday in Payne Park with hundreds of local residents peacefully convening and marching throughout downtown Sarasota calling for greater police accountability. While this is a start, white residents have the obligation to educate themselves how to be better allies and active, committed anti-racists. As Americans guided by the noble aspirations of our Founding Fathers, it is our obligation to help create a more just and equitable society where all people have a fair chance to be healthy, free and alive. To better empower conversations and civic activism in that process for white residents and parents, here is a link to a myriad of resources that will help you become a more engaged, anti-racist: bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES

Our Scholars and The Giving Challenge

Another silver lining of this pandemic has been the support we’ve received from our Future Leaders Academy Scholars and alumni during the 2020 Giving Challenge. We asked a few of our scholars why they wanted to get involved and what they got out of the experience. Here are two answers:

Leonela Tasé Sueiro, Future Leaders Academy Alumnus and student at George Washington University.

The Giving Challenge is a unique opportunity for community members to show how much they care for and appreciate local organizations, which do so much to empower, inspire, and encourage the next generation of movers and shakers

UnidosNow—being at the forefront of this unceasing, rewarding task—can and will always count on my support and participation. I especially enjoyed getting to be a panelist this year because I got to showcase just a sliver of what I have learned as a Future Leaders Academy scholar and UnidosNow alumna. 

I hope that through this experience and future ones, I can become a role model for younger teens. I want to show them the importance of giving back to the people and organizations that shape you and help you achieve your goals. In that way, The Giving Challenge is as much of a gift to me as it is to our wonderful Dream Team and UnidosNow programs. – Leonela Tasé Sueiro


Liam Ordonez, Future Leader Academy Alumnus, studying at Cornell University.

Because of COVID-19, I have had the privilege to come back home and connect with local nonprofits and other organizations that once served me. While I have been home, I have specifically extended a hand to UnidosNow. Their mission highlights my aspirations and passions; “to elevate the quality of life of the growing Hispanic/Latino community through education, integration, and civic engagement.” 

My passion for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their promotion of higher education within minority communities has given me the motivation to support organizations such as UnidosNow. When helping during The Giving Challenge, I felt empowered as a past Future Leaders Academy student who was now supporting other promising Latinx students. Through this experience, I got to stand on the other end of the program as I promised to support this organization in any way possible. – Liam Ordonez

Scholars Tutoring Scholars

by Sandy Chase

Our Future Leader Academy Scholar Daisy tutors our FLAG Schoclar Jennifer. UnidosNow Family Engagement Director Lisbeth Oscuvilca made the connection between the two students.

COVID-19 will not defeat us—especially when we have resources like our Future Leaders Academy (FLA) Scholars and alumni—embodying the UnidosNow mission: Elevating the quality of life of the Hispanic/Latino community through education, integration and civic engagement. Guest college students and current FLA members have come to rescue because they understand the difficulties our young students and parents face.

When COVID-19 hit us and forced us to stay home, many of our families needed to adapt to this new way of life, as they became “substitute” teachers, learning how to manage technology so their children could join online classes. 

Many parents—unprepared and uncomfortable with their new role and concerned that their children were becoming demotivated—began asking for our help.

That’s when we turned to our scholars to tutor these students during the “New Normal” of online classes.  

Our FLA Scholar tutors Maribel Perex

It’s a simple concept that our scholars understand and practice: “Give back to the community.” Almost immediately, they registered to help one or two young students. Methodically, we assigned students to our tutors, depending on the subjects they feel comfortable teaching. Now, our tutors are meeting once or twice weekly, helping students with homework while addressing their struggles with online learning.

We’re proud to say that elementary- and middle-school students and Parent Leadership programs are benefiting from this new support we are offering. 

Someday, COVID-19 will be a topic in a history book.  But because of our scholars, our young students will be making history.

Unidos For A Healthy Future

UnidosNow, Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, Inc. and Revitalize Chiropractic – Sarasota, Florida are coming together to bring you 45 minutes filled with some of the best tips for a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Join us on Wednesday, April 22 at 5:30 p.m. to learn from experts about healthy living, good posture, leadership, self confidence, and more!

This online workshop is part of the 2020 Giving Challenge, an exciting giving event that connects nonprofit organizations with passionate donors. Support these community-based organizations that are making an impact in the lives of families in Sarasota and Manatee County.

Click here to attend via Zoom, or watch us on UnidosNow Facebook Live.

Meet Our Scholars

The Giving Challenge 2020 is here, and we want you to meet some of the students and families that we are impacting through our Future Leaders Academy programs in elementary, middle, and high schools.

It takes a community to raise the next generation of leaders and we are grateful for YOU, our mentors, donors, and community partners that support our mission.

UnidosNow will be participating in the Giving Challenge 2020 on April 28 and 29 noon to noon and we hope to count on your support again. You can donate on April 28 and 29 here.

Be The One to support our students to dream big and reach high.

Axel Soto and Kamila Kemenyfy-Rojas

Ximena Chafloque and Luis Guevara-Flores

Bella Macias and Vanessa Tase Sueiro

Xiomara Orozco and Igor Kitanovski

Axa Salas and Nicholas Coelho

Nahyara Piedrahita and Andrea Salazar

Genesis Martinez and Paula Rodriguez