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.
Jonathan Bruzon was accepted into the Future Leaders Academy in 2017. In these two years, we’ve had the honor of seeing him grow into the determined and talented young man he’s become, and he’s now emailing us from Oberlin College sharing how things are going now in his new chapter:
“Hello! I am currently speaking to you from Oberlin College and Conservatory; I wanted to first start off by saying I miss you all! I want to thank you all, once again, for always being there for me, because without you all I would have never even dreamed about attending such an amazing school as this, so thank you all so much for everything that you do! I wanted to take this opportunity to update you all on how my college experience is thus far, considering that I have almost spent a full month here (which is crazy to think about!)
“Now, where to start? After arriving on the 24th (after a two day drive in a pickup truck), my family and I immediately started to unload and move all my stuff into my dorm. Here’s a before and after picture of the place:
“The weekend involved participating in the Brenda Grier-Miller (BGM) Scholars program specifically targeted towards first generation students like us. We did multiple activities like workshops on what to focus on in college, how to manage time wisely, and much more useful skills, as well as family dinners, a scavenger hunt to get to know the campus better, bowling night, and much more. Oh, did I mention that this takes place in a building that resembles Hogwarts in a way? Peters Hall is absolutely beautiful:
“Then orientation week, which is where I got my first taste as to how busy college was going to be (and it gets BUSY). There were multiple activities and events throughout the week: some of my favorites involved the faculty panel where we got to meet some of the school’s amazing professors, The OC which was a play about serious college issues with an interesting yet fun spin on how to properly deal with them, the orientation recital, and especially Connect Cleveland. On Wednesday of that week we got to visit Cleveland and see its amazing sites like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Botanical Gardens, and Wade Oval, a large field where there were popsicle stands and live jazz from Oberlin alumni!
“I also learned many new things about myself during orientation. For one, I’m actually pretty good at ultimate frisbee! I’m now on the Flying Horsecows, Oberlin’s open ultimate frisbee team (I absolutely love the name). I also learned to reconnect with nature; I visited the conservatory’s koi pond and the arboretum which were both peaceful and beautiful ( I took a nap next to the koi pond once) as well as the observatory on top of Peters Hall where you can see the night sky and stars in all their glory. I also managed to take a look at the art museum located within the college (a mini Ringling Museum!) I also participated in the Social Justice Institute for two days in which we discussed how to properly engage with social justice and activism, and I gained a lot of passion throughout the entire event. It was a very discussion-heavy program, and we discussed immigration polices, Black Lives Matter, gender binaries, inter sectionalism, the meaning of diversity, and other very pressing topics which I truly want to learn more about during my time here at Oberlin.
“Once classes started, everything took off from there. I’m in the Double Degree Program which involves receiving degrees from both the College and the Conservatory, so I am double degreeing in Horn Performance and Latin American Studies. Needless to say it is a MASSIVE amount of time to dedicate yourself to, but I really don’t mind for the most part considering how much I love my classes! For the conservatory I am taking Music History, Aural Skills, Large Ensemble (Oberlin Orchestra), Brass Ensemble, Private Lessons and Studio Class. For the college, I am taking a course called LEAD which involves continuing to help first generation students with their college experience, as well as a Seminar on American Theater (we did a poetry slam in class today which was truly amazing and powerful and I garnered a new love for writing poetry) and a Latin American Studies Intro class. These classes are all so much fun to attend and I find myself true invested and interested in the coursework we are assigned.
“Hope everyone is doing well down there in Florida! I’ll leave you all with one more photo of me pictured with our school mascot, the Albino Squirrel (currently unnamed, but fingers crossed for Alfonso the Albino Squirrel); until next time, I hope you are all doing well and I wish you and the FLA class of 2019-2020 all the best!”
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.
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!
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.
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.
Flagler College scholarships, including one from the Lead Fund
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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’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.”
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, 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!
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.
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.