Blog

“Thank you to everyone in UnidosNow for the experience of a lifetime.”

August, 6, 2020

By Juan Arcila

UnidosNow’s Future Leaders Academy college tour at the University of Central Florida in 2018.

I can remember the first time I was introduced to UnidosNow as if it was just yesterday. It was one of those rare and special moments in life where you feel you are at the right place at the right time. It was my first week on the job as a bilingual admissions counselor for the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus. My supervisor suggested I attend a closing ceremony for their Future Leaders Academy graduation they were having on campus. I’ve never heard about UnidosNow before and decided to do some research on the web prior to attending the ceremony. However, I could not find anything about the nonprofit. I went back to my supervisor confused and told him I was unable to find anything about the organization. He asked me how I was spelling it and laughed when I told him I mistakenly interpreted the name of the nonprofit as “YOU-NEED-US-NOW.” 

He corrected me in his endearing American accent:

“It’s U-NEEDOS-NOW.” 

UnidosNow. It’s a name I will never forget.

When I attended the closing ceremony, I remember getting goosebumps the entire time. I was completely mesmerized by the speeches of the graduating “FLA Scholars.” Even though I’ve been in the organization for four years, it’s still one of my most vivid memories. Sitting in the audience for the first time and hearing the incredibly powerful stories of each of the scholars was moving beyond what words can describe. 

2017 UnidosNow’s Board at our Future Leaders Academy’s Decision Day.

Since that moment, I knew I wanted to get involved with the organization in some way.

My relationship with UnidosNow started as a volunteer in the Millennial Challenge initiative for the Giving Challenge that year. As a recent college graduate, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but with the support of our incredible UnidosNow staff, volunteers, and Board of Directors, we managed to win first place in the challenge.

I was then invited to serve in the Board of Directors, before finally transitioning to a full-time role in the proverbial UnidosNow “Dream Team.”

The rest is history as they say. 

Every single day has been a privilege and an honor to serve in such a unique and special organization.

Even though there were challenges and frustrations along the way, I would not trade a single moment spent with Luz, Hector, Wendy, Lisbeth, Beatriz, Robin, Wil Colón, Cintia, Esther, and all of our incredible Board members, donors, mentors, volunteers, and all the partners and extended community that makes up the UnidosNow family.

Luz Corcuera, Wendy Barroso, Lisa Ramirez and Juan Arcila at a The Patterson Foundation’s No Margin. No Mission session in 2018.

Now it’s time for me to spread my wings and continue on to the next chapter of my life. It is with an aching heart that I say farewell to UnidosNow and the families we serve. However, this is not goodbye. Even though I will not be a full-time staff member, I will continue to work with our students and support our programs from afar as needed. 

Thank you to everyone in UnidosNow for the experience of a lifetime. 

I’m proud to say that UnidosNow is my family and will always be. It’s an understatement to say that I fell in love with the organization from day one. 

That love for our students, families, and mission still burns as strong 1,459 days later, and will continue for many years to come.

As our beloved executive director likes to say “UnidosNow is like Hotel California. Once you check-in, you never check-out.”

Onward,

Juan Arcila

It’s Time to Register!

By Leilani Monterde, Student Ambassador, Mi Voto, Mi Futuro Campaign 

Incoming voters! It’s time to registe: the deadline to register to vote is October 5th! Luckily, there are two ways you can register to vote. One is through an online form and another is through a hard copy form. Both are easy and quick to fill out. All the information you need is your Florida Identification Card (Florida ID Card)/Florida Driver’s License and the last four digits of your social security number.

First Things First

Before we get into how to register to vote, we must first establish the eligibility requirements. In order to vote in Florida, you must be a:

  • U.S. citizen
  • Florida Resident
  • 18 years old or older. (However, if you are over the age of 16, you can still pre-register to vote.)

You will not be eligible to vote if you do not meet any one of the above requirements, and/or if you have been:

  • Convicted of a felony and do not have your voting rights restored
  • or have been found to be mentally incapacitated by a court and do not have your voting rights restored

What’s Next

Okay! So now that we know you are eligible, it is time to register! The first way to register is through an online application. Here are the steps to register in Florida through this method:

  1. Go to registertovoteflorida.gov.
  2. Click on “Register or update”. It is a blue button that should be in the center of your screen under “Welcome!”.
  3. Here, you will find the Eligibility portion of the application. This part double checks to make sure you are eligible to register to vote. Then press “Continue” when finished.
  4. Under the “This Is” part, you will want to check off “New Registration”.
  5. Follow the instructions given and fill out the “Personal Identification Information” part.
  6. When you are finished, press “Continue”. Fill out the following sections and press “Continue” when finished.
  7. Review to make sure all of your information is correct. Read over and check off the “Oath” to submit. If you want to edit anything before submitting, do so by clicking the “Edit” button.

If you do not have a Florida Identification Card/Florida Driver’s License you can still use this application, the submission process will just be different. The first 6 steps are the same as before, but the highlighted portion is different:

  1. Go to registertovoteflorida.gov.
  2. Click on “Register or update”. It is a blue button that should be in the center of your screen under “Welcome!”.
  3. Here you will find the Eligibility portion of the application. This part double checks to make sure you are eligible to register to vote. Then press “Continue” when finished.
  4. Under the “This Is” part, you will want to check off “New Registration”.
  5. Follow the instructions given and fill out the “Personal Identification Information” part.
  6. When you are finished press “Continue”. Fill out the following sections and press “Continue” when finished.
  7. Next, review the information, and press “ Print Paper Application” when finished. 
  8. Print out the form and make sure you sign it in the “SIGN/MARK HERE” box.
  9. Lastly, you will need to either mail or hand deliver your application to your county’s Supervisor of Elections office. 

Here are the addresses and contact information for the Supervisor of Elections offices in Manatee and Sarasota counties:

Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office

600 301 Blvd. W., Suite 108, Bradenton FL 34205

Mailing: PO Box 1000, Bradenton FL 34206-1000

Tel: 941-741-3823.

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office

Terrace Building 101 South Washington Blvd, Sarasota, FL, 34236

Tel: 941.861.8600

One More Very Important Thing

If you are a first-time voter in Florida, and have not been issued a Florida Identification Card/Driver’s License, then you need to add one of the following to your application:

  • A COPY of an identification card you own that has your name and a picture of you (Ex: Student ID, passport, credit or debit card, etc.).
  • Or a COPY of an identification that includes your home address and name (Ex. Bills, checks, government document)

You need to send one COPY that proves your identification to your county’s Supervisor of Elections office (above).

The second way to register is through a hard copy form. If you live in Manatee County, the Mi Voto, Mi Futuro campaign can send you a form, directly, in the mail. The form will come with a stamped and addressed envelope to Manatee County’s Supervisor of Elections Office, so you can mail in your registration. If you would like us to send you a hard copy application, email us at vote2020@unidosnow.org requesting this. If you live in Sarasota County, you will need to pick up a hard copy at the Supervisor of Elections office.

That’s all there is to it! You should receive your Voter Information Card in the mail soon after registering. To find more information about registering, voting by mail, and election day click here: https://unidosnow.org/vote/ 

Resources

UnidosNow Fights Back

by Sandy Chase 7/25/2020

Scholars and alumni have answered the UnidosNow call for help during COVID-19 because they understand the difficulties Latino youngsters and their parents face.

Almost immediately, scholars and guest college students registered to tutor one or two younger Latinos. Tutors are meeting once or twice weekly, helping students with homework and online learning.

Look for interviews from Future Leaders Academy (FLA) scholars and alumni who selflessly donate their time to “educate” students and their families.

Also, look for upcoming interviews from young students (tutees) continuing their education, even though schools are closed. Because these youngsters have been receiving academic assistance, they too can become the next generation of leaders.

Together, UnidosNow will win the fight.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Covid -19 continues to wreak havoc on this country—infecting us, killing people, and closing schools, businesses, and our favorite places to eat and play. But UnidosNow will not surrender to this virus, especially when it comes to our community.

UnidosNow is fortunate that its tutors are dedicated to strengthening educational opportunities—a cornerstone of its mission.

To quote Executive Director Luz Corcuera, “We are grateful to our scholars who have added their talent, energy, creativity, and tech skills to support our younger students and parents as they adjust to online instruction.”

For almost 10 years since UnidosNow began, this organizations has been empowering Latinos to achieve their American Dream—through education, integration, and civic engagement.

COVID challenges UnidosNow. But because of staunch supporters, the organization won’t give the virus a chance.

On Both Ends: Our FLA Scholar is Now a Mentor

By Reynaldo Claro, Future Leaders Academy Scholar

As you may be aware, UnidosNow mentors students of all ages from graduating seniors all the way down to elementary schoolers. I have happily been on both the receiving and giving end. This past year, UnidosNow helped me pass my own feat, college. With their expertise, I gathered endless knowledge on every small detail that goes into a college application and can with pleasure say that I will be attending Vassar College for the next 4 years.

I am solely an end result. A proud product of all the hard work I put in and all the help I received along the way. I was a mentee, and that is why now, I am a mentor. I recently have been mentoring middle schoolers and future high schoolers on my experience including the ins and outs to college. It’s great to see the small smiling faces listening contently to what you have to say about the stages that lead up to college and college itself.

Above all, I have taken as much from the interactions as they have because, as a prospective college student, I as well noticed I should follow my own advice. Among my advice comes simple things such as sleep early, learn to manage your time, make study habits, and primarily don’t procrastinate. These are only some of the things we talk about, but they all reach the same place. The overarching theme arrived at every time is each and every one of them ARE leaders and all in all, if you wish it and work towards it, you’ll accomplish it.

We each have passed this moment in our lives; the moment where we believe anything is possible. That is why the work UnidosNow is doing is amazing. They reinforce this thought through education, boost it through the countless support, and ultimately inspire the students to not only DREAM BIG, but most importantly DO BIG.

Thank you UnidosNow for the opportunity you provided me and the opportunities you continue to give. This wonderful group is truly dedicated as they say to EMPOWER!

A 4th of July Message

By Kelly Kirschner, UnidosNow Board Chair

https://assets.libertyellisfoundation.org/cms/editor/SOL_scaffolding_overhead1.jpg

On behalf of the UnidosNow Board, our staff, dedicated volunteers, students, and families, I want to wish you a happy and safe 4th of July holiday. Never in my lifetime has there been a more sober period in our national experience to honor and celebrate Independence Day. 

The celebrations in 2020 will be muted as public fireworks performances, festivals, and parades are cancelled, and we all wrestle with the pain of the ongoing pandemic; the global financial and unemployment crisis; and a reckoning with our long-held myth of American exceptionalism, in particular as it relates to our neighbors of color being able to equally participate in such an exceptional land.

With the backdrop of the current Black Lives Matter protests and the tumbling of statues around the country, it is a good moment to reflect on the history of the Statue of Liberty–our nation’s most iconic and recognized statue and its intersections with our current national challenges and the work of UnidosNow. As documented in this 2019 Washington Post article, the Statue of Liberty was originally conceived in 1865 to celebrate freed slaves, not immigrants. 

The plaque with Emma Lazarus’ poem—“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” was not added to the base until 1903, not too far from the broken shackles of slavery that lie at Lady Liberty’s feet, but rarely do we see included in images of her. The same French benefactors who beat the bushes to raise money to make the statue were also eagerly raising money to support recently freed slaves, who had been set forth into a land without a penny in their pocket, much less any benevolent-aid organizations to help them adjust to such a radically different life. 

African slaves were immigrants—not of choice but by brutal force. Yet in many ways, the Lazarus’ poem does apply as much to the descendants of slaves as it does to today’s immigrant community: this nation, founded on the premise of Liberty, stands out amongst all others in the world, as you will breathe free here and share in the equal opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. 

Amidst these uncertain and tumultuous times, there is a latent sadness many of us share with how our nation’s ideals continue to be elusive, if not an outright scam for so many of our fellow citizens of color. Maybe this was best encapsulated on July 4, 1936, when President Franklin Roosevelt honestly reflected on our nation’s Founding Fathers during an Independence Day celebration at Monticello, the former slave plantation of Declaration of Independence author and President Thomas Jefferson: “Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be.” 

As a supporter of UnidosNow, helping us raise an astounding $282,000 during the recent 2020 Giving Challenge that now supports over 400 of the region’s most vulnerable families bridge our current crisis, it is with utmost gratitude and appreciation that you are here with us and support us in this effort to build and make things as they ought to be in our community today – continuing to call into being the promise of our nation that was laid out on July 4, 1776. 

Please enjoy your holiday, be safe and thank you for your continuing support.

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.