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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”.

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!

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.

My UnidosNow Story: “Retirement With Benefits” for Sandy Chase

When Sandy Chase read the UnidosNow placard her husband, Gary, had brought home from a local exposition several years ago, she knew she wanted to learn more about the organization. 

“This card, a little larger than a bookmark—with three words:  Educate, Elevate, and Integrate, and quotes like ‘I have found my own path to success,” and a list of such programs as Future Leaders Academy, UnidosNow Clubs, and College Prep Workshop Series—motivated me to explore volunteer opportunities.”  

Since that time, Sandy has been collaborating with the Dream Team and Future Leaders Academy (FLA) Barancik scholars to help bolster the UnidosNow mission—whether as a writing coach or part of the newsletter team, led by Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, an experienced communications director.  Most recently, Sandy has also been working with Cintia Elenstar, program manager, on her important alumni e-newsletter.

Sandy says, “My role at UnidosNow intrinsically rewards me, especially when high-school seniors reach and often times exceed their goals—graduating with honors, being accepted to the college of their choice, and receiving scholarships to fund that educational experience.”

Sandy further explains how editing the newsletters—with her “eagle eye” and relentless “red pen”—is win-win. 

“Even if I’m not involved in all UnidosNow programs, I’m learning firsthand how this organization helps students and parents embark on their journeys to success—whether it’s the FLAG ‘Mighty Queso Coders,’ parent-leaders at Gocio and Tuttle Elementary schools, or Peer Buddies, alumni giving back to the community.”

As an UnidosNow EDITOR, Sandy’s life has been:

  • Enhanced by
  • Dedicated staff who are
  • Intelligent
  • Tenacious 
  • Organized and
  • Respected in Sarasota and Manatee counties for furthering the goals of the Latino community

Sandy summarizes her appreciation: “Gracias por la oportunidad de disfrutar de mi jubilación.”

Future Leaders Academy Barancik Scholars and Alumni Connect

On December 20th, we held the Winter Alumni Reunion, with participation from current Future Leaders Academy (FLA) Barancik scholars from the college-prep and career-readiness tracks, UnidosNow high-school club members, parents, mentors, board members, and staff. We had a great turnout.

The event featured both an alumni and parents’ panel, enabling attendees to engage in a conversation pertaining to critical issues that students and parents face during the transition to college. Attendees participated in a trivia contest and interactive activities that encouraged networking and sharing. 

One of our FLA alumni said: “Thank you for inviting me. This gathering is great and I’m happy to have reconnected with so many people. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for UnidosNow. I’m so happy to be a part of the family!”

During the reunion, we officially launched the “Peer Buddies” program, which pairs up college and high-school students. The goal of this program is to enhance our mentoring program by providing peer-to-peer coaching and to provide our alumni with the opportunity to give back by supporting younger students.

We wholeheartedly thank everyone who attended in person, video-conferenced via Zoom, and sent us messages. We are also very grateful to the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation for supporting our scholars and to the Scheidel Foundation for supporting the College Success Program.

An International Group Strengthens Parent Leadership

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.

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.