Education Archives | UnidosNow

A Mighty UnidosNow High School Club

Bella Macias and Xavier Rosado, Braden River High School UnidosNow Club President and Vice President.

The Braden River High School UnidosNow Club features Bella Macías as President, Xavier Rosado as Vice President, Sophia Innocenti as Secretary, Michael LaPointe as Treasurer, and Ayaka Quesen as Publicist. 

This mighty group of five work extremely hard to prepare an informative presentation every other Friday at their advisor’s—Mr. Kirchberg’s—classroom. The team usually meets on the Fridays when they do not have a club meeting, establishing their topic for the upcoming presentation. The club also consists of four committees: Community Outreach, FAFSA & Marketing, Workshop, and Essays, and each committee has their own committee chair.

Moreover, to encourage ESL students to participate in the club, they have an ESL Outreach Ambassador who bridges the communication between the two parties. The main goal of the club is to provide enough information to their members, where they feel confident enough to tackle the college application process. Whenever anyone has a question of any sort, they are always free to ask questions to any of the officers. 

  • Besides the many informative meetings the officers have scheduled, each committee has a particular goal they set for themselves for the year: 
  • The Community Outreach committee, with Orlando Chinchilla as chair, has aided the club in establishing a sister program with Oneco Elementary’s Boys & Girls Club. They volunteer there every other Thursday, where they offer help in tutoring for all sorts of academic topics, while also offering some support for the kids. 
  • The Essays committee has received multiple college essays at the beginning of the year, and Demi Dionela, the chair, has organized the committee members to edit specific essays depending on their strengths. The project was a success, and many seniors were grateful for the grammar and spelling checks that were provided by the club. 
  • The FAFSA & Marketing committee, with Fiorella Recchioni as chair, was instructed to create the FAFSA video during the first semester, where they helped the club win the prize of a pizza party. Overall, the video helped inform not only the club about the FAFSA application process, but many other students who follow them on social media. 
  • Finally, their Workshop committee, led by Khushbu Patel, is currently working on constructing a College/Job Resume Workshop, where any student from the school could attend the meeting in order to learn how to write a resume. The Club has also held a few workshops led by the officers team, including their College Kid Workshop, which featured previous BRHS students who gave advice to their members on college information during the potluck meeting.

This club has not only allowed students to grow and learn, but they are all able to work through their struggles and hopefully attend the college of their dreams. “When convincing my many friends to join the club, I always say that it’s worth it, because everyone needs help, even me,” says Macias.

My UnidosNow Story by Bella Macias

UnidosNow is turning 10 this year, and we are asking our scholars, parents, mentors, volunteers, staff, and board members to share how they first heard about UnidosNow and how they’re involved with our organizations. This month we highlight Bella Macias’ story:

“I first heard about UnidosNow from Mina Quesen who founded the club at my high school, and also participating in the Future Leaders Academy (FLA). Mina eventually became one of my closest friends and mentor. 

The FLA program allowed me to connect with those dedicated to help shaping my future, and putting me on the path to achieve my goals. Without the FLA program, I would’ve been completely lost when applying to colleges, especially since both my parents came from out of the country. This program paired me with a mentor that could relate to my struggles, as well as friends that could understand the problems I faced when applying to colleges.

The FLA program has not only guided me through the difficult terrains of applying to college, but the UnidosNow team has supported me in achieving my goals in becoming an astrophysicist with their personal statement workshops. This program has allowed me to feel more empowered to reach the stars and receive a PhD. in the future, while also giving me great feedback as I run the Braden River High School UnidosNow Club as the President.”

An Internship in Toledo, Ohio: Mina Quesen’s Experience

Future Leader Academy Alumnus Mina Quesen shares her experience as an intern with MidStory Media Thinkhub in Toledo, Ohio.

“’I have an internship in Ohio.’

‘Why?’

This was the conversation I had over and over in the weeks coming up to my internship with MidStory Media Thinkhub. What text doesn’t convey is that the “why” wasn’t a subject of, “Why do you have an internship?” but rather, “Why Ohio?” Ironically, this response was exactly why my internship existed at all.

In the last week of January, I had the opportunity to participate in a week-long internship with MidStory. This was part of a program hosted by Princeton’s Career center in which alumni host students for a day or week for a Princeternship. Where others had a job-shadowing experience, I would certainly say that my experience was a week for an intern. 

MidStory is a non-profit media thinkhub located in Toledo, Ohio, a city I didn’t know existed prior to January. The company was founded by three Princeton alumni and an MIT graduate in 2018 with the goal to “retain, cultivate, and attract the youth and public” to the post-industrial cities of the midwest through creative storytelling and solution-oriented projects. In other words, the MidStorians are working to revive the midwest starting with Toledo. The midwest which is often overlooked and talked about in major news located on the coasts. 

As I was scrolling through the options of companies I could get matched with, MidStory stood out because it combined my love writing but also a love I had formed by working with UnidosNow. Non-profit was so familiar and became so dear to me because of how much UnidosNow helped me throughout high school. I initially ranked MidStory as my second choice. In between the application and interview, I couldn’t help but think MidStory was a better fit. In the interview, I asked for my options to be reordered, putting MidStory first. 

Through my week with Midstory, it was odd that I felt closer to home in Toledo than I did in Princeton (it helped that I75 that I lived next to my entire life also ran through Toledo). At Princeton, you’re surrounded by so many people who have passion, but often they are work-oriented. They live day to day for classes and clubs and teeter on burn-out. Although I love my school and the people I’ve met here, it is sometimes easy for us to forget to do something we enjoy outside of academia. In Toledo, I was thrown back into an environment where people worked for passion. I was shown to how much work and detail goes into every day let alone every event. I saw first hand how much work volunteers do, how much is hand-made, how many hours are spent outside of a 9-5. I was reminded of how families are built and how they grow.

My responsibilities throughout the week were to help prepare for their Annual Review event and prepare my own self driven project about Toledo. I took to writing about how on the first day me and my fellow interns were dropped off in the middle of the city and told to explore. As I worked through this reflection, I had guidance with any question and support for any idea. When I wanted to create a map of our path, one of the MidStorians took the time to teach me about design and helped me produce a final project that I’m proud of. From the very start, we were welcomed into MidStory and taken under wing. We were invited to a dedicated staff and volunteer network. Non-profits are projects of passion and love, and my week in Toledo made me realize that even though the future is unclear, that environment of passion is one I want to find and contribute to. 

Beyond that, I got to explore Toledo, Ohio, which doesn’t seem like something I should be excited about but really is something I’m glad to have done. It’s a city of promise. It’s quiet, which is shocking considering there are world class attractions in Toledo, including a free art museum that challenges those in New York. It’s a city waiting for rebirth, and the Midtorians are taking the first steps toward it.”

Our FLA Students Present at PINC

The PINC Conference, which stands for People, Ideas, Nature, and Creativity, hosted by Dream Large in Sarasota. Thanks to the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, two of our Future Leaders Academy Scholars were invited to attend along with their favorite teachers: Nicholas Coehlo, a junior at Riverview High, chose Ms. Es Swihart, and Nahyara Piedrahita, a junior at Sarasota High, chose Ms. Casey Garrett.

During a showcase at Dream Large, the participants shared their experience at PINC where they presented their work in front of their teachers, community, and sponsors. Nicholas created a song that he composed to illustrate the impact of PINC, and Nahyara, a drawing about her experience. They both were exceptional.

Below you can to read about the experience directly from our students. We thank the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, DreamLarge (organizer of PINC), the School District of Sarasota County, and, last but not least, our students for being amazing ambassadors of UnidosNow.

Nicholas Coehlo

“How do I present something completely original? There are no guidelines, or examples to follow, there’s no one to copy, the pressure is on. So, I made my own path, unique to me and my PINC experience.

On presentation day, I was ready to show PINC what they taught me. I walked into the Dream Large studio feeling confident and prepared. Then I saw the stage, so small and close to the audience, I imagined cameras pointed in my direction and 40 pairs of eyes looking back at me. I wasn’t feeling so good anymore.

Feelings of intimidation and worry flooded my mind, if I didn’t get a grip on my emotions, my presentation would be a train wreck. As the event began, the audience and presenters took a seat. I closed my eyes and prayed, I breathed deep, then I drank some water and breathed deeper.

Slowly, my confidence returned. In good timing too, because now it was my turn to present. I smiled at Mrs. Luz as she introduced me, making my way to the stage with a gulp of courage in chest. 

I started to speak:

‘Hi everyone! PINC was great! I learned so much from people I never thought I would meet. But my main take-away is the process of creativity. Creativity is a process that takes failure and perseverance until you reach the goal.

When I chose to write a PINC inspired song, I learned that failure was a great teacher. I also learned that inspiration was everywhere, in my everyday experiences. I was inspired to write about something we all have, problems. I could list so many and so could you. With that said, its normal to not be normal, which makes it normal.

When I feel the pressure of problems surrounding me, I pray and think of every good thing I’ve been given, then I feel peace unlike anything else. That’s what the song is about. Problems and how I handle them.’

The song played as I flipped through the projected lyrics. The presentation ended, and the audience applauded, I smiled. All I had to do was be was me and that was enough.”

Nahyara Piedrahita

“I am beyond grateful to be able to be part of the PINC Experience 2019, It motivated me in many different ways and there are no words to explain how great this conference is. 

They asked me if I could in some way or form describe my experience with PINC so I combined it with what I love most, art. I made an acronym of my own depicting what I obtained from this conference.

PINC originally stands for People, Ideas, Nature, and Creativity but as  I sat in the audience from my perspective I viewed the definition of PINC differently, the talented people brought on stage their Passion, the love for what they do or the talent they carry. 

Imagination, the way they created new concepts or ideas and made it their unique way.

Nurture, the speakers expressed a caring heart for the individual uniqueness and as an audience, you could observe the way they took care of it.

And finally, they brought Culture into their ideas whether it was their own culture or the culture we live in today but all in one they brought the audience in awe, and that’s what made 2019 PINC and unforgettable experience for me.”

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune wrote this article about the event.

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.

“Greetings from Ohio”

College Tour at the University of Florida in 2017. Jonathan Bruzon is on the second row, second from the right.

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!”

All the best,

Jonathan Bruzon

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 Board Member Visits Families Together


Board Member Kathy Schersten joined the Families Together class at Gocio Elementary School in the Life Skills-English classes, led by Marnie Howell.

As an experienced teacher, Kathy was thrilled to see the high-quality classes Marnie is delivering to these parents looking to better themselves in order to have a higher quality of life in the United States, and to help their children reach their goals, educationally and in life.

It was a memorable day in which children and parents experienced together the joys of reading and learning.

Oscar Portillo-Meza: A Role Model Exemplifying UNIDOS

By Sandy Chase

UnidosNow fosters improvement through education, integration, and civic engagement.

But when you get to know our Future Leaders and families, you’ll agree that UNIDOS is an acronym that describes Hispanic and Latino youth who are learning skills and acquiring knowledge for empowerment:

  • Undeterred by Obstacles
  • Navigating life’s journey to fulfillment
  • Inspired by leaders in all facets of life
  • Determined to be successful
  • Overcoming adversity
  • Setting a model for others to follow

A 17-year-old immigrant from Honduras, Oscar defies obstacles confronting his personal and academic goals.  “I’ve weaponized those barriers and turned them into the tools that have helped me construct bridges and tear down walls.”

Oscar is fervent about public service, relaying how President Barack Obama’s accomplishments have also reaffirmed that belief:  “I, too, will continue to challenge myself and others for the betterment of our.”

A dually enrolled Bayshore High School senior, Oscar shares his day at the State College of Florida.  The following activities describe a birds-eye view of his typical experiences—highlighting his determination to make a difference:

  • President of three clubs and the Student Government Association
  • Past editor on the yearbook staff
  • Current writer for the school newspaper
  • Fellow on political campaigns, involved in voter registration and restoration of voter’s rights.

“Ambition” understates this young man’s strengths. Oscar is determined to pursue undergraduate studies in political science and economics, after which he plans to attend graduate school for a Master’s of Political Science or a Juris Doctorate to practice corporate law.

UnidosNow has helped him better realize his academic goals and lighten his path when it appeared bleak.  “When I began applying to colleges, I learned about my status as a non-citizen, but didn’t despair because UnidosNow helped guide me through the process.  My college and career advisor—an insightful, knowledgeable counselor, connected me with the organization’s directors, who have encouraged me and others in similar situations to feel like the best days lie not behind us—but ahead.”

Oscar has already been accepted to over 25 universities nationwide; he’s waiting to hear from more.  But schools like the University of South Florida, the University of Tampa, and Fordham University top his list.

Eventually, Oscar plans to become a senator.  “I want to do as much as I can for Americans, also dedicating some of my life to the nonprofit sector, with an organization like the Human Rights Campaign or the Save the Children Foundation.”

Oscar’s visions define success:  “When you’re old and frail, you have no regrets.  You’ve turned your thoughts into action, fighting every battle you’ve deemed right for everyone.”

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