Education Archives | UnidosNow

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.”

Farewell, Lisbeth

Lisbeth Oscuvilca, the kind and giving soul that accompanied our students’ journey to Dream Big since 2015, is now moving to the next chapter of her life. Lisbeth, you will be missed by our students, families, mentors, supporters, and the UnidosNow team.

Lisbeth didn’t want to go without saying goodbye to all of us:

“Arriving at UnidosNow in 2015 for my job interview, I already knew that I was in the right place when they told me: “You are here to help students and their parents to DREAM BIG!”. I knew from the beginning that in addition to Dreaming Big, these families needed to understand their real value and feel empowered to take control of their lives. I integrated my life’s experiences from Peru, plus a group of new skills learned on-the-job, to help achieve those goals for our students and their families. Everyone at UnidosNow mentioned that I showed passion for education, and it’s true. I am a true believer that education is the primary door to open minds and hearts.

Every day I brought with me to UnidosNow a recipe consisting of compassion, creativity, and hard work. Compassion: In order to connect with people in the Latino community one needs to see them with compassionate eyes. Compassion lets you see things from a perspective that allows you to act in a more assertive, loving and successful way. Creativity: It is a necessary tool to accomplish your goals while working in any nonprofit organization, and UnidosNow is not an exception. Everyone on our team needs to ‘think outside the box’ in order to accomplish goals with a similar success rate as for-profit companies that have more resources available. Hard work. Lastly, I always brought with me a Spanish expression that my father told his family: ‘A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando’. This means that it is not enough for you to just want something, you need to work hard in order to achieve it.

Finally, UnidosNow reminded me to Dream Big in my own life. I have some personal goals that I need to focus on, so for now, I am withdrawing from the organization. I’m grateful for the people that gave me an opportunity to work on them.  This helped me to grow in a personal and professional way. This gratefulness extends to dedicated board members, to Luz Corcuera, a great leader; Hector and Wendy, great day-to-day team members; and to people that work behind the scenes like Beatriz, Robin, and Lisa. Always, UnidosNow will be part of me and will have a special place in my memories and heart. I wish all the best for my students and their parents on their way to accomplishing their own Big Dreams!”

An Unprecedented FAFSA Challenge Success

Since the Manatee College Access Network (MCAN) formally organized last fall to improve student access and entry into post-secondary education, its member agencies jumped into the FAFSA challenge in late 2016.  This resulted in a significant accomplishment for the community: $658, 625 additional Pell grant dollars to Manatee students over the prior year.

With a capacity-building grant from the Florida College Access Network, the MCAN will begin its strategic planning process this summer, using a collective impact model. UnidosNow will serve as the MCAN’s backbone organization over the next year to help facilitate this process for the community.

Participating MCAN organizations include: Manatee Technical College, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, State College of Florida, Boys and Girls Club, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Goodwill, Career Edge Funders, Career Source, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, Education Foundation, Manatee Technical College, Manatee County Library, Manatee County Government, Manatee Community Foundation, United Way of Manatee, School District of Manatee County, and Bradenton Area Economic Development.

UnidosNow’s presence in the schools, working with students to complete their FAFSA application, also made a difference in Sarasota county, which won “MVP for Large Districts” from the Florida College Access Network. We are proud to be part of the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership that helped to get 45.5% of Sarasota County high school seniors to complete their FAFSA, resulting in an estimated increase of $513,000 of Pell Grants being accessed by Sarasota County students.





Gocio’s Families Together Program

Photography by Karen Arango, karenarango.com

Proud parents of our Families Together program at Gocio Elementary School had their graduation ceremony. This program has been made possible thanks to the support of the 2Gen fund of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Gocio Elementary school students and their proud principal Mr. Royce attended the ceremony as well as Roxie Jerde, John Annis, Terri Vitale, Nelle Miller, Rick Gomez, and Rebekah Leopold of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

Celebrating our Students on their Signing Day

May 25th was a very special date for our Future Leaders Academy Scholars. Families, friends, community partners, UnidosNow mentors, Board and staff gathered at Manatee Technical College to celebrate their graduation from high school and their acceptance into college. We are very proud of them and wish them success in their next adventure. It’s been a pleasure working with all, and we cannot wait to hear about all their future accomplishments.

College Tour Spring 2017

Our Future Leaders scholars and parents spent two days traveling around Florida, from college to college. On the first day, they visited Rollins College and the University of Central Florida; on the second day, they visited Eckerd College and Saint Leo University. This tour gave our students and their parents a better idea of where they would want to spend their college years.

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