future leaders academy Archives | UnidosNow

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.

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.

Meet Our Scholars

The Giving Challenge 2020 is here, and we want you to meet some of the students and families that we are impacting through our Future Leaders Academy programs in elementary, middle, and high schools.

It takes a community to raise the next generation of leaders and we are grateful for YOU, our mentors, donors, and community partners that support our mission.

UnidosNow will be participating in the Giving Challenge 2020 on April 28 and 29 noon to noon and we hope to count on your support again. You can donate on April 28 and 29 here.

Be The One to support our students to dream big and reach high.

Axel Soto and Kamila Kemenyfy-Rojas

Ximena Chafloque and Luis Guevara-Flores

Bella Macias and Vanessa Tase Sueiro

Xiomara Orozco and Igor Kitanovski

Axa Salas and Nicholas Coelho

Nahyara Piedrahita and Andrea Salazar

Genesis Martinez and Paula Rodriguez

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.

“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

Mina Quesen, First 30 at Princeton, Gets Ready for Her Next Chapter

by Mina Quesen, Class of 2023

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.

Our Scholars Made Her The One

Jo-Ann Hillman arrived at UnidosNow for what it seemed to be out of the blue, but it wasn’t. Our social media campaign for the 2016 Giving Challenge showed up in her newsfeed. The pictures and quotes of our students touched her and she connected with our scholars straightaway, but no one will tell her story better than herself. Please read it below:

A friend shared this picture of a young woman smiling, looking directly into the camera. Confident. Warm. Engaging. The picture had a quote: “The Future Leaders Academy has taught me to dream big because first generation low-income Latino students also have a chance to achieve their dream of going to college. – Sarah Marin”. It also had two logos, one of the Giving Challenge and the logo of the organization, UnidosNow. Their call to action: “It only takes one to inspire a student. Be The One.”

 

In 2016, it was impossible not to have heard about the Giving Challenge, but I had never heard about UnidosNow before. I clicked on my friend’s post and started learning about UnidosNow. I soon found myself on their website, checking their Education tab and learning about their Future Leaders Academy, hearing their students’ testimonials and reading their remarkable achievements. I instantly related to these students, remembering my own efforts to apply to college, not knowing what to do and what to expect.

 

I donated to their Giving Challenge appeal, feeling I could Be The One to these students.

 

But that didn’t seem enough for me: I have a background in education, and I have been an educator all my life.  My expertise includes preparing students to take their ACT exams and get the scores they need to be accepted into college.. I could Be The One for these scholars on a bigger scale, face-to-face, connecting and sharing with them. I had to click on their contact page and I sent them a message introducing myself:

 

“Dear Mrs. Corcuera,

 

This is Jo-Ann Hillman. I’ve spent the last half hour looking at your website, impressed by the stories of your students. They are heart-warming, and the concept behind your Future Leaders Academy is astounding. I would love to get involved with UnidosNow and volunteer at the Future Leaders Academy. I would love to discuss with you my expertise to prepare students to successfully take their ACT exams. I look forward to hearing from you. Best, Jo-Ann Hillman”.

 

Mrs. Corcuera, UnidosNow Executive Director, not only got back to me almost right away but she also first thanked me for my donation to their Giving Challenge appeal. If you haven’t met Luz Corcuera yet, I will only tell you one thing about her: you will immediately feel a connection with her. Her passion and love for the students and families shine through everything she does, and that passion ignited mine.

 

UnidosNow has given me the chance to meet brilliant students on their way to success. On 2016, I joined their Future Leaders Academy team and, at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee campus, I taught a class of 23 and gave them all the tools they needed to successfully take their ACT exams.  It was rewarding to see their ACT scores improving along with their chances to be accepted into selective colleges. It was not only a very fulfilling experience -seeing these young people realize their potential and the endless possibilities for their future. I even met Sarah Marin, the young woman whose story first draw me to this admirable organization, and all her classmates, who were dreaming big in 2016, and now they are living that dream in college.

 

The 2016 Giving Challenge was my gateway to an organization that makes dreams come true. Now in 2018, I continue Being The One for these UnidosNow Future Leaders, and so can you! Donate to UnidosNow on May 1st-2nd, from noon to noon.

 

Follow UnidosNow in Facebook and Twitter.