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The Right “Formula” for UnidosNow and Our Community: Interviewing Enrique Gomez-Palacio

By Sandy Chase

Deflecting the spotlight speaks volumes about Enrique Palacio—an astute financial analyst, role model, and philanthropist—who says, “I have always believed, as part of my Christian faith, that social involvement is a must.”

Enrique embodies “true charity” because over the years, he’s given his time, talents, energy, resources, and finances to Hispanic organizations—hoping to strengthen community.  For several years he’s been involved with issues connected to the growth of the Latino population in the United States.

Executive Director Luz Corcuera says, “Enrique Palacio is one of our most amazing Latino professionals, personal mentor, and trusted friend.  Dedicated to UnidosNow, he’s our ‘poster child’ because of his hard work and business savvy—embracing two cultures—earning an MBA from Columbia University (NYC) and acquiring noteworthy business experience and expertise.”

Enrique’s diverse career spans years worked in large multinationals and mid-sized companies—eventually owning an industrial metals distribution company.

Dominic Casanueva, managing director of Merrill Lynch in Sarasota—repeatedly recognized by Forbes and Barrons during his 15-year financial career—has nothing but praise.

“I’ve had the privilege of partnering with Enrique to help manage his family’s investments and finances.  In working with him, I’ve found his insights into domestic and global economics and investments to be incredibly helpful and practical.”  

Dominic continues:  “It’s been inspiring to watch Enrique blend his analytical talents with his passion to support and develop the next generation of leaders.”  

Luz Corcuera agrees, saying, “Enrique’s understanding of and ongoing advocacy for the talented first-generation, low-income, college-bound Latinos have reinforced our mission work.  He’s steadfast in inspiring our team and students to dream big.”

Other community leaders, such as Manatee Community Foundation’s Executive Director Susie Bowie—an UnidosNow advocate—have nothing but praise for this successful, altruistic businessman.

“Enrique is a leader in his approach to giving and education, working hand in hand with students, to allow them to achieve success, confidence, and security in their higher education journey.”

Susie highlights how “His focus on anticipating needs that fall outside the typical expenses covered by financial aid and scholarships enables first-generation students to stay the course in college—an investment that helps the individual and our community.” 

President and CEO of Community Foundation of Sarasota County Roxie Jerde concurs:  “During a breakfast meeting with Enrique a few years ago, I was most impressed by his commitment to Latino students—his passion and focus.”

Luz summarizes who Enrique is:  “By constantly teaching our community to elevate its philanthropic spirit, we are all strengthening Sarasota and Bradenton—and areas beyond.”

When did you learn about UnidosNow?  

Before relocating to Sarasota in 2014, I lived in North Carolina, arriving in the late 90s.  At that time, I had a difficult time finding anyone else who spoke Spanish.  When I left—roughly 20 years later—it was estimated to be home to 350,000 Latinos. 

There were a lot of tough issues that came out of such a large influx of immigrants, and I was involved in a number of them.  Through the efforts of many people, the situation in North Carolina began to change—continuing to improve to this day.   

Once I arrived in Sarasota, it was natural for me to seek out people involved with improving the lives of Latinos.  Soon I was led to UnidosNow.

Luz Corcuera and I found that we had a lot of common interests and began to have periodic cafecitos (coffee chats), exchanging findings and sharing ideas.

Why do you support this nonprofit?

Even though I am mostly retired, the analytical work I still do on the economy and in finance revealed—quite some time ago—that powerful trends towards automation, artificial intelligence, and other advances would drastically curtail opportunities for persons with a limited education. 

When one specifically looks at the existing picture on educational achievements by children of recent Latino immigrants in the United States—and particularly in Florida—the situation is bleak.  Not only is the number of students seeking college degrees quite low, but many students who manage to enter college end up leaving school—before earning a degree.

How has your relationship with UnidosNow evolved?

Luz and I were able—with difficulty—to find some limited research on why Latinos drop out of college.  We would like to sponsor more research in this area.  But in the meantime, we have zeroed in on indications in the research that financial emergencies faced by some students force them to leave college prematurely. 

Could we find a way to help those students—financially—stay in college?  

We launched a pilot project:  the Latino Fund involves a student-support program designed to provide limited emergency assistance—accessible for four years—so that a student doesn’t get swamped unexpectedly by a money problem—negatively affecting academic performance.  By providing the necessary means, this project is also geared to students who are studying out of state so they can stay connected with their families.  

We still have a lot to learn, but there are some indications that such a program can indeed assist students in critical situations and, more importantly, provide a sense that economic assistance can be available if needed.

UnidosNow works on a wide range of valuable community programs.  My plans, however, are to concentrate my support of the organization’s work to try to get students to attend college—and stay—until they complete their programs and earn a degree.  Luz and I are laser-focused on that goal.

A friend of mine recently put it this way: college education is on its way to becoming a matter of existential life or death.  It sounds extreme but I believe it to be true.

FAFSA Lab at Braden River

On Thursday, January 26th, students of the UnidosNow Club, financial aid officers from the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, State College of Florida and Keiser University, and other volunteers were helping families to fill out their FAFSA at Braden River High School. The organization and welcoming of Braden River staff was excellent, and through this FAFSA workshop we guided students to get financial aid to go to college.

Manatee Community Foundation​ and United Way of Manatee County​ support the initiatives in Manatee County through the Manatee Matches Giving Circle.

With Gratitude

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The UnidosNow team would like to extend our sincere thanks to – and deep appreciation of – all of our generous, committed volunteers, funders, supporters and partners who make it possible for us to empower our young people to Dream Big and Reach High! Learn more about this day here: #GlobalApplause.

Volunteer of the Month, Joe Carfora

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Congratulate our volunteer of the month, Joe Carfora! Joe has a passion for mentoring students of all ages and providing them with the guidance needed to be successful in life. Prior to coming to Florida a couple of years ago, Joe helped elementary and middle school students with math and reading needs and provided general advice to them regarding the sports they played and how to set goals. But his real passion was to work with high school students, and we are fortunate at UnidosNow that he found us before another organization could grab him.

Last year Joe volunteered to mentor one of our students and also assisted us by reviewing several student essays before they were submitted with college applications. This summer Joe has agreed to mentor three students and, as usual, is putting his whole heart into it. He has an amazing way of connecting with teenagers and understands how challenging it can be to interact with students at this age. Joe doesn’t use a cookie cutter approach to mentoring. He takes the time to understand each student’s personal story and aspirations, and then seeks to guide them on their unique path to success.

Joe goes the extra mile with his students, whether it’s conducting his own research to familiarize himself with colleges that might offer a student’s major, or meeting with a student’s guidance counselor since the student’s parents were unable to speak English, or taking the time to meet and encourage parents who so badly want their children to get ahead.

We pride ourselves at UnidosNow for seeking out students with grit, students with the perseverance needed to overcome the many obstacles they face in high school, and will continue to face in college and beyond. Joe understands that mentors have to be equally gritty because mentoring is not easy. He also understands that getting into college and eventually graduating takes more than strong academics –it takes life skills that are not normally taught in our schools. And here is where Joe excels, as he has lived a full and successful life, and has so much wisdom to share. Joe arrived in our region to retire after spending over 4o successful years in the plastics industry. But anyone who knows Joe understands that retirement is not part of his make-up. He is still an active board member in his chosen industry, and has played a leadership role in his community, Lakewood Ranch. Also, he is a proud alum of Rutgers University and often represents the school at college fairs.

Joe is a dedicated husband and a proud father and grandfather. We are so grateful to have him as a member of our team, and are equally grateful to his wife Sharon for supporting Joe as he pursues his passion for giving back to the community.

June’s Volunteer of the Month: Evelyn Tejeda

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Congratulate our volunteer of the month Evelyn Tejeda! Evelyn mentors our students, helps with UnidosNow events, and believes in education. No task is too small or too big for our passionate volunteer of the month. . She likes to give back to the community and is mentoring three of our Rising Junior scholars in the Future Leaders Summer Academy.

Evelyn, who is, herself, a first-generation college grad, grew up in Brooklyn and became a physical therapist (PT). She worked very hard to support her spouse, Hector Tejeda, while he was working on his MBA at Harvard. They have two sons, who are very successful young men, thanks in large part to Evelyn’s and Hector’s instilling in them the value of education and supporting their pursuit of higher education.

In her role as a PT, Evelyn’s passion has been to work with the senior population, ensuring that they get the best care and learn to live a healthy lifestyle.

Evelyn brings humility, love and confidence to her volunteer work. The scholars she is working with will not only have a great mentor who will help them achieve their goals, but also a role model who embodies what community service is all about.

We are grateful and fortunate to have Evelyn by our side.

March Volunteer Meeting

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Please RSVP here
A message from Executive Director, Luz Corcuera

“Since joining the Dream Team of UnidosNow, I have been learning about the strengths of the organization. I am amazed at the number of talented and committed volunteers who share their valuable time and skills in myriad capacities.  Some work directly with students in the various settings where we engage young people, such as the high school clubs in Sarasota and Palmetto, the Future Leaders Academy, and others providing assistance at the FAFSA workshops we offer with our community partners.  And still other volunteers share their insight and expertise via UnidosNow’s several advisory boards.

While our team is mighty, it is also small, so without the invaluable support of our volunteers, we couldn’t accomplish our goal of leading low-income students and families to success.

We are committed to empowering young people who want to succeed and go to college but might not have access to other outlets or opportunities to help them do so.  While most of our clients are Hispanic, we have served Eastern European and Asian students, and we will never turn away a student who wants to participate in our programs.

We are inviting all of our volunteers to a meeting to have the opportunity to thank them and provide updates on our programs.  Please join us for our March volunteer meeting on Thursday, March 10th at 5:30 pm at the Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center, 1750 17th Street, Bldg. J-1- Loevner meeting room in Sarasota”.

Remember:

Thursday, March 10th

5:30pm

Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center

1750 17th Street, Bldg. J-1- Loevner meeting room

Sarasota, FL 34234

Please RSVP here