This article was written by Jennifer Reed and originally published on January 20th, 2015 at GulfshoreLife.com.
“I will not let poverty define me.”
It’s a promise Immokalee High School senior Regine François made to herself some years ago, and one that she reiterated to a crowd of community leaders and philanthropists last week at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples for the Guadalupe Center’s signature fundraiser, “Fire & Ice: Igniting the Flame of Learning.”
François is one of the 1,100 students enrolled in the Immokalee-based center’s educational enrichment programs. She belongs to the Tutor Corps program, which supports teens in their quests to go to college or post-secondary training.
College is hard to fathom when you go to bed hungry. François remembered once splitting a bag of potato chips with her five siblings. Dinner.
“While my friends happily played tag during recess, I constantly worried about whether or not my family would be going to sleep hungry again. These are not the concerns a 10-year-old should have, yet there I was on a regular basis, going to bed on an empty stomach. It was at that point I made a promise to myself. This was not going to be my life. I would make something of myself and help my family out of the cycle of poverty they seemed destined to remain a part of. I would make it,” she said.
She will graduate with a 5.3 grade point average and 60 college credit hours under her belt, earned through a dual enrollment program at Florida Gulf Coast University.
The nonprofit Guadalupe Center is churning out lots of high-achieving kids. For the last eight years, 100 percent of the Tutor Corps members have graduated from high school and gone on to a post secondary institution; 90 percent of them have earned a post-secondary degree. Among the younger children, 89 percent of after-school program attendees increased their reading scores and 84 percent raised their math scores. Eighty-eight percent of preschoolers met state criteria for their preschool performance, a measure of their readiness for kindergarten.
Final tallies for the fundraiser haven’t been announced but Guadalupe Center officials say they comfortably exceeded last year’s $700,000 proceeds.
The highlight of the Jan. 14 event—aside from François’ rousing speech—had been a luxury auction featuring a fine dining trip to New York City; a wine tasting excursion to Napa Valley; an in-home dinner for 10 prepared by former White House chef Walter Scheib; and a custom-designed ring by jeweler William Boyajian of Port Royal Jewelers. The ring, set with white, pink, purple and green diamonds, features an orchid and a bee. It was inspired by Tutor Corps student Elizabeth Cornelio, who sees the center as passing on hope to the next generation. The ring sold for $50,000. And what would a Southwest Florida charity event be without auctioneer Scott Robertson? Not only did he delight the crowd, but he auctioned off his vest for a record $19,000. Talk about a souvenir!