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Neil Comber shares his reflection on why he became a mentor

“As the first person in my family to graduate from college, I have long appreciated the value of a college degree. Coming from Mexico, it served me well to open doors to a successful global business career.

What is different today for students is that the application process is much more complex and competitive. When I met with Luz, I quickly signed up to be a mentor. Part of the reason was I was so impressed with the comprehensive process at UnidosNow.

In my experience, it as unmatched in its ability to help Latino students understand that college is necessary, and help them take the steps to make it a reality for them.

Once I started, I found my students to be eager and open to receiving help. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to give advice, motivate and encourage. All of them are from immigrant families with all the attendant difficulties of living in a foreign land and having to assimilate. When I heard that each of them had been accepted to college, I felt a huge sense of pride and super excited for their futures.

I will definitely mentor again. The experience with UnidosNow has shown me that while my one-on-one coaching with my students may have only been a little ‘granito de arena’ (grain of sand) in the process, it is so important to help these young people take a very big step in their journey of success in life. Anything I can do to help in their journey is worth the time and commitment. Enhorabuena to all the students and their families who embrace this journey.”

We are grateful to Neil Comber for mentoring three students that have been successful in their college attainment. We are still in the process of recruiting new mentors. We hope you will consider mentoring a student this year. Please do contact Luz Corcuera if you feel inclined to help: luz@unidosnow.org or call (941) 840-0266.

Gabrielle Barroso, Volunteer of the Month

Our volunteer of the month is our scholar Gabrielle Barroso. She is a senior at Sarasota Military Academy and, in addition to her high school diploma, will be receiving her AA degree.

Gabrielle is an exceptional young woman and, as one of our ambassadors, has accompanied our Executive Director Luz Corcuera to community meetings and schools providing inspirational presentations to peers and community partners. She has assisted students in Sarasota and Manatee with FAFSA applications and helps the UnidosNow team with community fairs at schools and in the community.

Gabrielle is the President of the UnidosNow High School Club at Sarasota Military Academy. In addition to her academic load, she holds leadership positions with the JROTC.  She has been accepted into several universities and has decided to join the University of Florida with the goal of becoming a pediatric surgeon one day.  She is also the recipient of the Comcast Scholarship and just finished serving as a juror for the first time.

We are proud of Gabrielle’s accomplishments and grateful for her volunteer work.

Leadership in Practice

We are extremely proud of the scholars that have taken the lead as officers of the UnidosNow High School Clubs. They have been offering workshops, assisting their peers with FAFSA applications and, in some of schools, working on fundraising events for a college tour. The Palmetto High club is planning a trip to visit Florida State University in Tallahassee.

New Addition to the Board

UnidosNow is delighted to announce that a new member is joining our Board of Directors: Amy K. Kenyon has accepted to serve on the board and we welcome her willingness to contribute to the improvement of opportunities for the Latino community in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

As a consumer attorney, her career has been spent educating the public on a broad range of financial matters and empowering people to pursue a more stable financial future.

Her knowledge and experience will prepare students for reaching long-term educational goals that result in pride and prosperity, in the individual leader, and in the Latino community.

Juan Arcila Joins UnidosNow Board

Since July 2016, Juan Arcila, Admissions Counselor at USF Sarasota-Manatee, has been involved with UnidosNow and the Future Leaders Academy. He is helping us with this year’s Future Leaders Summer Academy, and he was also instrumental during last year’s Giving Challenge and engaging the millennials involvement in our fundraising efforts.

Juan holds a BA in Public Health and is now pursuing his Master’s Degree in Education. He is the perfect example of UnidosNow core mission: a first-generation Latino in the United States who comes from a low-income family and is the first one in his family to go to college.

His passion and dedication to our organization and scholars is palpable in everything he has done with and for UnidosNow, and it hasn’t been unnoticed by our leadership. Kelly Kirschner, Board Chair of UnidosNow, invited Juan Arcila to join our Board of Directors last February. We now have  the benefit of his knowledge, enthusiasm, and commitment. Welcome to the team, Juan!

Gecko’s Creates a Scholarship for our Scholars

Gecko’s Hospitality Group Family of Restaurants presented a check to UnidosNow to award scholarships to four of our very deserving scholars. The owners, Mike Quillen and Mike Gowan, have established these scholarships in honor of the loyal and dedicated families that support their children to pursue higher education.

Gecko’s has been a steady supporter of UnidosNow and it is one of the first businesses that has made onsite English-Life Skills classes available for their workers and their families.

We value and appreciate their partnership and commitment to our community.

College Prep Programs Expand

UnidosNow piloted  our high school program at Sarasota High and Palmetto High during the 2015-2016 academic year. This academic year the program has expanded to several other high schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Two of our recent launches have been at Riverview High* and North Port High*.

Working closely with Riverview High faculty and staff, as well as other non-profit partners, our goal is to assist low-income students who aspire to continue their education after high school.  Our first two initiatives included a FAFSA workshop to assist families in filing for federal financial aid and a scholarship workshop conducted in conjunction with the Selby Foundation.

Riverview High SchoolRiverview High School
In the background, Alix Giannini (Director of Counseling Services at Riverview) and Deb Piner (College and Career Advisor); in the forefront, community partners from Keiser University and the Sarasota County Government Human Services Program.Wendy Barroso (UnidosNow) assisting a student and his Spanish-speaking father fill out the FAFSA application.
Riverview High SchoolRiverview High School
Evan Jones (Selby Foundation), Hector Tejeda (UnidosNow) and Deb Piner (College and Career Advisor, Riverview High).Evan Jones (Selby Foundation) giving overview of how to apply for local scholarships.

We are supporting North Port High with their FAFSA application process thanks to the support of Tervis, and starting in March, we will also  begin working at North Port High , identifying and supporting high-performing Latino students who have the potential to gain admission to competitive colleges. We will also provide support to the school’s college and career advisor, as well as guidance counselors, in serving the broader Latino student population to make informed plans for their future.

UnidosNow will also develop and deliver age-appropriate college prep workshops, starting with middle schoolers transitioning to North Port High.  These sessions will include working with parents to help them better understand how to  support their children’s education, including how to get more involved with the school.

*The Riverview High School program is supported by the United Way Suncoast. The North Port High School program is supported by Tervis.

Leslye Trujillo, Volunteer of the Month

Photography by Karen Arango, karenarango.com

Leslye Trujillo is one of our Future Leaders Academy scholars. She is the oldest of three siblings and a senior at Manatee High School. She will graduate with her Associate’s in Art by the time she graduates high school. Leslye has already received four college acceptances from the University of Central Florida, Florida International University, University of South Florida – St. Pete, and Florida Southern College. She will be the first one in her family to go to college, and her dream is to become a physician assistant.

Leslye is the president of the UnidosNow Club at Manatee High, where –among other activities- she’s been very active in spreading the word about FAFSA and helping during the labs – offered to seniors at various high schools in Manatee County.

Leslye is also one of our student ambassadors, accompanying Executive Director, Luz Corcuera, at presentations in the community and sharing her story of struggle and success. One of the latest invitations she has received is to the Manatee School Board to talk about her college dream. Leslye was also recently selected as a semifinalist for the Golden Herald Awards in the vocational category, a “program originated in 1978 by the Bradenton Herald to honor outstanding Manatee County high school seniors for noble service to their schools and community”.

Thank you for being on our team, Leslye. Keep on dreaming big!

Allstate Foundation Donates $1,000 to UnidosNow

From left to right, Board Member, Frankie Soriano; Board Chair, Kelly Kirschner; Executive Director, Luz Corcuera; long-term UnidosNow supporter, Manuel Chepote; and Communications Director, Beatriz Paniego-Béjar.

Thanks to the endless support of our volunteer Manuel Chepote – who has been a mentor, advisory board member, and amazing advocate of UnidosNow since 2010 – we recently received a $1,000 grant from the Allstate Foundation.

Manuel is one of their agents, whose office is located in downtown Sarasota, and he has secured this donation to support our Future Leaders Academy and the work we do to ensure our students get the help they need to walk through the college application process. Thank you, Allstate Foundation and Manuel!

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