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Ongoing FAFSA Outreach & Support Efforts

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The UnidosNow education team and partners have been crisscrossing Manatee and Sarasota counties in the last month, working to ensure high school seniors have the critical information needed to complete their FAFSA. We conducted numerous outreach activities to inform students and families about FAFSA labs, where volunteers help families fill out their FAFSA forms. Our outreach efforts included, for example, classes or lunch hours where seniors were in attendance at Palmetto and Bayshore high schools, a college fair at Palmetto High, an information session at Sacred Heart Church, the Hispanic Festival at Holy Cross Church, an info table at the Remote Area Medical event at MTC, and electronic outreach via our Remind system, which sends text notifications to students who are registered with us. UnidosNow engaged over 1,000 seniors through this outreach. Find pictures of all these events in our Facebook page.

Subsequently, in partnership with our community partners, FAFSA labs were offered at Sarasota Military Academy, North Port, Sarasota, Booker, Palmetto, Lakewood Ranch and Bayshore high schools, where trained volunteers assisted approximately 254 families to complete the FAFSA. Our invaluable partners include Talent for Tomorrow in Sarasota County – comprised of United Way SuncoastSarasota Education FoundationGreater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Gulf Coast Community Foundation and CareerEdge. – and the Local College Access Network (LCAN) in Manatee County – comprised ofthe Manatee Community FoundationUnited Way of ManateeThe School District of Manateethe Manatee Chamber of Commerce, USF Sarasota-Manatee, Manatee Technical College, Take Stock in Children of Manatee County, and CareerEdge. UnidosNow is a member of both collaboratives.

We believe these partnership efforts are significantly impacting FAFSA completion rates in our area, as evidenced in the below data charts from the US Department of Education for Manatee and Sarasota counties:

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For information on upcoming FAFSA labs or information sessions, click here.

2Gen Partnership Empowers Parents

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Thanks to the support of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s 2Gen initiative, UnidosNow and Tuttle Elementary School are partnering to implement an innovative engagement program for parents of Tuttle students. The curriculum, targeting English Learner parents, includes a national parent engagement model, Padres Comprometidos, and ESOL classes.

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Tuttle parents are participating in Padres Comprometidos, a field-tested parent engagement program developed by NCLR, which has met with great success throughout the United States, and which UnidosNow has been trained to implement. Its goal is to create a culture where children are expected to graduate from college by receiving support from their parents and community. The program helps parents build relationships with the school and other parents, as well as their own children; it also helps them develop goals for their children, from the early education years through high school, so that they can attend college.

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In addition, parents are attending on-site ESOL classes, with the goal of improving English speaking and listening skills. The adult learners all share a common interest in learning English to help their children, to communicate in society (teachers, doctors, shopping), and to improve employment opportunities.  Since the classes launched in October, participants have accomplished a strong understanding and pronunciation of the English alphabet, cardinal/ordinal numbers, pronouns, and personal information. But perhaps, most importantly, they are building self-confidence to speak and understand English.

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“Myths & Facts” Presentation at Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County

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In November, UnidosNow’s Executive Director Luz Corcuera spoke to the Healthy Teens Coalition membership about the myths and facts associated with applying to college for low income, first generation high school students.

Some of the myths, which UnidosNow programming directly addresses, include the notion that college is too expensive to consider; it’s unattainable; the student doesn’t have “what it takes;” and/or studying out of state is too costly.

The truth is that these students underestimate their own potential, so that, without the appropriate support to help them realize that potential, they often drop out of college. However, statistics show that a significantly higher percentage of these students graduate when they attend smaller, more selective colleges than most large public universities in Florida.

Merit-based scholarships are often more substantial at such institutions. In order to access these opportunities, students need to take the first step, which is completing the FAFSA. This will determine if Pell Grant money is available to them and will allow them to apply for private scholarships, which require FAFSA completion.

“Inspiring Latinos to Achieve the American Dream” Presentation at AAUW

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The American Association of University Women invited UnidosNow to speak about our work last month. Executive Director Luz Corcuera and FLA Scholar Gabrielle, jointly, presented at this special meeting.

Luz discussed UnidosNow’s mission to empower and inspire young Latinos and their families. Gabrielle spoke about the impact of the programs in which she has participated, in particular, the Future Leaders Academy, and how it motivated her to revamp her resume and essay and apply to selective colleges.

Gabrielle, whose dream is to become a pediatric surgeon, will graduate from high school with an associate’s degree in 2017 and has been accepted to UCF and USF. Exploring all options, she is applying to other schools, as well.

FLA Scholars Visit Goshen College

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Three of our Future Leaders Academy scholars were recently invited to visit Goshen College in Indiana.

Thanks to the sponsorship of the college and the support of Gilberto Perez, Jr. and Rachel Smucker, our talented students Laura Orjuela, Fany Benitez, and Joana Gonzalez, along with our Director of Education, Hector Tejeda, visited the school in November.

The students truly enjoyed the opportunity and the many different activities and classes they attended. They were also amazed by the hospitality of the people on campus.

“Goshen College gave me the best insight on the benefits of attending a small college,” Laura Orjuela noted.

And Joana Gonzalez stated, “It was a great experience to see how small a college could be and how culture and everyday life in another part of America is different from life in Sarasota.”

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UnidosNow Continues Celebrating Giving Challenge Successes!

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UnidosNow is proud to be one of nine selected winners of the Manatee Millennial Challenge, which was one of the competitions of the 2016 Giving Challenge in September. We are honored and grateful to have been chosen from a pool of 25 great local nonprofits that participated in this new contest. Thanks to the support of the Manatee Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and to the dedicated efforts of our Millennial Volunteer Committee – spearheaded by Juan Arcila – UnidosNow will receive a $5,000 grant.

In addition, we’re thrilled and grateful to have been selected – from among hundreds of applications – as the awardee for Best Social Media Campaign in the category for “Medium Sized Organization.”  Thanks to the generous support of the foundations involved in the Giving Challenge, UnidosNow will receive a $1,500 award for this special recognition.

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Juan Arcila, Volunteer of the Month

juan_arcilaJuan, originally from Colombia, graduated from East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs and went on to complete his BS in public health from the University of South Florida, where he is now an admissions counselor at the Sarasota-Manatee campus. Fortunately for UnidosNow, he found us on campus this year while we were holding our Future Leaders Academy (FLA), which our partner, USF Sarasota-Manatee, graciously hosts every summer.

After connecting with the FLA scholars, he gave them individual appointments and let them know what USF has to offer them.  He was so impressed with our program, and saw the value of empowering low income, first generation college students, that he signed up as a volunteer to mentor our scholars. This fall, when UnidosNow decided to participate in the Millennial Challenge, as part of the 2016 Giving Challenge, Juan stepped up to spearhead the efforts of our Millennial Volunteer Committee.

Working as an enthusiastic team player, he coordinated strategies with his fellow committee members and Unidos staff, for encouraging young professionals and philanthropists to get involved with UnidosNow through giving, as well as volunteering/mentoring. Juan launched a Facebook campaign featuring and targeting Millennials to promote the Giving Challenge and spread awareness of UnidosNow and its mission. He connected with youth groups and young professional groups and networked with other Millennial leaders to talk about their passions for community service and brainstorm ideas for future collaborations. Through these experiences, Juan also shared success stories from UnidosNow, and how these young community leaders can partner with Unidos to expand our impact.

But Juan, didn’t stop there! He also reached out to Latino professors and student clubs at universities. As a result, the Millennial Volunteer Committee was able to recruit college students as volunteers to help out with programs and build relationships where they can become mentors for our students.

In addition, Juan and the committee were instrumental in garnering Millennial participation in the community event – an Hispanic Heritage Month celebration – we held during the Giving Challenge.

Thanks to Juan’s leadership, and the active role of the committee, in carrying out a hugely successful Millennial Challenge, UnidosNow will receive a $5,000 grant from the Manatee Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Future Leaders Academy (FLA): Ongoing Parent Engagement

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UnidosNow recently convened a group of parents of our summer FLA scholars who are, now, in their senior year. The goal of the meeting was to provide follow-up and to support their efforts to help their children complete college applications. We were thrilled to learn how engaged the parents are in the process! We are here to offer them additional tools, encouragement, and support, as they work with their children to meet deadlines and benchmarks that will ensure college entrance.

New UnidosNow High School Clubs

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High School Club at the Sarasota Military Academy.

After last year’s successful pilot program offering of on-site college prep information and one- on- one support to low income, first generation students at Palmetto High School and Sarasota High School, UnidosNow is thrilled that other high schools have invited our program in as official clubs this year!

The new UnidosNow Clubs target freshmen and sophomores and meet weekly or biweekly, depending on the school, to engage students interested in pursuing a post-secondary education with tools and information to help them get on their desired pathway. Clubs have been launched at the following schools and meeting details are available here:

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High School Club at Manatee High School.

FAFSA Preparation Activities Underway

In 2015, more than $2.7 billion in financial aid for college went unclaimed.  Data show that 85% of students who complete the FASFA receive student aid. This is why UnidosNow and community partners in Sarasota and Manatee counties have been busy with launching this year’s FAFSA support for high school students and their families.

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UnidosNow Team at Holy Cross.

The UnidosNow education program team held outreach and information events at Holy Cross and Sacred Heart churches in Manatee County to promote the upcoming workshops in November, and into the New Year, where free, one-on-one assistance will be provided to families to complete the FAFSA form.

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Juan Arcila at a FAFSA workshop at Palmetto High School.

Last month, our collaborators from USF Sarasota-Manatee, Katie Fleck and Juan Arcila, gave a financial aid presentation, including FAFSA tips, at Palmetto High, where we will hold a FAFSA workshop on November 8th from 4:30 to 7:00 pm.

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Sarasota High School FAFSA Workshop.

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FAFSA Volunteer Training Workshop at United Way Suncoast.

The team also held a workshop at Sarasota High last month, where more than 100 attendees were able to complete their FAFSA forms. Our Sarasota partners, including the United Way Suncoast and The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, as well as financial aid officers from USF Sarasota-Manatee, State College of Florida, and the Ringling College of Art and Design were on site, assisting families with the process. Additional FAFSA sessions at other schools in Sarasota County will be offered this month.

Students and parents attending the FAFSA workshops will need to take the following information with them to be able to complete the form:

  • Social Security Number
  • Driver’s License number (if applicable)
  • Parent & Student 2015 Federal Income Tax Return
  • Alien Registration or Permanent Resident Card (if applicable)
  • 2015 untaxed income records

We wouldn’t be able to offer this valuable service for students who want to pursue post-secondary education without the dedicated volunteers who assist families through the FAFSA process. We held two trainings in October to prepare this special group of committed individuals for their task and we are very grateful for their critical contribution to this effort. Our thanks also go to USF Sarasota-Manatee and United Way Suncoast for hosting the trainings.

For more information and resources on FAFSA, click here.

All these workshops and training would not be possible without the remarkable collaborative work with our partners:

Thank you!

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