“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 postsecondary 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 postsecondary 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!
More information: guadalupecenter.org
Guest Eva Gomez and William Boyajian, who designed the ring she purchased during the auction
Event Chairs Sandy Vasey, Mary McCabe and Linda Yost