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The Immokalee Foundation gives young readers the literacy boost they need to succeed

The Immokalee Foundation gives young readers the literacy boost they need to succeed

by Steven Kissinger, executive director of The Immokalee Foundation


When older students help younger students improve their reading skills, the impact is great on many levels. The Immokalee Foundation’s Immokalee Readers program has proven this for years.

Teachers recommend students in kindergarten through third grade who read below grade level, as well as those who have difficulty completing required skills, including initial sounds, alphabet recognition and sight words.

Those students who are recommended for the program enroll with their parents’ permission and, three days a week, work directly with high school-aged tutors until the young students’ skills are brought up to grade level.

Testing is done every nine weeks to evaluate progress in the achievement gaps identified by teachers. If students still need help, they remain in the program; those who have made sufficient progress continue learning with their regular classroom teachers.

The difference is usually obvious even without testing – just ask the young students’ mothers.

Mary Ramirez was understandably concerned when her youngest son, Isaiah Torres, didn’t talk much until first grade. Consequently, his English language skills lagged behind those of his classmates at Lake Trafford Elementary School.

After a short time working The Immokalee Foundation’s high school tutors, Torres caught up to his appropriate reading level. “Now, Isaiah comes home and tells me about how he works in a group and they read together, and he loves to read now,” Ramirez said. His tutor also was a role model and friend, and Ramirez noticed a boost in her son’s confidence level as a result.

The experience is rewarding for the older students, as well. “Being involved in Immokalee Readers has helped me develop my resume and opened my eyes to new experiences,” said Karina Estrada, who began tutoring when she was accepted into The Immokalee Foundation’s Take Stock in Children scholarship program her senior year at Immokalee High School.

Ulna Beaubrum finds tutoring personally satisfying, as well. “As young as I am, it is heartwarming to know I am playing the role of a leader, role model and teacher to students who are below the academic requirements,” she said.

Tutoring at school is particularly important because many Immokalee Readers students come from homes in which English is not the first language spoken, and it can be difficult for their parents to help with homework, said Marisol Sanders, program specialist for the nonprofit. Many of The Immokalee Foundation’s student tutors struggled with language skills themselves when they were younger, so they bring a personal understanding of their reading buddies’ situations.

Contributions from generous donors – along with a recent Community Impact Grant from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation – keep vital programs like Immokalee Readers lighting the way to brighter futures for Immokalee’s youth.

The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to success through college and post-secondary preparation and support, mentoring and tutoring, opportunities for broadening experiences and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more about The Immokalee Foundation, volunteering as a mentor or for additional information, call 239-430-9122 or visit


This summer and fall, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is spotlighting the nonprofit organizations funded through the 2016 competitive grant cycle.  We have asked our 2016 grantees to send us their stories.  The Foundation is pleased to partner with these change-makers. 

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.



Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!