With the average ratio of 500 students to one academic advisor in our public high schools, students’ resources are limited when it comes time for assistance with college and scholarship applications. The impact is especially harder on students from low-income homes and those who are the first in their family to pursue higher education. Fortunately, organizations like UnidosNow are providing expanded opportunities for students to navigate the pathway to college enrollment.
This month the nonprofit celebrated a track record of success through its Future Leaders Academy, a comprehensive college prep and career readiness program for Latino teens living in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Over the last three years, 100 percent of program participants have been accepted into their college of choice, many of which were Ivy League schools across the nation.
Last year alone, graduating FLA scholars earned a combined $2.3 million in scholarships to pursue their academic dreams. The effectiveness of the program has attracted local area donors and funders to expand the organization’s capacity, most recently securing a $150,000 grant from Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation.
“As the demographics of the region become increasingly diverse, particularly in the student population, programs of this nature are so critical,” said Luz Corcuera, Executive Director of UnidosNow. “These young people are, indeed, our future leaders and they must be prepared for that role. They’re our future workforce.”
Having already served more than 800 students since 2017, the Future Leaders Academy will use Barancik Foundation funding to reach more students, expand the program into South County, and enhance their efforts in addressing common barriers their students often face, such as transportation and technology issues.
One current participant has already felt the benefits of the program first-hand. Vanessa Tasé Sueiro and her family did not speak a word of English when they originally moved from Cuba to Sarasota in 2012. However, her and her siblings worked hard to perform well in school and get the most out of their new home.
Now a senior enrolled in Riverview High School’s IB program, Tasé Sueiro had heard about the effectiveness of FLA and decided to apply for the after-school program. At the organization’s fundraising event, she shared how the program’s support and mentorship opportunities have helped show her the value of education.
“College is the answer to realizing my dream,” says Tasé Sueiro. “I plan to major in journalism, pursue a master’s in business administration, and create a magazine that will drive social change and help people in need.”
Tase Sueiro’s story echoes many others in the FLA family. Former graduate Alec Lemus’ experience follows a similar path. Growing up Lemus helped his parents to provide for the family by working on the weekends for his father’s lawn care business, cleaning houses with his mother for minimum wage, or other odd jobs.
“Every morning I stained my hands with ink helping deliver newspapers,” says Lemus. “Even after doing all these things, it hasn’t truly satisfied the desire I have in helping my parents. Through UnidosNow I found a better solution and that solution is education.”
Lemus is now a Sophomore at State College of Florida studying sciences, following a dream to get into the healthcare field.
The FLA offers different options for participants. One for students pursuing a four-year college degree, one for those pursuing a two-year degree or technical certification, and a track for those interested in career readiness vocational training. UnidosNow continues to evolve their programs to effectively address the diverse and changing needs of students today.
“The dreams that fill my heart today are not just for me, but for my culture, my family, my community,” says Tasé Sueiro. “I thank all the supporters who have gifted me with the pen and paper I need to write my very own future, my very own story.”