Federal officials announced last week that a new promise zone will be joining the map, the Southwest Florida Promise Zone. To support the effort close to home, The Immokalee Foundation has partnered with the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.
Promise Zones are high poverty communities. The federal government steps into these communities and works with local leaders to address the issues by increasing economic activity, educational opportunities and public health services while attempting to reduce crime. The needs are defined by the community. There are nine such zones in the United States.
Much closer to home, the SWFL Promise Zone includes Glades and Hendry counties, and the Immokalee community of Collier. This zone has a population of 76, 348 people with a poverty rate of 31.20 percent. The national poverty rate is just over 14 percent in the U.S. Additionally, unemployment in this area is significantly above the nation’s average of 4.9 percent at a massive 15.65 percent.
The Immokalee Foundation, a known community aid organization that provides soup kitchens, after-school care and other educational programs, has partnered with this zone to aid in its improvement. Most notably, their plan includes efforts to improve the quality of life, particularly for youth by providing training to fuel job growth, improving education opportunities, providing additional resources for small businesses and developing markets for locally grown food.
They plan to accomplish this in several ways: Immokalee Readers, career development and post-secondary and career success. All of these plans will begin in Immokalee for the first year and are planned to expand to Hendry and Glades in the years to follow.
Immokalee Readers will target young children as it is an after-school literacy tutoring program. It will hone in on the lowest-performing students from kindergarten to second grade and coincide with the reading material within their classrooms.
Career development will provide workshops, career information, panels and preparation resources for students. The goal is to help make informed decisions about careers and post-secondary education. Post-secondary and career success ties into this by creating readiness initiatives for high school graduates. Before graduation, the hope is to send them off with the skills and confidence they need to succeed in college or in their careers.
“The entire Immokalee Foundation family is excited and honored to be part of the Southwest Florida Promise Zone and the incredible opportunity it presents for Immokalee and our neighbors in Hendry and Glades counties,” Joyce Hagen, chair of the board of directors, said. “The team that collaborated on the application is strategically aligned to accomplish the results put forth in the proposal, and we look forward to working together.”
Shortly, the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council and its Promise Zone partners will receive their VISTA volunteers, going into planning and implementation in the coming weeks. Since the birth of the promise zones in 2014, the federal government has provided $550 million in funding to these areas.
“We’ve witnessed firsthand the incredible results of The Immokalee Foundation’s efforts over the past 25 years,” Steven Kissinger, executive director, said. “Having the opportunity to work with even more students would create an amazing ripple effect that will empower future generations through education and career training.”
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