Jorge Hernandez, 18, a Bayshore High School senior with a dual enrollment at State College of Florida, wants to be a veterinarian.
Gabrille Barroso, 18, a senior at Sarasota Military Academy, wants to be a pediatric surgeon.
Jorge Serrano, 18, a senior at Palmetto High, wants to be a physician.
All three said they would not be going to college and pursuing their dreams in medicine next year if it wasn’t for a program called Future Leaders Academy offered by the Sarasota-based non-profit UnidosNow.
UnidosNow is one of 559 nonprofits from Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto counties taking part in the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s 2016 Giving Challenge.
This year’s annual 24-hour challenge, where people can donate online from their phones, laptops and tablets, begins at noon Tuesday and continues until noon Wednesday.
Anyone who wishes to give during the challenge can make a secure donation (minimum gift is $25) by debit or credit card at givingpartnerchallenge.org.
Donations to UnidosNow will benefit Future Leaders Academy and other UnidosNow programs, said Luz Corcuera, executive director of UnidosNow.
“If people donate to us it will help us continue our academy program which has seen more than 400 kids go through in the last four years,” Corcuera said.
In addition to participating in the Giving Challenge, this year UnidosNow is partnering with Mi Pueblo El Restaurante Mexicano & Cantina, 4436 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota, for the Hispanic Heritage month that started Sept. 15 and runs until Nov. 15 and for Giving Challenge, Corcuera said.
“Mi Pueblo has agreed to donate 10 percent of the proceeds when people show a coupon from UnidosNow,” Corcuera said. “If anyone wants to join us we will be there before 6 p.m. Tuesday so that we can all sit together.”
“Have you heard the expression that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life?” asked Corcuera. “That is exactly my situation. I love so much what I do and working with these remarkable people that I don't feel like it is work. I believe in them.”
The three seniors said they attended the Future Leaders program every weekday during the last few summers. They were taught by three special adult mentors, all employees of UnidosNow.
“It’s necessary to be successful especially if you are a Latino because we don’t know what we are up against,” Serrano said. “I am the first one to graduate high school in my family tree and the first one to go to college. It was just necessary.”
Barroso remembers a moment during Future Leaders when one of the adult mentors, Hector Tejeda, talked to her about her essay that she was about to send to colleges of her choice.
“Hector explained to me, ‘These people are paid to read so many essays in a short period of time so you want to stand out, you want to be creative with it,’ “ Barroso said.
She had no idea this was the approach she should take, she said.
She threw away her first draft and, in her second, began describing who she was and how she felt wearing her Sarasota Military Academy uniform.
“Even though I am Latina I have such American pride,” Barroso said. “I let my essay walk me through my life, so they could see how diversity has made me who I am.”
The three adult mentors in the Future Leaders Academy are Hector Tejeda, Lisbeth Oscuvilca and Wendy Barroso.
“They prepared us for college every way possible,” Barroso said. “They helped us fill out the college applications and helped us find different sources of financial aid. They helped match us to a college based on what we were looking for in college and what they saw in our grade point averages and college scores. We had a three and a half hour ACT prep toward the end of the day.”
Said Hernandez: “It was a great experience. They gave us information no one else would both to tell you, like how to prepare for colleges, how to write a resume and what colleges are looking for in a student.”
The mentors also took college tours with the students and their families, all paid for by UnidosNow.
“These three individuals have a passion for higher education and believe in the students we serve,” Corcuera said of the mentors. “The research shows that it only takes one adult in the life of a young person to make a difference. These three make a difference in many of our student's lives.”