From hope to opportunity: Early childhood education brings optimism to Immokalee

Early childhood education

A quarter-century ago, Immokalee was a much different place. 

Although the economy was agriculture-based then, like it is now, today’s children have so much more opportunity than was offered a generation ago. Hope is in Immokalee, and it comes in the form of education. 

Guadalupe Center recently broke ground on an additional education campus, the second such ceremonial event in as many years. The van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning will open in early 2022 and will accommodate up to 154 students in the Early Childhood Education Program, as well as 125 high school students in the college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program. In August, Guadalupe Center opened the Monaghan Family Early Childhood Education Campus, which can serve up to 64 students ages 6 weeks to 3 years old. 

Once the new campuses are complete, Guadalupe Center will serve more than 1,800 students annually. 

When a ribbon-cutting ceremony is held for the van Otterloo campus, Guadalupe Center will simultaneously be celebrating the 25th anniversary of its Early Childhood Education Program. Through research, Guadalupe Center staff uncovered minutes from a Board of Trustees retreat held more than two decades ago that described the “uphill climb” associated with creating the Early Childhood Education ProgramThen, the program offered hope. Today, the program is offering opportunities and a rising sense of optimism. 

Below is a look at notes from that board retreat: 

Staff qualifications 

  • Then: Recruiting was difficult because applicants had limited or no experience in child care, as well as limited education backgrounds. 
  • Now: Educational staff have two- and four-year college degrees, and every teaching position is filled with an experienced instructor. Some employees are former Tutor Corps students at Guadalupe Center. 

Student recruitment 

  • Then: Few families recognized the long-term benefits of early childhood education and were reluctant to register their children, so Guadalupe Center relied on local churches for referrals. 
  • Now: The popularity of Immokalee’s only NAEYC-accredited program has led to a waiting list that exceeds 500 students. 


  • Then: Guadalupe Center initially averaged 34 students daily when the program started in 1996. An expansion raised the capacity to 85 children in the Early Childhood Education Programs and up to 20 in the After-school Program. 
  • Now: With 371 students currently, the Early Childhood Education Program has grown tenfold. Once the van Otterloo campus opens, the program will be 14 times as large as it was in 1996. 

Financial stability 

  • Then: Funding was tight and federal subsidies were not easy to obtain on behalf of students. 
  • Now: Philanthropy accounts for almost 80% of the annual operating budget. “Guadalupe Center: 2020 & Beyond” nearly met its goal before the fundraising campaign was publicly announced. 

As a soup kitchen in the 1980s, Guadalupe Center fed the body. As an education provider today, Guadalupe Center nourishes the mind and is giving energy to Immokalee. Supporters like Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, along with hundreds of other generous individuals, couples and foundations, have helped create a culture of academic success in Immokalee. 

“The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation is proud to support the great work accomplished through the Guadalupe Center,” said Mary Beth Geier, the foundation’s Florida directorTheir expansion and continued commitment to early learning is greatly needed and will continue to make a profound impact on the families in Immokalee. We are grateful to have an opportunity to be a part of these life-changing moments in the community! 

The minutes from that board retreat in the late 1990s concluded that Guadalupe Center’s quest to provide new educational opportunities to families “who make their home in Immokalee has been filled with the challenges and frustration that come with ‘hills and valleys, sunshine and rain.’” 

Today, even during these unprecedented times, Guadalupe Center is experiencing blue skies and brilliant sunshine. The hope from 1996 is now fostering opportunity. Generous supporters and hardworking staff are making certain that students receive a high-quality education that will propel them to endless possibilities. 

– By Dawn Montecalvo, President of Guadalupe Center