Naples couple offers 26 students a back-to-school shopping trip

guadalupe center students at target

Twins Nancy and Rubi Garcia understand the cost of college far exceeds what their parents can afford to pay. That’s why four years ago, as ninth-graders at Immokalee High School, the sisters dedicated themselves to academics and extracurricular activities. They knew scholarships and grants would be the deciding factors in whether they could pursue higher education, and ultimately, their dreams.

Their hard work paid off. Both were admitted into Florida Gulf Coast University and are starting their collegiate careers.

Even with tuition, books, housing and food taken care of, though, there were still some expenses Nancy and Rubi needed to cover. First-year students typically need to purchase items that create a home away from home – linens, laundry baskets, lamps, trash cans, hangars, school supplies and other essentials not covered by scholarships.

Back-to-school shopping is expensive, especially for college students. The National Retail Federation estimates the average household will spend more than $1,200 per student buying school supplies, apparel, shoes, apartment furnishings, electronics and other items. That’s more than double the amount families spent in 2008.

Ten years ago, a pair of Guadalupe Center’s generous supporters, Brynne and Bob Coletti of Naples, recognized this common funding shortfall. With a desire to “level the playing field,” the Colettis funded their first summer shopping trip for graduates of Guadalupe Center’s college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program. Over the years, the Colettis have helped provide dorm essentials for more than 250 students, including 26 this summer.

“A lot of our students come from first-generation families, so their parents aren’t exactly sure what their students need to be successful in college,” said Abby Villagomez, college coordinator for Tutor Corps, which offers college and career readiness programs, ACT and SAT test prep, mentorships, financial literacy and scholarship assistance, as well as wages for tutoring younger students.

Nancy, Rubi and their peers traveled from Immokalee to Target in North Naples, where students stocked their shopping carts with assistance from Villagomez and other Tutor Corps staff. Nancy focused on bedding, knowing she wanted new sheets, pillows and blankets. The sisters are rooming together at FGCU, so they divided and conquered communal items like a shower curtain, air freshener and laundry basket. At the checkout, the costs were covered by a gift the Colettis made.

“It just made things easier, and I really appreciate the money that they donated,” Rubi said.

Guadalupe Center also allows Tutor Corps students to choose 10 clothing items at no charge from Guadalupe Resale Shop, an upscale boutique in North Naples. Many students use this opportunity to upgrade their wardrobes with business attire and winter clothing for colder climates, which is especially valuable for students who will be attending college in Upstate New York, Chicago, Michigan and other northern locales.

Technology, too

In addition to dorm essentials and clothing, another need emerged for students heading off to college – technology. Through Collier Connect, every public school student in Collier County is given a laptop to use at home. After four years of high school, though, members of the Class of 2023 had to return their laptops before graduation.

The Colettis again stepped up, providing funds to purchase laptops, an act of generosity they’ve done in past years as well. They also designate a special gift to be given to students after they arrive at school – something extra to host a “share a meal” party in their dorm. Brynne calls it a great way to make new friends.

“Before we announced our shopping trip, the students were a little worried about how they were going to be able to pay for a laptop or tablet, or anything as far as furnishing their bedrooms,” Villagomez said. “For them, I think it’s definitely a huge weight lifted off their shoulders. Now, they’re more prepared and looking forward to starting their first year of college.”

– By Dawn Montecalvo, President and CEO of Guadalupe Center