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Sarasota Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 2 years ago

Community Foundation highlights UnidosNow program

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The organizations offered donors and staff a look at its dual generational approach to student success.
by: Anna Brugmann Community Editor

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but for the Community Foundation and UnidosNow, Wednesday’s reception celebrating the success of the UnidosNow Families Together program boiled down to one — dreamers.

Staff and donors gathered at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County to hear first-hand accounts of Families Together program participants

Community Foundation of Sarasota County President and CEO Roxie Jerde applauds after listening to UnidosNow Executive Director Luz Corcuera speak at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County on Dec. 6.

Families Together, funded by the foundation, offers English and life-skill classes for Spanish-speaking, first-generation families at Gocio and Tuttle elementary schools.

“In order for the kids to succeed, the parents need to be involved as well,” manager of education initiatives at UnidosNow Wendy Barroso said.

UnidosNow Manager of Education Initiatives Wendy Barroso visits with Families Together program participants before the event.

For educators, that involvement starts with the language. When the program was introduced at Gocio Elementary School in January 2016, family involvement was limited. Parent advisory meetings sometimes attracted one parent. Now, a year later, Principal Steven Royce said he is seeing an incremental shift. As many as 15 parents now attend meetings.

“Parents were now willing to take part and ask questions,” he said. “Because they are more comfortable and now better understand the programs in place (for the students.)”

But Wednesday’s event wasn’t about numbers. It was about stories.

Photographer Karen Arango spent a year documenting the program and its participants.

Karen Arango looks at the photo book she created in partnership with UnidosNow. The book is a result of a year of documenting the organization's Families Together program.

“I captured them in their everyday life and more of an intimate viewpoint of the whole project,” Arango said.

She attended their classes and spent time at their homes, making a photobook and documentary based on her interviews. In documenting their lives, she said, she documented their resilience.

“They are ordinary families with extraordinary dreams." 

- Luz Corcuera

“I just admire these women for trying so hard to succeed in order to give an example to their children,” she said. “For me that’s huge. It made me admire these women a lot and have more respect for the people who strive to be better in order to give their kids a better life or opportunity.”

For Arango, the work was more than art. In many ways, their story was hers as well. She moved to Orlando from Colombia when she was 9. Her mother, who never learned to speak English, took multiple jobs to support her.

UnidosNow Families Together program participants attended the event showcasing the work of photographer Karen Arango.

“I felt like one of those kids I was photographing,” she said. “It just took me back to my childhood. It took me back to when I came and immigrated here and was still struggling a lot.”

Yet Arango said her photographs highlight more than just her shared story.

Community Foundation of Sarasota County President and CEO Roxie Jerde, UnidosNow Executive Director Luz Corcuera and photographer Karen Arango

“No matter where we are from, we are all the same,”  she said. “We are all trying to succeed or give our kids a good life. We are all trying to just be better, improve and evolve as humans.”

Her photos are quotidian. They show the women in their classes, with their children, sharing meals and couches — the everyday routine of Sarasota’s cadre of dreamers.

Community Foundation of Sarasota County and UnidosNow staff gathered with Families Together program participants to celebrate the success of the dual generational program.

For many, their tenacity is easy to overlook. However, for the Community Foundation and UnidosNow staff such as Executive Director Luz Corcuera, it’s what keeps her motivated.

“They are ordinary families with extraordinary dreams,” she said.

 

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