2017-05-18 / Top News

Investing in Immokalee students pays dividends

SPECIAL TO FLORIDA WEEKLY


Amy Hale of BMO Private Bank in Naples and Immokalee High School student Leessett Perez 
COURTESY PHOTO Amy Hale of BMO Private Bank in Naples and Immokalee High School student Leessett Perez COURTESY PHOTO Investments made in The Immokalee Foundation’s students and programs have ways of paying dividends throughout the Southwest Florida community.

Leessett Perez, an Immokalee High School student who was born in Lehigh Acres and grew up in Immokalee, spent her childhood going back and forth to North Carolina with her parents, who are migrant workers. Her potential was recognized early on when she became involved in TIF programs.

Through her mentor with the foundation, Leessett learned a little bit about finance and thought it might be a good career path — but she wasn’t particularly interested in accounting. “I knew I wanted to work with stocks and investments,” she said.

Through the adults she met because of TIF, she said, “I started making connections.”

One of the skills students learn in TIF programs is the value of networking. Doing so led Leessett to an opportunity to spend an afternoon shadowing executives at BMO Private Bank in Naples. That afternoon gave BMO Vice President and Market Manager Amy Hale a chance to see Leessett in action and to recognize her potential.

“I had her sit down with a number of our wealth management team members. She made a real impression on us,” Ms. Hale said, adding she was amazed by Leessett’s professionalism and tenacity.

As an early admission college student, Leessett is spending her entire senior year of high school taking courses at Florida SouthWestern State College.

“She’s going to graduate from high school with a year of college under her belt,” Ms. Hale said. “She doesn’t think of herself as any different than anyone else, but she is really special.”

Leessett shared with Ms. Hale how important TIF has been to her and other Immokalee students. “Before being involved with the foundation, you don’t really have an idea of what college you want to attend or what you want to study. They take you on tours and to workshops, like for jobs. So it opens up your eyes to a lot of possibilities.”

Ms. Hale decided that what Leessett had to say about her experiences with the foundation should have a bigger audience. A few weeks later, at Ms. Hale’s invitation, Leessett spoke to a gathering of 65 women at a Women & Wealth seminar Ms. Hale hosted at Quail Creek Country Club about TIF and how its programs were helping to steer her toward an exciting career.

Ms. Hale started the Women & Wealth program five years ago with a colleague in another state as a way to increase women’s financial literacy. It’s now a national program. The women gathered in Naples that day in mid-March learned about more than money management — they also learned how a student who begins with very few resources can seize opportunities and achieve goals if she is shown the way by caring adults.

Ms. Hale came away with an understanding of The Immokalee Foundation’s ripple effect.

“I look at it from a wealth management perspective,” she said. “The Immokalee Foundation is not only changing the lives of the students but also changing the legacy of their families.”

BMO Private Bank additionally supports giving back to the community by providing paid time off for its employees to volunteer. Associate Portfolio Manager Debbie Divita has been mentoring a TIF student one afternoon a week for the past year.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to make a difference,” Ms. Divita said. “Even more so, mentoring has provided such a positive outcome in the student’s education and confidence.” ¦

— The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of programs that focus on building pathways to success through college and post- secondary preparation and support, mentoring and tutoring, opportunities for broadening experiences and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more, including how to volunteer or become a mentor, call 430- 9122 or visit www.immokaleefoundation.org.

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