UnidosNow celebrates students' academic successes at Future Leaders Academies graduation

Categories: Stories of Impact, BELONGING AND CULTURE: Uniting Community, EMPOWERMENT AND SUCCESS: Career Development & Advancement,

More than 50 students in UnidosNow’s Future Leaders Academies program were acknowledged for their academic successes during a ceremony on May 25 at Harvest House’s Life Enrichment Campus in Sarasota.

From the group, UnidosNow executive director Cintia Elenstar said 15 high school seniors achieved 100% college acceptance and collectively earned approximately $4.5 million in college scholarships and grants. The schools the graduates will attend include MIT, Wake Forest, Florida, New College, USF, Ringling College of Art & Design, and State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota.

The UnidosNow event brought together community partners and mentors to recognize students of all ages who participate in the Future Leaders Academies program. Several students and parents provided personal testimonials.

“UnidosNow assisted me in achieving its slogan: ‘To dream big!’" said Ariem P., a graduating senior from Sarasota High School. "I have been empowered by the UnidosNow team to seek a degree in computer science studies, and I will be participating in the University of Florida’s Gator Engineering Program.”

Norma C., the parent of an elementary student, told the audience that it has not been easy for “immigrants like us to start over in another country. There are many cultural and linguistic barriers. But thanks to UnidosNow, my family and I have been discovering the opportunities available to us for integrating into this community.”

The event also celebrated alumni who have graduated from college as well as past Future Leaders Academy graduates who are enrolled in college and work as college coaches for the current cohort of high schoolers.

“When someone asks me how UnidosNow has impacted me, I always say that without them, I would be flying aimlessly into space, lost in the darkness between the stars," said Isabella M., a UF student enrolled in MIT’s summer astrophysics program. "They have provided me with the fuel to lift off and coordinates to lead me to another galaxy full of accomplished dreams.”

Elenstar challenged the graduates to “make epic happen.”

"Stay true to your values, that’s a matter of integrity and self-respect," Elenstar told the graduates. "Speak up: your voice matters. Stand up for yourself and for what is right. Be compassionate. Embrace yourself and the world with loving-kindness. Believe in the power of collaboration. We can achieve so much more when we work together.”

Founded in 2010, UnidosNow supporters include the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, Bank of America, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Patterson Foundation, Selby Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Bishop Parker Foundation, Cook Family Foundation, Evalyn Sadlier Foundation, Cornelia T. Bailey Foundation, Scheidel Foundation, and Louis & Gloria Flanzer Philanthropic Trust.

The Future Leaders Academy is a rigorous year-round program offered primarily to low-income, first-generation Latinx high school students and their families in Sarasota and Manatee counties. To learn more, visit unidosnow.org or email info@unidosnow.org.

See this story as it originally appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on June 5, 2023, here.