Two years ago, Yuzellie Garcia decided to return to school to become the person she needed when she was a child.
I graduated in 2012 and spent a few years not knowing what I wanted to do,” said Ms. Garcia.
But when it finally came time to decide what to do, Ms. Garcia sought purpose and meaning from her childhood experiences. Her upbringing wasn’t easy. She grew up in a single parent household with three siblings. Her mom worked three jobs and struggled to make ends meet. She also experienced sexual and emotional abuse.
I’m studying what I’m studying because of the sexual and emotional abuse I endured. Things like being locked in a dark closet all day and growing up with shame, self-blame and guilt. Thinking it was my fault, and not having anyone there to show me that what was going on wasn’t OK, and it wasn’t my fault,” Ms. Garcia said.
She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice; she will be attending Florida State University this summer to study criminology and criminal justice and hopes to use her education to work in the human trafficking field. Her journey has led her to find a very clear purpose — to help children who are struggling with abuse. Children in low-income homes, who may be at risk. Children who may need a mentor like herself.
Ms. Garcia is on the path to fulfilling her goal thanks to the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation Earn to Learn FL Program. Earn to Learn FL helps low-to-moderate income students earn a higher education with little or no student debt. It’s a simple formula that combines mandatory student savings with financial aid, required financial literacy training and success coaching. Through the program, Ms. Garcia has been able to secure $9,000 to fund her education. She has saved $1,000 of her funds and received an $8,000 match supported by the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation and local partners like the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.
“The Earn to Learn experience has been amazing; it’s so easy. The application was very fast. The lengthiest thing was the financial literacy course, but that was helpful. It wasn’t something that you would dread to do. The Women’s Foundation worked with me and my circumstances,” said Ms. Garcia.
For students like Ms. Garcia, education is much more than a simple degree. It’s a way to serve and fulfill their purpose. To pay it forward so that future generations have the opportunity to thrive.
March 26, 2018 – (Bonita Springs, Florida)- The Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation has received a $50,000 grant from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation which was leveraged into $200,000 through matches to support the Earn to Learn Florida Program, an initiative of the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation. Earn to Learn Florida helps low to moderate income students pursue higher education with little or no student debt. It’s a simple formula that combines student savings with financial aid, required financial literacy training and success coaching.
“Our research shows that fewer than 1 in 5 women over age 25 in Southwest Florida have earned a Bachelor’s Degree,” says Brenda Tate, Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation CEO. “That’s why we took action to develop and implement Earn to Learn Florida.”
Last year the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation helped over 42 low-to-moderate income students, like Yuzellie Garcia, save for their education by matching their savings of $500 at an 8:1 ratio. This created a grant of $4,000 for each student to leverage their $500 investment in themselves. The funds are dispersed directly to their college or university to pay for tuition, books, fees and other related expenses. This helps students graduate with little to no student loan debt. Armed with the knowledge gained from the required Financial Literacy Training Program, students graduate ready for success and empowered to improve their economic mobility.
The use of Earn to Learn Florida accounts, in conjunction with success coaching, has been proven as a way to help individuals and families develop productive financial behaviors that increase the likelihood of finishing college with a degree and less debt, as well as be better prepared for post-college careers.
“Earn to Learn FL has empowered and motivated me to become a successful woman in my community and has motivated me to empower other women who do not think it is possible for them to succeed,” says Earn to Learn FL student Yuzellie Garcia.
“When the Southwest Florida Community Foundation learned that our community impact funding could be matched essentially 3 times through this innovative program helping local women through education, we knew that we had to be part,” said Sarah Owen, president & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. “We believe that by funding together, our region and programs like this will be stronger and more effective.”
Improving the status of women in Florida requires enhanced educational opportunities, investments in women’s entrepreneurship and steps to narrow the gender wage gap to elevate Southwest Florida women and girls; Visit www.FundWomenFL.org to learn more. Social connect at www.facebook.com/womensfundfl. To inquire email Contact@FundWomenFL.org.
About the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation
The Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation, serving Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry, and Glades counties, is the only non-profit in Southwest Florida focused exclusively on women and girls and was the first to publish academic research assessing the status of women in the area. The Women’s Foundation elevates women and girls by investing in programs that educate, boost security and entrepreneurship, and advocate from a woman’s perspective. For more information, visit http://www.fundwomenfl.org/or email mailto:contact@FundWomenFL.org. Follow the Women’s Foundation online at http://facebook.com/WomensFundFLand on http://twitter.com/WomensFundFL.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com
For more information about the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com.