Building a Foundation in Immokalee

On the job with Noemi Perez, executive director of The Immokalee Foundation.

Noemi Perez was raised in the tight-knit community of Immokalee and eventually
 returned to give back to the town that gave her so much. Now, as the executive director of The Immokalee Foundation, Perez is changing the lives of children with the foundation’s education and career programs as they continue to “build pathways of success” for students far beyond graduation day.

How has your upbringing in Immokalee contributed to your successful career?

The first thing that comes to mind is challenges. The challenges that we face give us the opportunity to grow. As a child, the different dynamics that I faced helped me grow in different areas and different seasons of my life. From very early on, I can remember having grit. I have always had determination and motivation to push myself as far as I can go. My father was always one to constantly tell us that education is the key and that knowledge is power. Having this message instilled in me and growing up in a different dynamic than other people did really teach me how to manage my stress and my attitude when things come [up] that aren’t so pleasant.

I became a teen mom at the age of 15 and got married. That helped me to push further because I had much more responsibility than just myself. But, I never lost the ultimate goal. I knew it was just a detour in my life.

What life skills do you strive to teach the students of The Immokalee Foundation?

For me, No. 1 is communication because it is key in everything I do. If you lack communication in an area, there are consequences and repercussions. Things as little as making sure you get to work on time [help build] your character. Always have the integrity to follow through with what you say you will do. Losing your voice at any moment, in a sense, is losing yourself. So always be confident with taking risks … by using communication and having people around that you can trust and talk things through with.

What are some new services and programs you would like to implement as the executive director?

We would like to provide more career exploration starting at sixth grade. My hope is to see these students continue to work on their careers and start to work on certifications in their career fields in ninth and 10th grade so by their graduation day, not only will they have a diploma, but they’ll also have one or two more certifications in their career field. It is giving them the freedom to say, “This is what I want to do and what I want to be.”

My vision is that 100 percent of every graduating class will have satisfying professional careers after graduating [from] post-secondary [institutions] and that they will come back and give back to organizations. I tell them. Just as your mentor has given you your time, you are going to come back and make it full circle.​