NAPLES, Fla. — Founded in 2000, The Gargiulo Education Center has opened its doors to children in Southwest Florida for 20 years.
“This is their second home. It’s just about love here. It really is.”
Mary Asta is the executive director and a board member for the organization.
She says nearly 70 children attend the after school program, describing it as a safe, education place for children to go while parents travel back home to Naples from farm working.
“Their parents are working in the fields and in the factory. They’re bussed out to Immokalee everyday. So the kids come here as opposed to going to an empty house.”
Asta says the center started in a small office, in an effort by Gargiulo Farms to help kids after school, and it has grown ever since.
The students enrolled range from Kindergarten to high school-aged kids.
Programs here encourage entrepreneurship, art & character development, financial
Asta tells us the goal here is “to show them that there is an entire world out there that they are deserving of and that they fit into.”
FOX 4 asked about the living conditions of farmworkers that she visits - careful to recognize that not all homes are the same.
“Sometimes…there’s 4 to 9 people in one trailer. One tiny little bathroom, one shower…no bathtub,” she says.
That’s why Asta and the team here say exposing the students to opportunities matters.
Maria DeLeon agrees.
The 13-year-old says travel is her favorite part of the program.
“They like to take us on like a lot of fun trips.”
One of those trips took DeLeon to Maryland marking her first airplane ride.
The center uses arts programming, including theater and music to encourage healthy discussion around life’s challenges and mental health.
Asta references a new beta program called “SMART: Building Emotional Intelligence”.
The acronym stands for Serenity, Meditation, Awareness, Respect and Trust. Asta says this base programs is intertwined into all of the programming, allowing students to learn about mental health while actively participating in programs.
To learn more about the center or to get involved, click here.