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The Immokalee Foundation heavy equipment program sets students up for success

Matching $500,000 gift challenge celebrates program’s 10th anniversary
Posted at 7:24 AM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 18:41:21-05

IMMOKALEE, Fla. – The Immokalee Foundation is dedicated to building pathways to professional careers for students in the area. Right now, Southwest Floridians can play a big role in that mission. Specifically, when it comes to helping more kids earn heavy equipment service technician credentials.

According to the foundation, more than half of the children in Immokalee live at or below poverty level. 38% of people over 25 who live there have graduated from high school and only 6% have graduated from college.

The Immokalee Foundation is working to change that. The foundation's Heavy Equipment Service Technician (HEST) program is one way it works to do that.

Supporters of foundation have an unprecedented opportunity to make an impact and double their donation to the program with a $500,000 matching gift challenge.

HEST graduates learn how to service heavy-duty, high-performance vehicles specially designed for executing earthwork operations or other large construction tasks, from forwarders, backhoes, and boom lifts, to skidders, pavers and pipelayers.

Don Fites, the retired chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc. who played an instrumental role in guiding the HEST program’s creation a decade ago, explained why it's so important to Southwest Florida.

"We take a lot of these things for granted but its heavy equipment that raises water, power, food. Farming now is mostly done with heavy equipment. All the things that we take for granted require heavy equipment to deliver them and produce them and make it possible for the sort of lifestyle that we have. Florida, Southwest Florida particularly now, is also in a significant building boom. People want to live here and all the housing that you see would be impossible without heavy equipment," said Fites.

Since the HEST program’s inception, more than 100 of its graduates have been hired by more than two dozen companies.

The Immokalee Foundation covers the cost of tuition, training tools and equipment, and provides a foundation advocate to guide students successfully through the HEST program. The two-year, highly specialized curriculum administered at iTECH is designed to develop a foundation of technical skills to prepare students to maintain, diagnose and repair heavy equipment systems.

HEST donations can be made online here.