Fifteen years ago, I was a teen with what seemed like an impossibly big dream, to become a certified public accountant with a master’s degree from Florida Gulf Coast University.
It seemed impossible only because I had a newborn daughter to support on a minimum-wage income.
My mom helped me with baby-sitting as much as possible, but when Marqasia was about 6 weeks old, she had to return to work.
We were fortunate to discover Brightest Horizons. Recently renamed Gladiolus Learning and Development Center, it’s a nonprofit organization that provides quality child care for working parents who couldn’t otherwise afford it, enabling them to work toward a better life.
Thanks to Gladiolus Learning and Development Center, I achieved my dream. Having earned my master’s degree, I now work as a CPA at Hughes, Snell & Co. PA. I’m pleased to say, my 15-year-old daughter Marqasia is a Pre-International Baccalaureate (IB) student in the STEM program at Dunbar High School. She has big dreams of her own.
The center is funded through a mix of private donations, federal funds and parent contributions. In my case, it would have taken 75 percent of my income to enroll my daughter in a regular child care setting, leaving little for us to survive on. Gladiolus Learning and Development Center helped me with scholarships and funding so that my child care costs were just $7 per week in the beginning. This allowed me to work full time, attend Florida Gulf Coast University part-time, and support myself and my daughter.
Once I became an accountant and no longer needed financial assistance, I chose to keep Marqasia at Gladiolus Learning and Development Center, paying full tuition. The staff is like a second family, and I knew when I dropped her off there I didn’t need to worry. I knew she was well taken care of, and she got a great start to her education.
Marqasia was already reading when she started kindergarten at Heights Elementary, and she is still an advanced reader. In fact, she loves reading and has an interest in the biomedical field as well.
When she was in elementary school, we continued to rely on the center’s after-care program. Marqasia fondly recalls doing her homework with friends and teachers at the center located on Gladiolus Drive, adjacent to Heights Elementary School in south Fort Myers. The staff walks the children from the school to the small after-care center. Buses drop off more children from other schools. Students come from all over Lee County, but the majority live in the nearby Harlem Heights community.
Gladiolus Learning and Development Center started as a support system for the migrant workers who first built Harlem Heights. The center still occupies the original 50-plus-year-old building, and an addition that was added in 1998. Thanks to private donations, the students have computers to work on and a new playground. The center provides them with freshly prepared meals.
Financial support from the community is critical to the center’s continued success, as are volunteers. Although Marqasia no longer needs child care, I want to give back, which is why I continue to volunteer as treasurer on the Gladiolus Learning and Development Center board of directors. Marqasia also volunteers in the office, gaining valuable skills and experience along the way.
Marqasia truly blossomed in their care. It’s heartwarming to see teachers who cared for her from infancy through her elementary school years jump up to hug her and ask her about high school. The center has little turnover, which means a lot to the families who call it home.
Catherine Palmisano, 33, of Fort Myers, is a CPA with Hughes, Snell & Co., PA and serves as treasurer of the Gladiolus Learning and Development Center board of directors.