Eagle alumni lead the fight against hunger and homelessness

FGCU alumni working at the Community Cooperative include, from left, Hoyuky Pec, Blair Fretwell, Kate Major, Tami Holliday, Grisel Brewster and John Roberts.

The founders of Florida Gulf Coast University understood that community service is a deeply transformative experience that enriches life as well as learning. Period.

Service-learning, a core component of FGCU’s curriculum and values, is the means by which students learn the whys and hows of community service – a learning-by-doing model woven into the very fabric of the university since its inception. Students admitted to FGCU as freshmen or lower-level transfers must complete 80 hours of service learning as part of their graduation requirement, while students admitted as that higher level transfers must complete 40 hours. For some students, service is firmly embedded in their DNA; for others, it’s a whole new voyage of discovery.

Unsurprisingly, seven FGCU alumni for whom service is central to their lives now work at the Community Cooperative of Fort Myers, an organization committed to ending hunger and homelessness in Lee County. Eagle undergraduates often work alongside them in internships and service-learning opportunities.

Stefanie Ink Edwards (’08, marketing) Chief Executive Officer

Stefanie Ink Edwards was appointed Managing Director in June 2022 after seven years with the organization. “Community Cooperative is a non-profit organization founded nearly four decades ago by concerned citizens who realized there were people in our community who were hungry,” she said.

the photo shows a former student of the FGCU
Stefanie Ink Edwards says she enjoys working with other FGCU alumni: “They are complete, hardworking, talented people who are dedicated to the community.”

“Today, we specialize in a holistic approach, providing education and resources to those experiencing food insecurity or on the edge of homelessness,” Edwards said. “We’re not only looking to address the immediate need to make sure someone isn’t hungry, but also to figure out why and what resources they may need to help get someone on the road to success.”

But this is only one element. The organization also operates Meals on Wheels, Sam’s Community Café and Kitchen, the Social Services and Education Resource Center and the Community Market as well as a healthy school pantry program, a mobile school pantry on place and more. The programs are supported by philanthropy and grants from community partners, including United Way and Lee County.

The impact of the community cooperative is powerful. In Lee County, one in six residents needs food assistance. In 2021 alone, the co-op has helped over 42,226 Lee County residents, providing over 2 million pounds of food to neighbors in need. To accomplish this herculean task, the cooperative relies on the help of volunteers who have accumulated more than 32,000 hours.

Eagle alum Edwards acknowledges that she might be a little biased, but said unequivocally that she loves working with FGCU alumni, each of whom is making a real difference in people’s lives. “They are well-rounded, hardworking, talented and dedicated people to this community and I am proud to work alongside them to make a difference for people in the community who need a little helping hand,” he said. she declared.

Kate Major (’14, social work) Head of Social Work and Education

Kate Major is a creator of difference. His journey began as a child alongside his grandmother. “I thank my grandmother for teaching me the importance of community, and I thank the FGCU for its service-learning program, its energy, and the many volunteer opportunities.”

the photo shows a former student of the FGCU
“I’m grateful for the community I live in and passionate about the work I do,” said Eagle alumnus Kate Major.

While at FGCU, Major interned at the Community Cooperative, helping organize special events and engaging in community outreach. She loved the experience and stayed for a year after graduation. She then took a job as a social worker in private practice for a few years, worked for Lee Health for a bit, and finally, in October 2021, found her way back to community co-op.

“I needed time to grow and find my roots, time to realize how lucky I was to be at the Community Co-op,” Major said. “I am grateful for the community I live in and passionate about the work I do. I feel like I’m making a difference here. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Major mentors FGCU alumni John Roberts, (’18, social work), social worker for the homeless, and Hoyuky Pec (’20, social work), social worker in family and elderly care; and, with Pec, mentors Leticia Martinez, one of many FGCU trainees.

Leticia Martinez (’22, social work) FGCU Intern

While Leticia Martinez had done community service before joining the service-learning program at FGCU, she said the internship at the Community Cooperative broadened her knowledge base.

photo shows FGCU students
FGCU students Leticia Martinez, Sean Stahursky and Erica Parker are interning at the Community Cooperative this spring.

“Honestly, at first I was a bit intimidated to work with the homeless population. I had never done this before. But you learn as you go. Over time, I developed my own clients and learned a lot from them. It is an eye-opening experience. »

Martinez has nothing but good things to say about the FGCU’s service-learning requirement. “It’s a good thing to do, no matter your major. Everything I learned applies in some way to my future goal, which is to work with children in my community.

“I’ve always had a passion to do my best for my community. I grew up in Immokalee,” she said. “There is a lot of poverty there and I would like to work with children. My internship taught me a lot of things that will be useful to me in my career.

Blair Fretwell, (’05, Finance and Accounting) Financial director

Blair Fretwell had service in his blood. Before joining Community Cooperative in 2013, she worked for several years for a private CPA firm. However, when the CFO position opened up at Community Cooperative, she made the transition. “It’s always numbers, but the numbers I deal with on a day-to-day basis have a positive impact on someone’s life.”

the photo shows the soup kitchen
In 2021 alone, Community Cooperative has helped over 42,226 Lee County residents, providing over 2 million pounds of food to neighbors in need.

Prior to attending FGCU, Fretwell had a strong community service foundation, having volunteered with Jobs Daughters, a Masonic-affiliated youth organization for girls and young women focused on confidence building and job training. . She, too, welcomed the FGCU’s service-learning requirement and chose to continue her volunteer work with Jobs Daughters.

“I like the mission of the community cooperative,” she said. “It really opened my eyes to the needs of the community. I believe it’s so important to give back, so that people don’t feel left out. People need to know they are loved. We are all children of God.

Rounding out the cohort of FGCU alumni at Community Cooperative are Tami Holliday (’12, legal studies), community relations officer; and Grisel Brewster (’12, legal studies) Director of development.

“Meeting people where they are is instilled in us,” Major said. “It is important to have grace when working with individuals and agencies. Talking with students, clients and our partners, and encouraging others is the only way to feel fulfilled every day. is a very humbling experience.

Tags: community cooperative, fgcu, florida gulf coast university, homelessness, hunger, social work

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