Steven Kissinger says that the primary emotion he feels these days is “elation” over the social change he is helping to bring about. That’s not exactly what you’d expect from a college graduate with an accounting degree. No offense to those who are using their degrees in more traditional ways, like private practice – that’s how Kissinger (’99, Accounting) began after graduating from FGCU in 1999 – but he believes he truly has found his place as executive director of The Immokalee Foundation (TIF), a non-profit organization committed to providing sustained educational opportunities for the children of Immokalee, a community in which 45 percent of the residents live below the poverty line
“You can tangibly see lives changing,” he says. “We are literally breaking the cycle of poverty through education. The population we serve in Immokalee’s average family of four is well under the federal poverty threshold. We have graduates and success stories. Their lives and their future generation’s footprints are completely altered by the academic supports and financial supports we put in for them.
“We are truly changing a generation in Immokalee. We’re able to champion our success story. These are first-generation students that were working in the agriculture industry. Now they have successful jobs and a career.” The numbers tell the story: 100 percent of TIF students who participate in its programs graduate from high school, and 97 percent of those students attend college or a vocational post-secondary educational program. The foundation offers tutoring to help elementary school students improve their reading. It offers mentoring to students in junior and senior high school and college scholarships to those who make the grades and avoid drugs and trouble.
Kissinger was working for the NCH Healthcare Foundation (then known as Naples Community Hospital) doing grant administration for a clinic under its umbrella when he was recruited as a financial officer for the Children’s Advocacy Center, a non-profit organization that investigates, intervenes and treats victims of child abuse. He spent 15 years there before moving to TIF. In the midst of all his good works, he took some time out to serve on the FGCU Alumni Association board in 2005-07 as a way to give back to the university. “I love the human service industry,” he says. “It’s got a very communicable feel, a humanness about it. There are a lot of great industries out there. And we have a product. We just have a different type of product. We’re not making widgets. We’re actually changing lives. I’m glad I’m on the path I’ve chosen.”