News | September 21, 2021

College of Arts and SciencesEagle-SpottingEngagementNewsStudent SuccessStudent success

Senior inspired by internship aiding victims of human trafficking

Heroes sometimes wear capes, but they can also wear graduation gowns. In the case of Florida Gulf Coast University student Alexa Guiterrez, heroism means serving her Collier County community through her dream of creating a nonprofit assistance organization for trauma victims.

After being inspired by her internship work as a volunteer working with human-trafficking survivors through an organization she can’t name, Guiterrez is dedicated to starting a nonprofit for survivors of trauma. She plans to use many of the skills she has learned at FGCU to make that dream a reality after her graduation scheduled for next spring.

photo shows FGCU student
“The reason I chose this internship was to understand and work with severely traumatized people by giving them that safe space to be heard while also showing them unconditional love,” Alexa Guiterrez says. Photo submitted.

“For legal reasons, I can’t disclose the name of the organization that I worked with, but connecting with these girls and hearing all of their different stories was eye-opening,” Guitterrez said. “The reason I chose this internship was to understand and work with severely traumatized people by giving them that safe space to be heard while also showing them unconditional love.”

Born and raised in the Naples area, Guiterrez graduated from Golden Gate High School and is working on her bachelor’s in communication with a concentration in public relations and a minor in journalism. While taking PR courses toward her degree, Guiterrez felt like she was right where she belonged.

“The PR courses felt absolutely right, and not only did I end up acing those classes, but I ended up loving it at the same time,” Guiterrez said.

In one of those courses, Guiterrez ended up sitting next to Alex Argueta, who was president of the Florida Public Relations Association FGCU student chapter at the time. Eventually, Guiterrez started to go to the organization’s meetings, and over time, she became its communication director in fall 2020.

Today, Guiterrez is president of the chapter, which has six board members and offers opportunities for marketing and communications students to enhance their education by networking with local PR professionals.

Even after finishing her internship, Guiterrez has continued to volunteer with the trafficking group. She said helping trafficking victims has been inspirational — to the extent Guitterez decided to map out how she would create a similar nonprofit of her own. Whenever she shares her plans of creating a nonprofit with someone, she finds that people are always ready to help her out. That includes FGCU professors who serve as her mentors.

“Kara Winton, Michael Kennedy and Niki Mann were some of my professors who were huge support systems to me in terms of trying to figure out my PR plan for the nonprofit,” she said. “Heidi Taulman has also been a big mentor when it comes to expenses to run a nonprofit since she is the VP of Southwest Florida Children’s Charities and puts together the SWFL Wine and Food fest every year to raise money for the organization,” Guiterrez said.

photo shows FGCU student
Guiterrez with KoKo, a mixed pitbull rescue.

Winton, a communication instructor, learned of Guitterez’s plans during a final class exercise. “In our ‘Public Relations Writing’ class, students complete a final project where they envision their dream job, and then write public-relations tactics for that company or organization,” Winton said. “That’s where I learned about Alexa’s dream of opening a nonprofit. This opened a dialogue between us, and we continue to talk about her plans to this day.”

Guiterrez already has several media releases ready to publicize her nonprofit as well as a developed marketing plan. Her next step is recruiting a board of directors for the organization. Guiterrez wants board members who care about the community just as much as she does.

“I need a team that is going to want to heal as many people as possible and are willing to be just as dedicated to doing the work as I am,” she said.

Guiterrez’s FGCU support system agrees that with her hard work, focus and devotion to her dream, she will be successful.

“I bet Alexa thinks about starting this nonprofit several times a day, every day. I have no doubt she will make it happen,” Winton said. “She’s doing everything possible to prepare. She’s doing research, she’s reading on the subject, she’s enrolling in classes to support her plans and seeking guidance from professionals in the industry. Mark my words: She will launch this important nonprofit.

“She’s a born leader and committed to helping all our students thrive and learn through FGCU-FPRA,” Winton added.

Guiterrez has her personal ways of staying focused, relaxed and grounded. She spends most of her time hanging out with family and friends and likes to take her dog, KoKo, a mixed pitbull rescue, for walks. She spends time meditating. Guiterrez also enjoys writing and says she uses it as a form of therapy to sort out her feelings.

Those feelings include staying on the right path to where Guiterrez wants to be: part of a team giving a future solution to her community through another tool to assist trauma survivors. It just goes to show that for a student with compassion, determination and a strong support system, heroism is only a graduation walk away.

— Ariandne Vasquez is part of a student-internship team with FGCU Marketing & Communications. Students interested in news and feature writing to fulfill their internship requirements should contact Keith Gibson at [email protected]