It takes a village: Community ‘helpers’ propelled FGCU student across the stage — twice

4 – minute read

There are many helpers in David Delices’ life. The first is his mom. A schoolteacher in Haiti, she fled escalating violence while pregnant with Delices to come to the United States. Living in Florida, her goal was to give him a better opportunity. The sacrifice she made was never lost on Delices, who observed how hard she worked to keep her family fed, clothed and housed.

A student in blue graduation cap and gown, holding his diploma. He stands on a basketball court with three family members.
David Delices holds his master's degree on graduation day with his parents Menel Delices (far left) and Wisline Menard and brother Jonathan (far right). Photo provided.

“My mom would come home from work and show me her hands. They were all cracked, hard. She told me, ‘I work hard like this for you, so you can go to college and do something.’”


The second helpers were the teachers and staff throughout his primary and secondary education. They guided Delices through the system and — most importantly — connected him to one of the biggest influences and helpers in his life, his Big Brother, Cliff.


“I don’t think I would be where I am without Cliff and the help of the Big Brother program,” said Delices. “It taught me the importance of loving your neighbor.”


Under the tutelage of his Big Brother, Delices was introduced to many other supporters, including three people with ties to FGCU. The first was Tom Felke, associate dean for academics and associate professor in Marieb College of Health & Human Services. Prior to Delices’ enrollment, Felke met with him and remembers a quiet and respectful student very curious about the social work field. Once enrolled, Felke had the chance to work with Delices closely as his professor.


“It was a pleasure to witness and be a part of David’s professional growth through his academic career,” Felke said. “It is clear that David has a calling for social work. He displays a wonderful sense of caring and empathy for others.”


The next set of helpers included FGCU graduates David Brown and Anjali Van Drie, who started Family Initiative, a Southwest Florida nonprofit providing services for children and young adults with autism. As an undergrad, Delices worked as a full-time registered behavior technician there, allowing him to pay for his degree. It also allowed the May graduate to pursue his master’s degree.

A woman with a pink cardigan over a floral dress and a man in a gray polo and cream-colored slacks stand to either side of a man in a blue cap and gown holding his diploma
David Delices celebrated his FGCU graduation with Roxanne Smith and his mentor, Cliff Smith. Photo provided.
A man in blue cap and gown stands next to a woman in a white dress, holding his diploma together
David Delices and his wife Carla De Oliveira Delices on graduation day, May 2024. Photo provided.

“Loving your community and giving back, knowing how impactful it can be just through my own story — is why I want to be a social worker,” he said.


As Delices continued his education, he also experienced the highs and lows of life. He married, experienced the loss of a loved one and went through financial hardship. The pressure was building, and at one point he wasn’t sure he’d be able to finish what he started.


“I had to take care of our bills,” he said. “I also have to do well at work, but on top of all that, do all my assignments and schoolwork and internship. And what made it very hard for me, since I’m a first-generation graduate, my entire family depends on me.”


At a crossroads, Delices took a step back to reflect on why he was putting himself through school in the first place.

A student in blue cap and gown stands at the end of large blue and green FGCU letters
David Delices on graduation day in front of Alico Arena. He earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees in social work at FGCU. Photo by James Greco.

“Instead of giving up, I reminded myself of why I’m doing it and what I wanted to achieve,” he said. “Understanding your purpose in life is what fueled my fire and kept it running and burning because once you forget your purpose, it’s very easy to give up on yourself.”


With renewed passion, he got to the finish line for his master’s. Reflecting on what it took to get there, he remembered all the people who supported him through the journey to commencement at Alico Arena. “Without them I would not have been able to step up on (the) stage,” he said.


With his university career in the rearview mirror, Delices can finally take his place as one of the helpers forming and inspiring a new generation in Southwest Florida.


“I always wanted to pick a profession that was a helping profession,” said Delices. “Because I’m a product of being helped and having great supporters.”

A woman in a black cap and gown presents a student in a blue camp and gown with his diploma
FGCU President Aysegul Timur presents Delices with his master's degree. Photo by James Greco.
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