By Don Manly
Originally published in Coastal Breeze News on March 21, 2020
A serious illness several years ago led Marie Capita to take stock of just what she was doing with her life. The result of that internal dialog was a course correction, one that saw her exchange her legal career for one that she finds more fulfilling – helping prepare Immokalee’s high school students for career success once their school days end.
Capita is executive director of two organizations that are dedicated to providing the skills to accomplish that goal: Taste of Immokalee and Taste the Impact.
Taste of Immokalee is a student created and led company that provides hands-on experience in all aspects of business. The focus is on entrepreneurship and leadership and to prepare youths for college and careers. Founded in 2014, the company creates and sells specialty food products representing Immokalee’s diverse culture and rich agriculture. The products are sold online and in supermarkets, including in more than 240 Publix locations. Profits are returned to the community to benefit youth programs, and alleviate hunger and poverty.
Founded in late 2019, Taste the Impact is the business’ nonprofit youth entrepreneurship program. It provides students with foundational skills necessary for career success, such as professionalism, public speaking, critical thinking, problem solving, interpersonal proficiency and navigating a work environment. The organization recently announced that it has enhanced its offerings through collaborations with such Collier County organizations as Grace Place for Children and Families, Gargiulo Education Center, Boys and Girls Club of Collier County and the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. The partnership will provide Taste of Impact participants with the opportunity for practical application of those skills through paid internships.
“We decided the best way of implementing this is where we would have the greatest impact on more youths,” explained Capita. “It’s just not me impacting the small numbers in Immokalee and the small numbers in Naples. How can I make the biggest impact? And it was through collaboration with the different organizations.”
She served as a volunteer mentor to the 14 youths who came up with the idea for Taste of Immokalee, which progressed to the point that a curriculum has been devised to enable the program to be replicated by other organizations.
“That is something I’m extremely proud of because if anybody knows me, I like to share; I like to share the knowledge that we have,” she said.
Naturally, the Naples resident is overjoyed with the organizations’ good work, its expansion and the number of youths it has assisted over the years. To date, Taste of Immokalee and Taste the Impact have served 432 students and provided 204 paid internships to students, a total the organizations hope to increase in 2021.
“It feels great. It’s like seeing something you’ve been working on forever and to see it actually flourish is exciting,” said Capita. “The most exciting part of it is to see something you’ve created from scratch and you keep adding layers to perfect it. Although you always have room for growth and to modify, but you’ve gotten it to the point where you can actually unleash it and implement it and share it with everyone who wants to gain the same knowledge that previous students received from Taste of Immokalee.”
Capita is a native of Haiti who immigrated to Miami with her parents and siblings when she was five years old. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in finance from Florida International University, she attended law school at the University of Miami. She practiced family law and real estate law for 15 years in her hometown until she and her ex-husband decided, about 10 years ago, to move from Davie to Collier County with their three young sons.
“As you start having children, you start looking at things differently,” she explained. “Here, in Naples, was just a better place to raise my kids.”
Capita had also decided she wanted to step away from practicing law because it just didn’t suit her personality.
“I found I didn’t really have that cutthroat mentality that attorneys need to always be adversarial,” she said. “I’m more of a mediator-type. A couple years ago, I got really sick and I spent about a month in the hospital. When you don’t know if you’re going to live or die, you take stock of your life’s path. I would prefer people remembering me for how I helped the community and not, ‘Marie helped me with my divorce or Marie helped me sell my house or Marie did title work for me.’”
After the move, she joined the county’s Community Redevelopment Agency, opening its Immokalee Business Development Center, which she operated for five years. Capita also began volunteering with Immokalee High School’s Junior Achievement program. That led her to also become a youth mentor with the nonprofit 1by1 Leadership Foundation in Immokalee on the heels of the organization receiving a grant from the State Farm Insurance Company.
Those funds led to the creation of Taste of Immokalee.
“The grant was to help guide students through the entrepreneurship process and teach them to use resources within their environment to come up with different business ideas,” said Capita. “It (Taste of Immokalee) started as a project and then the students created some products using recipes from their parents and grandparents. Immokalee is a melting pot with a wealth of culture and diversity. They figured this would be their way out of having to follow their migrant parents into the fields; the best way is to educate themselves. From that they decided, ‘You know what, let’s start a company.’”
Capita praised the many youths who have passed through the Taste of Immokalee program and gone on to higher education and professional careers, while also maintaining an involvement with the program.
“They’ve graduated from Ivy League colleges, now they’re in the workforce,” she said. “They still give back. They’re part of the alumni advisory board. They still see the need for their input. Like I told them, ‘I will have to retire at some point and I will need you to continue this legacy of what Taste of Immokalee is doing and how it’s helping the community.’ Even though they’re spread throughout the country, we still have constant phone calls and they mentor the kids who are in the program. They’re still hands-on in the business.”
In a 2020 survey conducted by the Collier County School District, it was reported that out of the 192 students who answered that they had completed a High School Internship, 19 reported Taste of Immokalee as their place of employment during the internship. With your help, we are able to achieve one of our goals, which is to increase the number of students who have completed an internship before graduating from high school.
To date, Taste of Immokalee and Taste the Impact has served 432 students and has provided 204 paid educational work base internships to students in the community. With your help, we are looking to increase these numbers in 2021.
For more information about the Taste the Impact, visit www.tastetheimpact.org/. For more information about the Taste of Immokalee, visit www.tasteofimmokalee.com/.