Student Success Story: Dieulerne Deceus

Posted on April 30, 2019

Dieulerne’s father immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti with the dream of a better life. With the money he earned picking crops, he was eventually able to bring his wife and children to join him in the U.S. Dieulerne (pronounced “Jillan”) was born shortly after, perhaps symbolizing the reality of a father’s hope that his family would one day live the American dream.

Dieulerne, and many others like her, continue to be a symbol of hope in their community of Immokalee, Florida – a melting pot of migrant workers primarily from Mexico, Central America and Caribbean nations, who work hard picking the produce that grows from the area’s rich soil, driven by the dream of a better life. As they await that dream, most live in extreme poverty.

Growing up in this environment, it can be a struggle for youth to see a brighter future beyond the back-breaking field labor staring back at them. But not for Dieulerne and others who participate in the youth entrepreneurship program of Taste of Immokalee, a social business created and operated by high school students with a passion for breaking the cycle of poverty that surrounds them.

At just 16, Dieulerne has learned business skills that young professionals entering the workforce are just beginning to grasp. She’s an elegant public speaker, knows how to keep the company books in Quickbooks, has mastered the art of email communications and meeting etiquette, and can deliver a compelling pitch for her company while attending professional events. Most important to her, though, is having the ability to be part of the positive change that is happening in her hometown.

Dieulerne explains: “Most people say – go get a college degree and then when you’re successful you can give back,” which would seem to be an admirable goal for someone like Dieulerne who dreams of becoming a pediatric surgeon. But as part of Taste of Immokalee, she doesn’t have to wait. “I’m able to do that right now. I see the impact we are making. When we’re out promoting our products, I see the faces of the people who are moved by what we’re doing and love to hear our story. I see the faces of my friends and family who rely on Legal Aid for help, which is one of the organizations we were able to support with our profits last year.”

Dieulerne is an example of how the Taste of Immokalee model comes full circle. Her mother works in the packing plant – her hands touching the very tomatoes that will be used in Taste of Immokalee’s products. Dieulerne and her peers – guided by seasoned business mentors – operate the business that turns those tomatoes and other farm-fresh ingredients into salsa and sauces. The products are sold online and in local supermarkets including Publix, with 100% of the profits returned to Immokalee to support youth programs, alleviate poverty, and address urgent needs such as disaster relief.

“We’re motivated to sell our products because we can use the profits to help people here. The more we sell, the more we can help. And every day I can see the difference it is making…for all of us.”

“My generation…we want to work hard and achieve our dreams. But we want all that work to mean something bigger than ourselves. We want to give back. I’m so grateful that Taste of Immokalee has given me ALL of that and more. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There is nothing else like Taste of Immokalee and I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

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