Johanson Vilsaint is the first in his family to go to college. After attending Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, the 18-year-old Immokalee High School graduate intends to transfer to the University of Florida to get a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
A few years ago, this vision wasn’t on Vilsaint’s radar. He didn’t think he had what it took on the basketball court, let alone for a career.
That was before his varsity basketball coach became a guiding force, instilling in Vilsaint that he “could grow and learn.” He steered the “Most Improved Player” to the nonprofit mentorship program 1 by 1 Leadership Foundation, and its entrepreneurial program, Taste of Immokalee.
A new perspective—and passion—were ignited. Vilsaint improved his public speaking skills, revised a tricky orange zest cookie recipe in time for holiday sales, focused on academics, and gained first-hand experience operating a business.
Immokalee High School students launched the program in 2014 to commercially develop recipes spotlighting Immokalee’s crops and diverse cultures. Taste of Immokalee sells products such as barbeque and hot sauces and salsa at shops and food festivals. It teaches food science, marketing, quality control, budgeting, and outreach.
From its inception, profits were planned to be reinvested in Immokalee’s residents and economy. Vilsaint, for instance, received a $500 scholarship. Potential benefits have grown exponentially since the nonprofit was converted into a stockholding benefit corporation (B-Corp.) called the TA Charitable Investor Program, administered by the Community Foundation of Collier County. Investors who cede their shares to the Community Foundation receive a charitable tax deduction. The Foundation holds the stock, and if it goes public, the windfall will be directly reinvested into Immokalee. The TA Charitable Investor Program was the brainchild of Tamiami Angel Funds Chairman Tim Cartwright.
Along the way, the program is profoundly impacting the lives of high school participants. Vilsaint explained Taste of Immokalee’s products and goals to church groups and grocery shoppers. “I talked about the great sauce and the great social cause behind it,” he says. “I feel this will give me an edge in college. Basketball was my first passion but I had to choose a different path. Family is what I am going to school for mainly so I can help them in the future.”
Taste of Immokalee Board President John Slusar notes that Vilsaint “is just starting to realize what he can accomplish. He’s been fun to challenge because he keeps exceeding.”
He, like the other 25 program participants, are learning about “the double bottom line. Profit and mission aren’t exclusive concepts,” says Slusar. “We want to make the concept of business open and accessible to all. You can’t have the American Dream if you don’t understand how business works.”