Angelica Ibarra could have easily lived a very different life than

the one she chose. However, Ibarra, the founder of Achieve Plant

City, has made a habit of defying cultural norms and expectations

to follow her own dreams and find her own happiness. She found

it through service and empowering the community.

For nearly 15 years, Angelica has dedicated her life to empowering communities, especially the local Hispanic community, through education.

Ibarra could have gone with the flow many times in her life, but she wanted more. She wanted more for herself, more for her family, and more for the community.

Ibarra was born in Sinaloa, a coastal Mexican state along the Gulf of California. She came from a farming family, but when work dried in Sinaloa, they emigrated to the U.S. for work, first farming onions and watermelon in the South Texas border town of Edinburg. Eventually, the family relocated to Plant City where they lived a migrant lifestyle.

During strawberry season, most of the family would work in the fields. In April it was off to Georgia and the Carolinas for a few months to pick onions, then Ohio for cucumbers. The cycle repeated until she became a mother in her 20s and decided she wanted to do more for herself and her children. She got her GED, attended Hillsborough Community College, and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in international studies from the University of South Florida.

It was a move that broke the trends and norms of the migrant culture she grew up in where work, not education was the priority. It was a move that didn’t always sit well with those around her.

“They used to mock me when I was going to college,” Ibarra said. “They used to call me la Maestra (Spanish for the teacher) and say ‘oh, here comes the teacher. She thinks she’s better than us because she’s trying to go to school.’”

Nevertheless, she persisted, earning her degree in 2001 and securing a job in the corporate world that came with a good salary and benefits. It’s what she thought was the ultimate goal, the American Dream. It didn’t take long for her to realize it was not her American Dream.

She was working for a credit card company. The low credit limits, high-interest rates, and piles of additional fees made her feel as though she was pulling from disadvantaged communities, taking advantage of them instead of helping to educate them and truly better their lives. So she left.

Within a year, she became the founder of the family literacy program that would evolve into Learn Tampa Bay now Achieve Plant City.

Nearly 16 years later, she is still working to empower the community and make sure parents and children alike have the tools they need to succeed and know that the tools are there for them. Today, giving back still means far more than pulling from.

“The reality hits when you hear the stories,” she said. “When you get a child that was struggling and comes in with an awesome report card. When you have a child that was failing and then the mom is looking for you after a couple of years to share that her kids are in honors classes. Hearing the stories about a mom that was at a grocery store in line and she translated for the person in front of her. Hearing those stories, that’s when I feel that I’m contributing a little bit to the community and to the individuals that walk in through our doors every day.”

Angelica Ibarra

Executive Director, Achieve Plant City

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