Here’s a beautiful story we can all learn from:

I had the privilege of sitting down with Angelica Ibarra, the founder and executive director of Achieve Plant City. What a blessing! Although this organization is not faith based, you know I had to get to the God moments that are intertwined within her story. Let me tell you, God has been and still is involved in the life of Angelica and seeing her through this journey. Join me in learning about this wonderful organization, the humble lady who started it all, and how you can possibly help or get involved.

What is Achieve Plant City? It is a non-profit organization. Their mission is to help families achieve their goals through education and empowerment. They offer a family literacy program. Achieve Plant City works with parents to give them the skills that they need to either obtain employment, pursue higher education, or to just be able to function in the community. 

In their preschool program, they prepare children to enter kindergarten on grade level.  Angelica says, “For some of the participants, Achieve Plant City is the only exposure they have to a structured classroom and is the only place these children would be able to get the skills that they need to enter kindergarten.” 

They have parenting workshops to help the parents understand that they need to be involved in their child’s education, and to get the parents to understand the importance of child development and to encourage them to get active in their child’s life. The importance Achieve emphasizes on the parents getting involved in their child’s education is one that ALL parents need to know and do. As a retired teacher, I concur that it is evident in the students’ behavior, work, and attitude whose parents are engaged in their child’s learning process.

Achieve also has a tutoring program. This program is offered to students in kindergarten through grade five. It primarily helps them with their reading skills, but also with all subjects. The majority of the students come below grade level in reading, writing, and math.

These four components are what Achieve Plant City has to offer. However, there is so much more!

Angelica established the program in Plant City, but the idea comes from the National Center for Families Learning. Studies have been done and shows that the best way to help a child is to educate the parents and get the parents involved in their education. Achieve’s services are open to any family. Angelica says that “they just have to want it”. Currently, there are nearly forty families who “want it”.  Their goal is to achieve sixty families in the community.

How did it all begin? Mrs. Ibarra often found herself sitting at her desk where she worked, and would stare at the clock, waiting for the hands to hit five o’clock.  After several months, she was bored and began crying. At that moment, Angelica began praying, “God, You know what’s in my heart.  You know what I want to do. I just need for You to guide me and help me find what it is that I am to do. I want a position where I can be creative, where I can use my skills, where I can be challenged, and something that doesn’t just require me to punch the clock and go home. If it is Your will for me to do that, You will point me in the direction.”

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

As Angelica was sharing her heart with me, Psalm 37:4 came to my mind. She said aloud her desire to the Lord and asked for His will to be done. What a lesson we all can learn from her in this example. God already knows what is best for us, we just sometimes need to acknowledge for ourselves what we want and desire for His hand to be upon it. His will be done. 

Also, notice how Mrs. Ibarra was specific in her prayer. Yes! She lived out 1 John 5:14-15.

We can come to God with no doubts. This means that when we ask God for things (and those things agree with what God wants for us), God cares about what we say. He listens to us every time we ask Him. So we know that He gives us whatever we ask from Him.  1 John 5:14-15

After two months from her saying that prayer, a friend called her up, not knowing that Angelica was wanting a change, and told her about a position opening up for a coordinator to establish a family literacy program.  This position required someone with experience in grant writing, public speaking, and management. She told her friend, “Thank you, but I just don’t have those skills”. Again, a bible reference, came to mind of Moses. In Exodus 4:10-15 we see Moses telling God that he wasn’t equipped to do the task the Lord had for him. Friend, if God is calling you to something, He will provide for you. He’s got this.

Angelica’s friend responded with, “Is it in your heart to do this?” It was then that she realized God was giving her this opportunity and was answering her prayer that she had prayed two months prior. So, Angelica applied for the job, and they hired her. This occurred back in 2003.

We all need encouragers in our life. Her friend wasn’t the only one in this story to be a “Barnabas”, Angelica’s husband was, and continues to be, a great encouragement for her. There were obstacles to overcome, like grant writing and the deadlines to meet. He was a motivator and helped her learn the grant writing process and meet those deadlines, even if it meant driving to the airport to mail the proposed grant before midnight. Angelica says that through it all there has always been someone pushing her and believing in her.

The very first grant she wrote was approved. The funds awarded were used for renewal purposes for many years. It ended up transitioning from the Governor’s Family Literacy for Florida all the way to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. 

Fast forward to 2011, and the Tampa program was closed. Angelica was angry and depressed. She couldn’t wrap her head around how everything that she had been working for, the positive difference she was making in the families’ lives, was now gone.

After weeks of mixed emotions, things started to change. During a Sunday sermon, the pastor preached about our purpose in life and the difference that we each can make. Pastor Herrin also talked about our trust in the Lord. She experienced the anger and all the dejected emotions being lifted from her. Angelica was in tears as she questioned, “How could I have doubted God?”

Growing up as a migrant child, in Plant City, and all the struggles she said that goes with it, Angelica always had the dream to offer the services that Achieve does, in her hometown. Her heartache became a blessing in disguise.

Angelica had a new focus.

The president of the Barbara Bush foundation encouraged her to “be the captain of her own ship”. When Angelica mentioned that she wanted to open Achieve in Plant City, the president said, “Plant City won’t support you.” Well, Mrs. Ibarra’s hometown proved that person wrong.

In September of 2011, the doors to Achieve Plant City were opened, with zero dollars. HAPPY 11th ANNIVERSARY, APC!

As I look back at the prayer that Angelica pleaded with God, I can’t help but smile, ponder, and be receptive to how God answered her plea. She asked for a job where her skills can be used, and God gave her more by showing Angelica that she has skills that she didn’t even realize. He guided her along the best path for Angelica. He can do that for you and I as well.

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Psalm 32:8

He challenged her along that path. Angelica and her husband went from a family of three to a family of five when Achieve began. They had compassion for three family members and took them in as their own. God challenged them financially, as she didn’t accept any payment for almost the first two years of Achieve so that she could pay her staff. They were living off her husband’s teacher’s salary for a family of five. Even though those times were tough, they never lost hope and faith that God would provide for them. He did, and He continues to be The Provider. 

It was challenging for her to run a non-profit with limited resources, no staff, and no experience, but God…He allowed her to overcome the challenges and persevere. 

What’s ahead for Achieve Plant City? Angelica says that because of the opportunities of space, community support (Yes, her hometown has, as she says, “fabulously supported” this endeavor), and donations of various kinds, she can vision this to continue to be a place where any family, any child, or any individual to come and gain skills and even more services than they offer now to better themselves with knowledge. Also on the five-year plan, is to offer Spanish classes to children and adults. Achieve wants to be the “knowledge pantry” for the community.

When Angelica shares about the growth of the participants in Acheive program, she beams explaining how they have advanced in various areas of their skills.

This literacy program works! Angelica was beaming even more when she recalled one of the children that started with her in 2003. The, now young lady, is graduating this December with her Physician’s Assistant degree. The soon-to-be-graduate and former student gives back this organization that has given her the foundation of learning. She often tutors children, shares nutritional knowledge, and has been a guest speaker at the fundraising event that takes place each year for Achieve Plant City.

Speaking of fundraising, on February 17, 2023, Achieve will have their annual event at the Trinkle Center. This fundraising event encompasses wine tasting, a silent and live auction, food, and raffles. This fundraiser allows Achieve to continue with their day-to-day operations in bringing family literacy and lifelong skills to Plant City. Tickets are $100 per person, and there are sponsorship tickets ranging from $500 to $5,000.

Angelica acknowledges that she is just an instrument for God’s program. She firmly believes that she is doing what the Lord has called her to do, and that when He is not in it, that is the day the program will cease to exist.

For a girl who grew up with very low self-esteem, no confidence in herself, and never believed that she could accomplish much, Angelica became the first and only one to graduate from college in her family of nine siblings. Breaking the cycle/the norm/the reality in life is so important to Angelica. She says, “It’s seeing past what you think your potential is. I think it is so important to have others in the community. It is my dream to one day be able to offer that here (at Achieve). A lot of people don’t often realize the power that they have to be able to just talk to another person. We all take it for granted that we have the knowledge and confidence for us to do what we want in life, but that’s not the case for others. Words are powerful. Your words, what you can just say to an individual can either break them or really open up their eyes.” We need to empower one another.

Angelica went from being bored, to bold, to blessing! From a doubter to a dreamer! Glory!

I pray that Angelica’s testimony will be an encouragement for you. Be specific in your prayer life. Be faithful to God. Be an overcomer. Angelica is an overcomer and knows that with God all things are possible. 

How can you help?

Volunteer opportunities:

  • Grant writing. Angelica writes the majority of the grants, but when funds are available, they hire someone to write the grant. If you have the talent and time to write a grant, maybe you can offer your services to Achieve Plant City.  Angelica admits that that would definitely be appreciated.
  • Tutors to help with after-school kids. You do not need to be able to speak Spanish. Your service would be welcomed for just two-three hours, once a week.
  • Volunteers to work with the adults in the morning time. Achieve follows a curriculum. The coordinator will sit down with you and show you what to assist the adults with.
  • Fundraising. Inquire about the upcoming February event and attend. The committee works once a month.
  • Marketing. Put the word out that Achieve is here in town.
  • Assist with any needs: monetarily or supplies. They actually could use copy paper now.
  • Grant writing!!
  • Donate books.
    • On a side/personal note, Edward Jones Investments donated a plethora of books to Achieve this past summer. This donation allowed Achieve to open up a lending library.
  • Be on the board of directors. They actually are looking for new board members now. They meet approximately every six weeks.
  • Handyman services.
  • Monthly monetary donations.

At the end of our conversation, I asked Angelica if there is anything that she would like to say to anyone reading. She joyfully replies, “THANK YOU PLANT CITY!”

Blessings to you and yours,



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