By ROGER MOONEY
MIAMI – The conversations eventually moved from the house to the garage, far away from the boys, who were too young to understand the words used by their parents but could certainly sense the worry in their voices.
Real estate bubble? Recession? Bankruptcy?
What did the boys know about those things? Why should they?
Jonas Figueredo was 6 at the time. His brother, Jack, was 4.
“We didn’t want the boys to know what was going on,” their mom, Helen, said.
It was 2008 and the real estate company owned by Helen and her husband, Frank, was crumbling.
“We were heavy into real estate when the bubble burst,” Helen Figueredo said, “and we were left holding the bag.”
The recession cost them everything: Their business. Their savings. Their house. They filed for bankruptcy twice and ended up in foreclosure.
Frank Figueredo took a job working for the state of Florida as a claims adjuster. It paid $38,000 a year. They were clearing 10-times as much with their real estate business.
“Thirty-eight grand in Miami with a family of four and two kids in private school,” he said.
Yes, private school.
The boys were attending Westwood Christian School, a pre-K through 12 private school in Miami. During those talks in the garage away from curious ears, the No. 1 topic was how to keep the boys at Westwood. Besides a roof over their head, this was their priority.
The Figueredos met with school officials and told them of their rapidly diminishing finances. That’s when they learned about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families managed by Step Up For Students. The scholarship covered half the tuition.
Bill Thomson, Westwood’s head administrator and secondary school principal, recalled that 2008 meeting.
“They definitely were at a crossroads of having to possibly uproot their boys from our school and our church and our philosophy and into a different environment that they just weren’t comfortable with,” he said. “They were introduced to Step Up, and it has been very beneficial to them over the years as it has with many families. It definitely is kind of a success story for that family.”
Today, Jonas, 16, is a junior at Westwood. Jack, 14, is a freshman. What the two have accomplished scholastically with the help of Step Up is impressive. What they have accomplished away from school with the support of their parents is equally as notable.
Jonas is vice president of the junior class, president of the high school band, a second chair trumpeter on the all-district band and has qualified for the all-state band. He is ranked in the top-5 of his class with a GPA above 4.0, is a member of the National Honor Society and a member of the debate team.
“I just love to argue,” he said.
Jonas is a worship leader at Westwood and finished first last year in a preaching competition at the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. He is a student ambassador and a former varsity soccer player.
In his spare time, Jonas is a second-degree black belt in taekwondo who competes nationally and teaches anti-bullying, anti-abduction and self-defense classes to younger children, including those at Westwood. He has plans to teach the same at a women’s shelter. He volunteers for Bugles Across America and plays taps at funerals for veterans.
He can play the piano, guitar, ukulele and harmonica. He helped put together a musical production at Villa Lyan Academy, a school in Miami for children and young adults with special needs.
His brother, Jack, is a freshman. His GPA is above 4.0, he is a third chair trumpeter in the all-district band and has qualified for the all-state band, was president of the middle school band as an eighth-grader and was instrumental in bringing back the high school debate team. He is a student ambassador and was the goalie on the varsity soccer team from the sixth to eighth grades.
In his spare time, Jack plans to race a Mustang next season in the National Auto Sports Association, where you can drive when you’re 14. He is in the process of starting his own nonprofit to feed and clothe the homeless, called “Socks and Sandwiches.”
Helen and Frank Figueredo started the nonprofit “Kids United Foundation” several years ago to send clothes and food to homeless children in Columbia.
When the boys were young, Helen Figueredo took them to Miami’s Little Havana when she brought food to the homeless.
“I remember that,” Jack said. “It was a great experience. It broke my heart to see a lot of people like this. I wanted to do something on my own to help them.”
Jack also plays the piano and violin.
While in middle school, both brothers worked as pages for Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, when she was a state representative in South Florida.
“We’re very thankful for them to be a part of our school,” Bill Thomson, Westwood’s head administrator and secondary school principal, said.
‘You’re going to law school’
Jonas has thought about becoming a criminal profiler for the FBI. Jack would love to race cars professionally. Both plan on attending law school.
Actually, getting a law degree is mandatory for the Figueredo boys.
“I always told them, ‘You don’t need to worry about what you’re going to do. You can worry about that when you graduate law school,’” Helen Figueredo said. “I do believe that a law degree is a license to do whatever you want to do.”
“Honestly, I agree with her,” Jonas said. “With a law degree you have more options. Maybe I do become a lawyer. Maybe a I don’t. But I do have the law degree with me.”
The options for the future of the Figueredo boys appear limitless. That’s why their parents felt compelled to keep their sons at Westwood.
The couple made the sacrifices for their boys to continue there. They sold their luxury cars and Frank picked up an older car at a police auction for $89. They rented a house owned by the school for $550 a month and began to slowly rebuild their finances.
“The school teaches wisdom,” Frank Figueredo said, “and with wisdom, you learn to learn.”
He currently works as a bodily injury adjuster for an insurance company. Helen, who has a degree in business administration and a master’s in educational leadership, works part time as a health care risk management consultant.
“We turned our lifestyle upside down to teach them what is important, what really matters,” Helen Figueredo said. “A car? Or knowledge and wisdom? It’s taught them not to be materialistic. It’s taught them that people are more important.”
Jonas and Jack are aware of the changes made by their parents. They know the role Step Up played in their education. They are thankful for both.
“I’ve been (at Westwood) since I was 2 years old,” Jonas said. “It shaped me to who I am today.”
“It’s a great education,” Jack added. “The staff, all the teachers, they’re all very supportive, very friendly. They’re always willing to help.”
The boys are eager to see what they can accomplish in the future.
“After they go to law school,” Helen Figueredo said.
About Westwood Christian School
Established in 1959 by the First Baptist Church of Westwood Lake, the school provides Biblical and academic education for 550 students from pre-K-12, including more than 230 who are on Step Up For Students’ scholarships. Students must pass an entrance exam to gain enrollment. The school has state recognized band, choir, drama and art programs. All teachers are fully accredited with the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and the National Council for Private School Accreditation.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.