SOS kicked off their 25th anniversary year with a trip to an SOS Village in Rio Negro Colombia January 12-15 in partnership with Spirit Airlines. Spirit Airlines, headquartered in Miramar Florida employs over 1200 people in South Florida. Colombia is a growing destination for the airline which offers scheduled flights throughout the United States and in the Caribbean, Mexico, Latin America, and South America from Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport.
Spirit employees, SOS Florida staff, and volunteers came together to plant a sustainable vegetable garden, host a soccer match, and practice Spanish and English with the children there. The ability to connect two counties with one cause of improving the lives of children, was a clear win for all involved. The garden featured carrots, lettuce, cilantro, broccoli, and will be cared for by the 25 children who reside in Rio Negro. SOS Florida Executive Director, Jillian Smath, stated “This is our first international visit to another Village and it was amazing to experience the warm welcome by the children and staff. Children all over respond to universal acts of kindness, and it was rewarding to be able to spend some time in Colombia making a difference.”
SOS Board members who attended included Ivan Velez-Leon with KPMG. Patricia Pierce of American Express, and Wayne Griner, owner John Wayne construction, and Sharon Dutkiewicz owner of L&S Personal Coffee in Coral Springs.
The annual operating budget for the Village is $3.8 million, of which approximately one half comes from the State of Florida. The remainder is raised through foundation grants, major gifts, individual giving, and special events. SOS Executive Director Jillian Smath notes, “the money we raise is critical towards providing for the needs of our children. When a child or group of siblings come to us, they have basically the clothes on their backs and maybe a few personal items. When a child arrives at SOS this is when the healing begins. We provide tutoring, therapy, and essential life skills…we give children the life every child deserves. We rely on the support and generosity of our community.”
For the boys and girls who come to live at the Village, “Home” was once a word of little meaning, nothing more than a building where they slept. Safety, security, support, comfort and care were missing in their lives until they become a part of the SOS family. It is here that their lives are transformed by a Village of foster families, staff, friends and neighbors who care.
A notable program at SOS is “Next Steps”; designed to provide critical support to children once they turn 18 and age out of foster care. The primary goal is to support young adults as they make the transition to independence. Through the Next Steps program, on-going support is provided in areas including counseling, emergency assistance, advocacy, and links to employment and housing.
The 13 family-style homes around a cul-de-sac in Coconut Creek are each staffed by a full time live in houseparent and SOS offers a variety of support services and enrichment opportunities allowing the children to have a special childhood where they can heal and grow into productive adults.
Locally, SOS Children´s Villages Florida provides opportunities for people to get involved through their mentorship program, group volunteer projects, and participation in special events throughout the year. The goal during their 25th anniversary year is to bring broader awareness of SOS in the community and. Upcoming events include “A Night in Havana” gala on April 28th at the Boca West Country Club as an opportunity. For these and other activities visit www.sosflorida.com.
SOS Children’s Villages Florida is home to up to seventy-five foster children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. The Village setting allows brothers and sisters, often separated in foster care, to be reunited. The nurturing and support that SOS provides prepares them to be productive members of society. SOS is accredited by the Council of Accreditation, recognizing its continuing high standards and the quality services provided to foster children. The Florida Village is part of a worldwide network of more than 500 villages caring for disadvantaged children