A Family Legacy
For Miami Bridge CEO Dorcas Wilcox, community service runs deep in her blood. Growing up, Wilcox’s schoolteacher mother (alongside her nine children) poured her own time and energy into volunteer positions at organizations around her community, efforts that eventually yielded enough scholarships and donations to send Wilcox and seven of her siblings to college. And though education was top of mind for her mother, Wilcox was even more inspired by the lasting legacy that she saw built after her mother’s death. “As I watched hundreds of people pay their respects and tributes for her humanitarian efforts to more than 20 organizations, the epiphany of my passion to serve others and pay it forward became crystal clear,” she says.
Building a Bridge
Wilcox first learned of Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services during her time in the public school system, eventually joining the organization as a non-residential counselor and steadily climbing the ranks before accepting the CEO role in 2015. “Accepting the CEO’s position gave me the latitude to develop an awesome team of smart, passionate staff members who want to serve and truly care about promoting youth development and strengthening and supporting families to enable children to actualize their full potential to become productive community members,” she says. Since then, Wilcox has worked hard to continue to grow and evolve organization partnerships with local law enforcement, government and donors as well as bring a familial atmosphere to both residents and staff under her watch. “Today, we enjoy an 85 percent rating with the youth who depart our programs, and an 89 percent rating within the community, according to our satisfaction surveys. While we still have plenty of work to do, we are well on our way.”
A Missing Piece
Calling them the “invisible” population, Wilcox says the teenagers who come to Miami Bridge are often ignored, as much funding is focused on younger children, babies and toddlers. “I do not believe the community has a real understanding of the legalities, struggles and enormous expenses involved in caring for 800+ challenging teenagers and their families every year,” says Wilcox, who explains that though the organization serves youth as young as six via outreach, they house children between the ages of 10-17 within their shelters, an age range that can often be incredibly challenging. “Not only are teenagers in our community dealing with the effects of puberty, but now they must also contend with social media, school and cyber bullying, school shootings, and human sex trafficking, among other societal ills,” she says. “When a youth comes into our shelter, we must have educated and trained counselors prepared to deal with all of the above, which has usually taken a toll on the youth’s ego and self-esteem.”
Leading the Way
Among other initiatives under her tenure, Wilcox and her management team have partnered with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to work with hundreds of truant youth who are now attending school and put together a staff who provide individual and family counseling and case management to more than 800 youth and their families. They are also looking into expanding their services to include additional programming that will focus on youth in crisis, foster care youth and the LGBT community among others, as well as continued outreach for those who may need a safe space to go after school and the creation of private rooms for hard-to-place youth who may need a longer stay in a stable, caring environment. Says Wilcox, “Our contention is that ALL children (including teenagers) can flourish with love, attention and the fulfillment of basic needs… and we prove it every day.”
For more information on Miami Bridge or to attend their April 14 fundraising gala, visit miamibridge.org.