Before Judy Reinach steps out of an airplane 12,000 feet above ground to raise money for Miami Bridge, she admits to feeling afraid at first. Then, realizing the tandem jumper has her back, she allows herself to dive deep into that blue sky, free as a bird in flight.

Miami Bridge CEO Dorcas Wilcox recognizes that same fear in the eyes of the young people when they firsts walk through the doors of their emergency homes for “forgotten children.” Then they realize they are now safe.

“Some call them throw away kids,” said Wilcox. “When they come in, the light in their eyes is so dim, it’s almost out. But after 24 to 48 hours a smile starts appearing on their face and it gets brighter and brighter. Then you know you are working towards making a change.”

Reinach, director emeritus of Miami Bridge, who jumps out of planes every five years for the cause, Wilcox, and many more supporters of The Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services met recently at the Rusty Pelican to recognize nearly four decades of helping kids in crisis.

US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a long-time friend of Reinach and Miami Bridge supporter, was scheduled to appear as keynote speaker for the 2nd Annual Luncheon, but a schedule conflict prevented her attendance. A videotape of a speech she made on the House floor about the organization on September 13 was played for the crowd.

“Victims of abuse, neglect, or worse, seek refuge in the organization’s professional staff and its board of directors,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “They provide counseling, case management or formal academic programing, mental health services, substance abuse preventative services, life skills education, recreation activities, and so much more.”

Ros-Lehtinen cited statistics she said demonstrate their successes: “In 2015-16, 890 families were served by Miami Bridge, 93% of youth served were placed back in their homes or in an appropriate placement after leaving the shelter, and 85% remained in school after completing their shelter stays.”

When the original Catholic Charities program founded by Dick Moran was struggling, Reinach, her friends from the Key Biscayne Women’s Club, The Rotary Club of Key Biscayne, and others, stepped in and raised over a million dollars for the organization. This was matched by a $450,000 State of Florida grant and the money was used for a total of six buildings on two campuses.

“I have no compunction about asking for money when I know it’s for a good cause and I can come up with ways to do it,” said Reinach. “The best fundraising is when I walk my dog and talk to my neighbors. It’s a wonderful community and so many have pitched in. They write checks and the ladies from the club come over with shopping bags full of clothes.”

Wilcox hopes to raise funds to expand their ambassador program that helps confirm food and clothing allotments monthly for specific children; and perhaps someday get a new home.

“I want for these children what we want for our own children,” Wilcox said. “So many of them can’t even sleep at night. They talk about bullets flying over their heads and they fear going back from where they came from. These kids have some real issues so you have to really want to do this work and be devoted…to understand it’s a ministry.”

For more information about Miami Bridge, call 305-635-8953; visit miamibridge.org.

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