To say life on the island so far in 2020 has been challenging and not very “normal” would be an understatement.
While Thanksgiving might feel different this year, as the Center for Disease Control has not yet issued restrictions on our ability to give thanks and be appreciative of the good things in our community. From the Islander News’ perspective, among those who Key Biscayne should be most grateful for is Melissa White, executive director of the Key Biscayne Community Foundation, and her hard-working staff.
“No One Is Ever Ready For Big Challenges... Be More. Do More.” Those wise words are from entrepreneur and marketing strategist Wesam Fawzi. As the early impact of COVID-19 was being felt on the island, Melissa and the KBCF staff became a hub of activity -- doing more at a time when many businesses were shutting down or curtailing operations.
KBCF, for sure, met the definition of an “essential service.” They seemingly had their hands in every COVID-relief initiative on the island. They created a force of island volunteers to adopt seniors, sponsored lunches for those most vulnerable, set up virtual events to keep our home-bound seniors engaged, established a virtual family resource center, and set up and helped operate the island’s own COVID-19 testing operation.
As we approached Thanksgiving, we sat with Melissa to talk about what the year has meant to her.
IN. What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?
MW. Thankful for my family and friends and health.
IN. What do you think were your biggest accomplishments so far in 2020.
MW. As a mother and wife, coming together, putting family first.
On a professional level, we were healthy and able to work on helping those on the key and off, helping make a difference during a difficult time. I’m proud that we were able to keep our staff healthy while navigating a pandemic, while continuing to provide the needed services the community needed and expected.
The beautiful side of this has been that we’ve been able to make a difference. I’m proud of the way our staff rose to the occasion and work harder than ever.
IN. Any disappointments?
MW. We’ve dealt with some health issues in our family and that is always difficult. And as it relates to the foundation, to see so many people struggling with life and work, helps keep perspective.
IN. Anything KBCF has done as part of the pandemic you see continuing after?
MW. Yes. We have learned to help our seniors stay connected, not to feel alone. Would love to service them as we have during the pandemic, helping them run errands, groceries, the tech help we’ve been able to provide.
The volunteer program has been incredibly rewarding. The original idea came from resident Manuela McDanal, who posted on a chat about trying to find a way to connect people. We immediately jumped on it as a staff and started the process of recruiting and training volunteers.
It was so rewarding. To see so many good people, outside of our staff, over 100 volunteers, step up during a chaotic time in their own lives, to adopt a senior in need, that alone is a beautiful and wonderful statement on our community.
I would like to see that continue to be part of what we offer.
IN. Any special Thanksgiving message to the island community?
MW. That we really are one community. When we reach out to our neighbors, we are better together and truly one community.
Others in the community are also thankful for Melissa and the KBCF staff.
“Melissa is an extraordinary human being who never says no in spite of any and all obstacles in front of her,” said Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press, who works with KBCF on his Chief Press Foundation. “Because of her drive residents received testing, seniors received meals, and the needy received much needed ppe supplies and food. Simply put, she touches souls including my own. I’m forever grateful to her.”
Former Council Member Pat Woodson, who has worked with Melissa on several projects and presently with Youth Lead Change said, “Melissa is driven by love and compassion. She is also tremendously resilient and tireless in giving her formidable talents as a visionary leader and innovator to anyone who wants to do something positive in our community.
“It took years for KBCF to build a small talented staff,” Woodson continued. “Yet it has always seemed that a large team runs our widely admired community foundation. It has been pure pleasure to work with her and her wonderful staff since day one as a KBCF board member, through my donor advised fund and now with Youth Lead Change.”
Mayor Michael Davey said, "Melissa - she’s incredible. She and her team have been tireless in their work on testing and assisting our community, particularly the seniors, during this pandemic. Melissa represents the best traditions of this community."
For more information or to donate to the Key Biscayne Foundation, visit them online