One of the best things about the Florida Keys is our volunteer-heavy community. Almost everybody volunteers for something, and they can choose from a staggering number of nonprofits formed for the purpose of helping homeless, or animals, or cancer patients, or even homeowners facing crippling insurance bills. In this issue of the Keys Weekly, we are highlighting organizations that make the Keys a better place to live.
Monroe County nonprofits
Wesley House Family Services
Wesley House’s mission is to promote and enhance the safety, well-being and development of children by educating, supporting and meeting the needs of families. Its roots date back to the beginning of the 1900s as a program to help Cuban speaking kindergarteners learn English and transition into public school easier. Since the mid-1940s, the nonprofit started focusing on professional childcare for working parents, including opening the Inez Martin Childcare Center in Key West in 1971. The agency also encompasses all aspects of dependency care, including family support and prevention services, foster and adoptive families, and promotion of healthy families in Monroe County.
Community Foundation of the Florida Keys
Established in 1996, the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys’ goal is to make the Florida Keys a better place to live now and in the future, by encouraging philanthropy and matching acts of caring to the community needs. The nonprofit is known for strengthening other local nonprofits. Since Hurricane Irma, the agency started a Florida Keys Emergency Relief Fund, which funded service organization throughout Monroe County. The organization also holds the annual Unsung Heroes luncheon, the next of which will take place Jan. 26 at Key West Marriott Beachside.
United Way of the Florida Keys
Toted as the leader in community caring, United Way of the Florida Keys advocates for increased social consciousness while actively fighting for strong working families in the Florida Keys. The local organization does campaigns that include Stuff the Bus before students return to school, Imagination Library, which gives families access to books, Summer Literacy Kits for Kids, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, childcare scholarships, and the ALICE community impact report. The organization also partners with other community minded organization to help out residents in need. After Hurricane Irma, United Way of the Florida Keys also donated grocery store gift cards in the hardest hit areas, and financially helped those in need after the storm.
Habitat for Humanity
The main goal of the Habitat for Humanity organizations is to provide affordable homeownership for families who demonstrate need and have a willingness to partner with the organization. Post Hurricane Irma, the organizations have been focusing on helping families repair their Habitat homes, while building community partnerships for future affordable homes in the area.
Habitat for Humanity of Key West and the Lower Keys: www.habitatlowerkeys.org
Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys: www.habitatmiddlekeys.org
Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys: www.habitatupperkeys.org
For more than 30 years, the Visiting Nurses Association/Hospice have been supporting families with in-home healthcare, palliative care, and hospice care needs in the Florida Keys. Fundraising events include Taste Around the World taking place Feb. 18 and the Queen Mother pageant which will take place in May and the Fourth of July Picnic in Key West. The events raise funds for grief support and counseling and health education.
Fair Insurance Rates Monroe County was a grassroots organization that started in 2006 to fight for property owners’ rights in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. In addition to advocacy, the group keeps the community in the know with events like flood mitigation workshops. The next events take place Jan. 16 in Marathon, Jan. 17 in Key Largo, and Jan. 18 in Key West. The group, which has 3,700 members and is free to join, has a monthly e-newsletter to keep members up-to-date with flood and wind news.
Florida Keys Children’s Shelter
The goal of Florida Keys Children’s Shelter is to provide safety to children, create strong families, and keep a healthy community. Programs include an emergency shelter in Tavernier, a group home for children in Key West, and Project Lighthouse, a drop-in center in Key West for runaway, at-risk, or homeless youth. Placement can be short- or long term. After Hurricane Irma, the center also opened up beds for children who had nowhere to sleep. The annual Mayor’s Ball, which takes place in January at the Casa Marina in Key West, is one of the major fundraisers for the shelter.
Monroe County Education Foundation
Established in 1996, the nonprofit is dedicated to enhancing and improving educational experiences of students in Monroe County. The organization provides financial support and sponsors several programs to broaden student educational experiences. The organization supports Take Stock in Children, Experiment in International Living, leadership training for students, and financial incentives for students who complete Monroe Computes. The foundation has also been responsible for allocating funding to students and teachers affected by Hurricane Irma.
The thrift stores in Big Pine Key and Key Largo aren’t operational yet due to Hurricane Irma damage, but the Key West store is able to periodically take donations – those donations are then distributed throughout the Keys. As of print, there is a command center set up in Big Pine Key for food and clothing. Salvation Army has been helping in hard hit areas since two days post-storm. The staff has stayed on the payroll through the disaster relief program and have been working to get the stores operational. When not in a storm situation, the Salvation Army provides services, food, and clothing to those in need regardless of disaster situations.
Ways you can help during the holidays: be a bell ringer.
American Red Cross of Greater Miami and the Florida Keys
The American Red Cross doled out needed financial aid to 24,000 Keys residents, more than one million bulk items and had more than 7,000 volunteers in the wake of Hurricane Irma. While helping with hurricane disaster relief in the Keys, the organization is also vital to blood donation, CPR training, and services for people who experience other disasters like home fires. The American Red Cross Gala takes place Jan. 24 at Key West Marriott Beachside, honoring philanthropist Kate Miano as Humanitarian of the Year.
Special Olympics Florida – Monroe County
Special Olympics Florida Monroe County hosts competitions in a variety of Olympic-type sports for the intellectually or developmentally disabled. The organization provides coaches and training year-round to help develop physical fitness. Athletes and parents are able to participate in the program free of charge; anyone who meets eligibility criteria can join. Activities are tailored for all ability levels. Special Olympics athletes are able to experience excitement and joy after dedicating themselves to training and leadership development. Monroe County has 151 athletes competing in seven sports.
Boys and Girls Clubs of the Keys Area
Sister Season Fund
Sister Season Fund was founded in 2005 after Hurricane Wilma and is based on the philosophy of “Locals Helping Locals.” It will only provide funding to individuals employed in tourism-related industries when a temporary financial emergency occurs through no fault of their own. The idea is to make sure these employees, who are the backbone to our tourist economy, have housing and utilities to remain in Key West.
Samuel’s House is deeply committed to helping women and men with families in the Keys. It is a safe shelter and provides care to benefit physical and mental help to those most in need. Founded in 1999, it originally was intended to help displaced women and women and children who needed shelter and emergency services. Now, it provides comprehensive health and human services programs for women and men with children and intact families that are homeless, elderly or handicapped or suffering from substance abuse, domestic abuse or mental illness.
In 1986, during the AIDS epidemic, Key West individuals started the countywide AIDS Help – the only community-based HIV/AIDS service organization in the Florida Keys. For 30 years, AIDS Help has provided individuals with managed health care, food programs, counseling, housing, clinical and other supportive and volunteer services. AIDS Help has also provided affordable housing, access to health education and linkage to care to people living with AIDS in Monroe County. It has helped more than 3,000 individuals and cares for up to 350 clients every year.
Feeding Monroe County, The Star of the Sea Foundation (SOS) is vital to the health of Monroe County. Offering a food pantry and community kitchen, SOS is dedicated to helping low-income families maintain health and wellbeing. The food pantry began 39 years ago and is one of the largest in South Florida, distributing fresh and canned foods to more than 9,000 people a year. It also offers nutrition education programs.
Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens, Inc. or Marc House
The MARC House has provided decades of care countywide to individuals who have developmental disabilities that include mental retardation (I.Q. 69 or below), cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Prader-Willi Syndrome, and traumatic brain injury sustained prior to age 18. It has created a family environment that offers numerous services such as training and support that enhances the client’s individual abilities to understand daily community routines and learn social, self-care, vocational skills. Other services provide medical and therapeutic supervision and help to increase a client’s ability to develop friendships with non-disabled persons. The MARC house operates a House Plant Store year-round and sells Christmas trees there.
Key West Business Guild
Since 1978, the Key West Business Guild has helped promote the gay community’s business and travel needs in Key West. From marketing special events to supporting gay-owned, gay-managed, and gay-friendly businesses, the guild helps strengthen the gay community’s important financial contribution to Key West tourism, and supports relevant LGBT issues. More than 400 enterprises are members of the guild, making it one of the nation’s leading gay business associations.
Florida Keys SPCA
The FKSPCA Inc. was formed in January 1999 by volunteers and animal lovers. From providing care and shelter to homeless animals, the countywide FKSPCA has expanded to adoption services, animal control with 24-hour availability, cruelty and neglect investigations and rabies vaccinations It is dedicated to promoting compassionate care, adoption, education, population control and humane law enforcement. Additionally it provides low-cost and free spay and neuter surgeries, helping to reduce the population of unwanted animals.
Reef Relief began in 1987 with the intention of saving the coral reefs. Since then, it has led a buoy installation project protecting seven different reefs and led reef conservation efforts all over the Caribbean. Reef Relief helped to establish the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary and is a major proponent of the Clean Water Campaign throughout the Keys. It serves to educate the public on nearshore waters, strengthen grassroots community-based efforts to protect coral reefs, and support sustainable eco-tourism. It also provides Coral Camp, which teaches children the benefits of oceanic conservation.
The Cancer Foundation of the Florida Keys
Founded in 1998, The Cancer Foundation of the Florida Keys proudly says “What we raise, stays” meaning 100 percent of donations stay to help Florida Keys cancer patients. The foundation offers assistance to qualified cancer patients while undergoing treatment who need education or financial resources when other assistance has been denied or exhausted. It also promotes early detection and provides screenings for prostate, breast, skin, and colo-rectal cancer.
In honor of the late Michelle Halpern, the foundation was established to help kids in the Keys reach their highest potential. The foundation is behind The Michelle Keevan Halpern Center for Learning that provides free tutoring and teaches learning skills to at risk Monroe County Students. In the future, it will also provide a “Food For Thought” program that will provide nutrition meals at their new learning center upon completion. Every year, Michelle’s Foundation also hosts the Willy Wonka Chocolate festival which raises money for the Florida Keys Cancer Foundation.
Florida Keys SPCA, Marathon Campus
The Florida Keys Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is dedicated to promoting the humane treatment of all animals through care, adoption, education, population control and humane law enforcement. The Marathon campus currently has 14 dogs, 41 cats, 4 birds and 2 gerbils available for adoption. It is funded by Monroe County via its contract to provide animal control services, and private donations. It is open to the public every day except Monday.
Coldwell Banker Schmitt Charitable Foundation
Since its inception in April 2002, the Coldwell Banker Schmitt Charitable Foundation has raised more than $2 million and assisted more than 800 individuals and local organizations. Through the generosity of Coldwell Banker Schmitt real estate agents and partners, the foundation helps residents unable to bridge a financial gap caused by some unfortunate, yet temporary, situation. All contributions stay in the Keys, and no funds are used to support the fund’s administration. Gifting is based on need and each request for funds is reviewed before it reaches the board for a vote. It recently distributed $250,000 collected by the Ocean Reef Community Foundation to help those affected by Hurricane Irma.
MM50 Relief Project
MM50 Relief is a new organization, created after Hurricane Irma, by a Marathon High School graduate living on the mainland. She’s teamed up with six other alumni to serve the children and young adults of the Middle Keys. The organization collected gift baskets, gift certificates and gift cards for the PTO’s silent auction on Saturday, Dec. 2 from 8 a.m. to noon at Stanley Switlik Elementary. In January, it will make the high school’s postponed homecoming dance more beautiful with donated makeup. Find more details on the group’s Facebook page.
The Keys Area Interdenominational Resources does so many things. It runs a food pantry, provides assistance for medical, dental and eye care, and emergency funds for utility bills or even bus tickets. It distributes clothing and housewares for free, holiday dinners to needy families, and even school supplies for area students. It serves neighbors who need help after an illness, job loss, family separation or other unplanned circumstance. Some elderly and disabled residents need help when their limited income doesn’t cover an unplanned emergency. It is the go-to crisis center in the Middle Keys.
This is the only homeless shelter in the Middle Keys and is currently under renovation and expansion. The Independence Cay kitchen just reopened and serves a hot meal at 12:30 p.m. every day to all comers, organized by volunteers from local churches. When the renovations are complete, it will have transitional housing for more than a dozen men as they make changes to get their lives back on track. The shelter is located at 1669 Overseas Highway, behind the former Royal Furniture
St. Columba Episcopal Church has many missions in Marathon, but the one most near and dear to parishioners’ hearts is the Hammock House. It offers free after-school care to about two dozen children year-round as well as popular summer and theme camps. The church uses revenues from its Nearly New Thriftshop in Gulfside Village and proceeds from the annual Florida Keys Celtic Festival, as well as private donations, to support the children. it seeks to create a space where children thrive emotionally, artistically, intellectually and spiritually.
Incredible Fruit Stand
For 17 years, Peter and Marie Pittman have been operating the Incredible Fruit Stand. Locals and residents know it as the place to get fresh fruit and vegetables every Saturday from 9 a.m. in front of the Crane Point Museum. What many don’t know is how the stand supports local causes including cotillion classes at the high school, scholarship needs, and even the Incredible Lobster Trap Tree.
In the Keys, there are many more social clubs and industry groups that do much to support local causes, including the ones listed in the article. They include Zonta, Business and Professional Women, Chamber of Commerces, American Legion, the Moose Lodge, Disabled American Veterans, Organized Fishermen of Florida, Elks Club, Rotary Clubs, the Shriners, Association of Realtors and the Growing Hope Initiative. By joining these groups, or attending their events, you support the Keys as a whole.
Center for Independent Living of the Keys (CILK)
The Center for Independent Living of the Keys offers assistance to people with disabilities. While its aim ultimately centers on independence and self-sufficiency, the center offers a range of services that include help with social security, applying for disability income, family support programs, loaning of assistance devices, Medicaid and Medicare help, and help applying for food stamps. The organization also offers computer, art, and cooking classes, while providing for recreational and social opportunities.
Florida Keys Community Concert Band
The Community Band puts on free concerts each month from November to April. The rehearsal and concert format invites local musicians to participate. Community Band members also tutor young student musicians in one-on-one or group instruction. The community band’s Young Musician Award program provides gift certificates for lessons and supplies to students who prepare and participate in the Young Musicians Concert. The concerts also allow for other musical groups like the Island Dulcimers, Silver Shores Singers, and Keys Breeze Barbershop Quartet to have a performance. Band rehearsals are on Monday nights from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Key Largo School Band Room.
Good Health Clinic Inc.
The clinic serves uninsured and eligible low-income residents of the Florida Keys in need of medical care and services. As a primary-care facility, the Good Health Clinic provides in-house and outside services at the various offices of its volunteer participants. Services include preventative care, urgent care, chronic disease management, and women’s health services and family planning. The clinic’s referred specialty care services include orthopedics, dermatology, gynecology, mental health, ophthalmology and optometry, physical therapy, nutritional counseling and more. The Good Health Clinic’s Big Kahuna fundraising competition has also begun. The clinic is primarily funded by grants and individual donors, so go out and support Eric Bilips, Omani Diaz, JC Holmes, John Ribble, Jason Richards, and Anais Diaz.
Upper Keys Humane Society
The Upper Keys Humane Society Inc. provides Keys critters with food, shelter and medical care. Its adoption services help neglected, unwanted and abandoned pets find homes. The shelter houses 18 dog kennels and 11 cat condos. Managed by an all-volunteer board, the shelter maximizes its donations by only paying employees and diverting all other funds to care for its animals and shelter maintenance. The society primarily serves animals from North Key Largo to Lower Matecumbe. The shelter always has a need for dog food, cat food, newspapers, towels, sheet and blankets, toys, treats, and cleaning products. Hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Autism Society of the Keys
The Autism Society of the Keys (ASK) helps local families affected by autism. ASK has worked to form a support group of local families to help one another and is available by phone, email, or Facebook to talk and answer questions. The organization holds seminars on autism awareness, vaccines, biomedical treatments and therapies. The society will also apply for grants, hold fundraisers, and funnel donations to help families pay for treatment and therapies. 4
Phone: 305-942-5173 or 305-942-5172.
Florida Keys Wild Bird Center
The rehabbers and educators of the bird center rescue, rehabilitate, and release native and migratory wild birds in the Keys. When birds have been hurt or displaced, the center serves as a safe and humane shelter for recovering and non-releasable birds. Non-released birds are used to educate the public at a variety of events and educational fieldtrips the organization coordinates throughout the year.
Phone: 305-852-4486, press “1” for bird emergencies.
Burton Memorial Church
Burton Memorial Church’s food pantry is open every Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon, and every Tuesday and Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. As part of its God’s Kitchen program, the church seeks volunteers to prepare hot meals. Costs accumulated by volunteer cooks will be reimbursed.