Her first day on the job was March 9. On March 11, the spread of coronavirus was declared a pandemic. Aleida Jacobo had already signed on for a challenging job, made infinitely more demanding by the current situation.
“Coming into this crisis, I had heard how the Keys community pulls together, but now I have seen it in action,” said Jacobo, who has spent her career in South Florida. “But this is a dream come true for me. I am living two blocks away from my childhood vacation home in Key Largo.”
Jacobo comes to Wesley House after 30 years of experience in exactly this field. Although she started her career as a tax attorney (a graduate of University of Miami), she quickly switched her focus to child welfare and began as a part-time attorney for Guardian Ad Litem. Then she moved to the state Department of Children and Families as an attorney, and then supervising attorney overseeing the prosecution of child abuse cases. Most recently, she was the chief operating officer for the Center for Family and Child Enrichment in Miami Gardens. That organization serves troubled or abused children and their families.
Jacobo said when the position of chief executive officer came available at Wesley House, it was time to stretch her wings.
“I was ready for the next chapter,” she said.
Jacobo and her partner, as well as her brother with special needs, have settled in Key Largo.
Wesley House is the Keys nonprofit that handles important community functions — case management for foster children and adoptions (24 adoptions this year!), prevention services to stabilize at-risk families, a health program for new and expecting moms, and the Inez Martin child care center in Key West. The Wesley House team hasn’t missed a step since the pandemic was declared.
“We have been open and providing services and didn’t even shut down for a day. All employees are working and we continue to offer child care for frontline workers at Inez Martin,” she said.
On the other hand, her normal getting-to-know-the-community goals have been severely hampered by the coronavirus shut down.
“Except the checkpoint. I’ve met a lot of people at the checkpoint,” she said, laughing.
Jacobo said she entered the child welfare arena after an experience working pro-bono for Guardian Ad Litem. “I was representing a child who had been sexually abused by her uncle. The mom was incarcerated, and the girl had no one to speak for her. A caseworker told me I had a knack for this and encouraged me to pursue this line of work,” Jacobo said.
Jacobo said one of her main objectives is to increase the profile of Wesley House, and its programs, in the Middle and Upper Keys. She also wishes to strengthen the organization’s ties with partner agencies in the Keys, and find solutions to the shortage of family services she has noted in the Keys.
“Wesley House should be visible to the entire community so that they know we are here for them,” Jacobo said.