Attendees at last year’s Black Tie benefit take to the dance floor. MARK FUNKHOUSER/Contributed

Work by Wesley House Family Services may not be as visible as that of other nonprofits in the Florida Keys. But through its programs, Wesley House is helping communities up and down the island chain one family at a time. 

“When a family is reunited with their kids and is getting the help they need to be stronger and self-sufficient, I think it trickles down as a whole in the community,” said Grace Epperly, development coordinator with Wesley House. 

In times when children are determined by the court to be at risk of abuse, neglect or abandonment, the team at Wesley House steps into the situation. Not only do case workers ensure the safety of children by finding them a comfortable, stable environment, but they also help the biological family address the issues that drew attention from the Florida Department of Children and Families. 

Wesley House deals with all aspects of the child welfare system throughout Monroe County, including foster care, supervised visitation, child abuse prevention services, foster parent licensing and adoptions of children in foster care who cannot be reunited with their families.

“A lot of what we do is confidential and behind closed doors,” Epperly said. “Unless you’re in law enforcement or in the school system, you wouldn’t really know that kids are in foster care and this is happening to them. But it is happening.” 

Epperly said Wesley House continues to recruit foster parents. Right now, the county only has seven foster homes. Wesley House is in the process of hosting foster parent training classes throughout the Keys. 

Last year’s Black Tie fundraiser saw music and entertainment. MARK FUNKHOUSER/Contributed

“We want to have a variety of foster parents throughout the Keys,” Epperly said. “That way, when a child is removed in the Upper Keys, that child can stay in the Upper Keys rather than be relocated to Marathon or Key West.” 

Wesley House provides intervention programs for families at risk of having their children removed from the home, as well as 16-week parenting classes which are typically court-ordered in order for a parent to be reunited with their children. They also have a free, voluntary Healthy Families program for expecting parents and those with babies. 

Since 2005, Wesley House has provided support to more than 300 children in Monroe County each year. The team’s had a presence in the Upper Keys, but now Wesley House is preparing for a move to its new location at the former Lions Club in Key Largo. Epperly said renovations at the facility are expected to be finished in 2024, and proceeds from the upcoming Black Tie Benefit on Saturday, March 1 at Playa Largo Resort & Spa will support Wesley House’s expansion efforts. Epperly said they’re seeking to construct a new playground for supervised visits between parents and their children. 

“Supervised visits are a big component of what Wesley House does for children in foster care so they can maintain relationships with their families,” Epperly said. “It’s an important step in the supervised visitation process. They (the parents) have to graduate to take their children outside for a visit. They have to prove they can have productive visits in a safe location. It may not be a big deal to the regular person, but it is when you’re working to be reunited with your kids.” 

Tickets are $300 and include an open bar throughout the evening, hors d’oeuvres beginning at 6 p.m., and dinner beginning at 7:30. After the program, dance the night away to DJ Card. Tickets are available at www.wesleyhouse.org/keylargoblacktie.

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.