Clifford Thomas doesn’t mind counting his successes by ones.
“If you just try to grab one child and keep him out of jail or have him thinking about college and looking to the future, hopefully those ones add up,” Thomas said.
Thomas grew up in Brownsville in a house with five siblings and a single mom. Good-hearted and church-going, he recalls, “she kept me pretty straight.” But the absence of a father left an impression. So as his professional career blossomed — he’s now vice president of operations for Physician Access Urgent Care Group — he looked for ways to help kids. He became a youth leader at the Liberty City Church of Christ 17 years ago. And when he encountered the 100 Black Men of South Florida seven years later, he joined the organization, which was founded in 1963 by professional black men in New York City hoping to improve their community.
Over the years, Thomas has taken countless kids on holiday shopping trips and led Thanksgiving food drives. He has mentored kids in middle school and high school, as well as participated in the group’s numerous programs including a leadership academy at the Overtown Youth Center. This year, Thomas organized the chapter’s first college fair to showcase area students. About 60 colleges and universities attended the two-day fair in October, drawing between 3,000 and 4,000 students, he said. Next year, he’s shooting for 100 schools.
“There are some truly dedicated men in this community,” he said, “and to be surrounded by them, I’m really inspired.”
Background: A lifelong volunteer, she is a member of the National Council of Jewish Women, the Urban League, the Miami Beach and city of Miami Police Athletic Leagues and the city of Miami’s Child Murder and Youth Violence Prevention Committee.
Current position: Founder and director of South Florida Youth Foundation, which has provided 5,000 backpacks packed with supplies yearly, more than 3,000 school uniforms and more than 50,000 items of new clothing. The association has also provided summer camp scholarships for 114 abused children, coordinated a midnight basketball program in Overtown, supported a violin program at schools including Santa Clara Elementary School, provided gym equipment for Young Men’s Preparatory Academy and created a cafe to help train mentally handicapped students at Booker T. Washington High School.
Tip: “It’s important for people to go with the grain of who they are. Everyone doesn’t have to have their own foundation. It’s good to see what’s out there and see what you want and what you could support.”
Charles Dickens might say charity begins at home. But for Karen Fryd, it also starts nine minutes away.
Fifteen years ago, after bumping into an old family friend who taught at Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Overtown, Fryd began crossing the bridge from her Miami Beach home to visit Miami’s inner city schools. She had already served as the chief volunteer for the Miami Beach Police Athletic League’s annual Christmas toy drive. But visiting the schools firsthand opened her eyes.
“I remember I saw a child sleeping and this wasn’t a little nap. This was REM sleep. I asked the teacher, ‘Isn’t that disrespectful?’ and she said that child could have spent all night in a car. You just never know.”