Dads who make a difference in their communities

06/17/2014 11:28 AM

06/17/2014 11:29 AM

Father’s Day marks another year of exceptional dads doing exceptional things not just at home, but in their communities.

Four fathers from different walks of life will be receiving thanks from their families and others they have influenced.

Glenn Johnson Jr.

Glenn Johnson Jr., 26, has made it his personal goal to make sure his son and his baby on the way do not go through the struggles he has gone through.

Johnson, who grew up in Opa-locka, was raised in a neighborhood where he experienced crime all around him.

“Growing up in that environment, I just tried staying out of gang activity and stay on the right path,” said Johnson, who is married with a 4-year-old. “I know a lot of young men my age that I went to school with who are either in jail or are dead, so I try to be a role model for young men who grew up in a similar situation.”

Focused on being a good student during his childhood, Johnson, whose parents divorced when he was 10, eventually earned a degree in international business from Florida International University in 2011.

After graduating, Johnson became the warehouse manager at CNS Wholesale Grocers. In the nearly three years he has been there, Johnson has strived to recruit as many individuals from areas like where he grew up. Many of the people he has hired personally have minimal education and work experience. Johnson has taken these employees under his wing and trained them to be efficient and with the company long-term.

He sees this as a way of giving back to his community and making sure he can guide as many people as possible in the right direction.

“A lot of these people need the encouragement and to be pushed,” Johnson said. “They could just as easily go down the wrong path, which is what I’ve seen too often, but if you remind them of the life they can have with the proper focus and dedication, you’ll see a lot of great results.”

His mother, Patricia Brown, knows the struggle she and her son went through and admires the role model he has become to his son and his peers.

“When his father and I split up, he knew what he had to do and he stayed on track,” she said. “He’s reached out to others in need while taking care of his own family, and I’m thankful for that.”

Jorge Luis Lopez

Jorge Luis Lopez’s life is a team sport. He is a father of five, a governmental affairs lawyer representing high-power clients before county and city governments, and he serves his community through philanthropic efforts with the American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross and the Cultural Affairs Council.

Juggling work, father duties and community responsibilities is a second job, but Lopez prioritizes family.

“It’s important to be disciplined about not letting other things intrude,” Lopez said.

Pizza night on Fridays, Sunday mass, his children’s sports games and monthly movie nights are sacred. This month’s movie pick was “Maleficent.”

The family also bonds over volunteer activities.

Lopez and his wife introduced their children to volunteerism at a young age. A.R. Lopez, 19, the couple’s oldest son, volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club throughout high school. Carlos, 15, travels with his high school football team during the summer to rebuild churches in central Florida. Annia, 13, volunteers at Miami Children’s Hospital.

“We are blessed with what we have,” said Lopez about his family. “Sharing and giving back is a priority.”

Lopez was recently recognized for his philanthropic work.

The American Diabetes Association honored him with the 2014 Father of the Year award, along with Jose A. Hernandez-Solaun and Leonicio de la Pena. Hernandez-Solaun founded the Hernandez-Solaun Foundation, a program to help young adults learn about personal finance, credit and business. De la Pena was honored for his work with Voices of Children, a fundraising program that appoints Guardians ad Litem to abused and neglected children.

Katie Blanco Crocquet, chief development officer for the Archdiocese of Miami, nominated Lopez for the award.

“When I thought of what the award signified — self-sacrifice, leadership by example and unconditional love — Jorge was one of the first to come to mind,” Crocquet said. “He exemplifies all of these qualities.”

One of Lopez’s leadership initiatives hits close to home.

Lopez, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago, founded the Miami chapter of the Laureate Society for the organization with his wife in 2012. The society’s focus is on funding research and clinical trials for medications.

“The battle against cancer is personal,” Lopez said. “We wanted to be part of the solution.”

Octavius Veargis

At 18, Octavius Veargis was arrested at Coral Gables High School for inciting a riot.

At 20, he was arrested again for marijuana possession.

At 38, he is a father of four and a father figure in his community. Veargis is president and founder of the One Grove Foundation, a nonprofit youth tutoring and mentoring program in Coconut Grove.

He was inspired to start the program after Frederick Gibson, a 20-year-old Grove resident, was fatally shot on his porch while talking to a friend in April 2013.

“It’s always the innocent kids that get killed,” Veargis said.

He wants to help kids stay out of trouble by keeping them busy with sports and educational programs. Veargis recruited retired teachers and University of Miami students to tutor some of the 25 children One Grove is helping.

Bubba Waiters, 15, went from an F to a B in his math class with Veargis’ help.

“I’ve really enjoyed the program. It’s had a good impact on me. My GPA is up,” Waiters said.

Veargis’ voice carries weight for his community’s children and teenagers. His record followed him when he applied for jobs, and he teaches others to think for themselves and to be mindful of their choices.

“I get a rush off being the person I wasn’t before, but that I can be now,” he said.

Kizzie Veargis, Octavius’ wife, said he’s having trouble balancing family, his job and his community life.

But as a father, Veargis tries to be supportive and reliable. His youngest children, Kizy’ra, 9, and Octavius Jr., 7, said their dad is nice, funny and their coach.

Veargis is also adjusting to his teenage daughter being interested in boys.

“He’s teaching me to talk to him,” Octavia Veargis, the couple’s 15 year-old daughter, said.

Trabian Shorters

Trabian Shorters dedicated his life to raising two boys, as well as influencing the lives of many young black men within the community.

Shorters, 47, launched BMe, a Miami-based program funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to supporting “transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts.” The program celebrates black men who make positive differences in the lives of others.

Last year, the company was able to broaden its scope across the nation after receiving a $3.6 million investment. Today, the community has 3,000 black men providing services to more than 10,000 neighborhoods on issues that include youth development, public health and improving financial literacy.

Shorters, who moved to Miami in 2007 to become the vice president of the Knight Foundation before creating BMe, says that people within the black community are more engaged than is noticed.

“I know it’s not common language, but that’s what we do,” he said. “We’re a bunch of brothers who give a damn and do it daily and often do it invisibly.”

Shorters is the first of three children and was raised by his mother in Pontiac, Mich. As a young man, he excelled in his studies and received a scholarship to Cranbrook Preparatory Academy in high school before eventually graduating from Michigan State University with a journalism degree.

Along with his community work, Shorters raised two men — Marcus Sands, 29, and Malcolm Sands, 21 — for 20 years while in his previous marriage. Although they were not his biological children, he considers them his sons.

Shorters’ father duties and work in philanthropy is appreciated by current CEO of the Knight Foundation, Alberto Ibarguen.

“When I think of Trabian and Malcolm, father and son, I think of Trabian’s grandfather,” Ibarguen said. “Each generation challenged the one before and also reveled in the pride, the righteousness and the love they shared.”

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