Children in Miami-Dade County lost one of their biggest advocates Tuesday evening.
Rosa Maria Plasencia, president and CEO of the nonprofit Amigos for Kids, died at age 59 after suffering a heart attack at Baptist Hospital, where family said she was being treated for chest pains.
Though she had no children of her own, Plasencia is survived by the hundreds of children she has served through her work.
Founded in 1991, Amigos for Kids is a not-for-profit dedicated to ending child abuse in Miami-Dade County. Those who knew her said Plasencia stood out for the personal interest she took in each child.
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“Rosa made Amigos her mission and her life. She would take on these children and these cases like part of her,” said her cousin and Amigos co-founder Jorge Plasencia. “I think she didn’t have that void in her heart of not having kids because I think in her heart she had hundreds and hundreds of kids.”
Rosa Maria Plasencia started volunteering with Amigos in 2001 after chatting with her cousin at a family reunion. In 2004, she left her career as a sales director for Air New Zealand and became executive director of Amigos for Kids. She was promoted to president and CEO in 2012.
Under her tenure, Amigos was named The Children’s Trust Program of the Year in 2015, it earned a four-star rating with Charity Navigator, reached 2,500 elementary school children through its “There’s no Excuse for Child Abuse!” campaign, and launched an award-winning Art Basel exhibit called “Broken Crayons,” featuring children’s drawings that indicate signs of abuse.
Friends remember Plasencia as someone who could reach young children who may have experienced abuse and often have difficulty understanding what might be happening to them. Plasencia not only got kids to open up about their own abuse, but taught elementary school-aged students how to stand up for themselves and their classmates if they were being bullied or abused.
“She walked the walk for every child of this community,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, a personal friend of Plasencia’s. “It’s an incredible loss. We have a responsibility to keep her alive in this community. Her mission must live on in her memory.”
Friends say it was the holidays when Plasencia really shined. Every year, Amigos hosts a holiday toy drive. “We get kids exactly what they want for the holidays. We actually make their wishes come true,” Jorge Plasencia said. Those wishes range from specific toys, to food for their families, to sometimes more special requests, like a goldfish, or a framed photo of a child’s parents who had passed away.
“Every Christmas, Rosa would go on these missions to find these special requests. Some of them were not material. There were things money can’t buy,” Jorge Plasencia remembers. “She would personally go get the goldfish.”
Some people who worked with Rosa Maria Plasencia mourned her loss on social media on Wednesday.
“Miami lost a true community champion,” tweeted the Miami Foundation. Eduardo Padrón, President of Miami-Dade College tweeted, “I’m saddened by the sudden passing of @MDCollege Hall of Fame alumna Rosa Maria Plasencia. ... she played an important role in helping shape the lives of many children in the community.”
Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho tweeted that today heaven is “gaining an angel.”
The viewing will take place Thursday evening, Oct. 11, beginning at 6 p.m. at Maspons Funeral Home, 7895 SW 40th St. A Catholic Mass will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Our Lady of the Divine Providence Catholic Church, 10205 W. Flagler St., and the burial will follow at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery. All services will be open to the public.
Plasencia is survived by her mother and brother. In lieu of flowers, the Plasencia family is requesting donations be made to Amigos for Kids.