Mackenzie Dillon, a rising senior at Krop High School, lives for volunteering.
Through her parents’ influences, she has gone above and beyond in community service at the Chapman Homeless Shelter for five years through Miami Shores Presbyterian Church. She also has traveled to Haiti to work at House of Hope orphanage like her older sister Sabrina.
But in realizing her love of children, Mackenzie, 17, decided to volunteer even more with the homeless children at Lotus House Shelter in Overtown for women and children. Many of the residents there are victims of domestic abuse, human trafficking or other severe trauma.
Mackenzie hosts themed events at Lotus House she calls “Moments of Magic by Mack” to help the children.
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“Stories of a real-life hero have dominated my childhood: the narratives of my mother’s escape from her war-torn village in Vietnam and of her struggle to overcome poverty, a language barrier, and childhood abuse in America,” Mackenzie said in an email. “At only 7 years old, she, along with her two sisters and her mother, was separated from her father during the 1975 bombings and was forced to find refuge halfway across the globe.”
“Due to her past, my mother raised me never to take anything for granted and to aid those in need, instilling a love for philanthropy in me at a young age.
Giving back doesn’t always have to be materialistic. Time is the most valuable commodity that I can give of myself,” Mackenzie said.
She also volunteers at Seasons Hospice where, according to her mother, Thanh Dillon, Mackenzie visits and provides companionship to patients with conversation, reading and music.
“One patient suffered from dementia and didn’t really speak except for saying ‘yes yes yes’ continually, yet when Mackenzie put on jazz and Frank Sinatra, the patient began to sing along to the lyrics,” Thanh Dillon said in an email.
“My husband was very reluctant about her insistence to volunteer with hospice care and still does not like to ‘hear’ about her visits with the patients as his mother’s death is still quite painful. Both he and I are so proud of our daughter’s strength and desire to bring joy wherever it is needed.”
Mackenzie also helped find necessary donations after Hurricane Irma including organizing a diaper and food drive at her school. And after the recent tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Mackenzie, who is Community Services Chair for her school’s Student Government Association, contacted landscaping architect Witkin Hults Design Group and received a donation of 17 small trees. They were planted at Krop High School in memory of the 17 victims at MSD.
“We as parents are always very proud of her but we would love for all the teens out there to know they can make a difference by taking small steps to give back to their community,” Thanh Dillon said. “It’s so important, especially after MSD, to choose to be kind…and lend a hand when you can.”
“I believe my best use of time is to give joy to those less fortunate,” Mackenzie said. “Small, simple acts can make a child’s entire week.”
Inspiring women through mentoring
Congratulations to everyone behind the Women of Tomorrow Mentor & Scholarship Program who helped raise almost $1 million to assist over 4,000 at-risk high school girls. Marisa Toccin Lucas chaired this year’s gala that marked 20 years of giving back.
Since 1997, more than 15,000 high school girls in South Florida, Detroit and Philadelphia have been helped through the group’s mentoring programs, college campus visits, career-focused field trips and scholarship opportunities.
Women of Tomorrow, dedicated to “inspiring, motivating and empowering at-risk young women,” was founded by Jennifer Valoppi and Don Browne, along with Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since a small, core group of professional women got together to help uplift the lives of at-risk girls in our community,” said Valoppi in a release. “Today, thanks to their support, Women of Tomorrow mentors 4,300 girls a year in close to 200 high schools. It is our pleasure to honor those founders this year, many of whom are still actively involved in the program all these years later, as we look to the next 20 years.”
The evening’s honorees included: Empowerment Award Honoree, Eileen Youtie; and Mentors of the Year Michele Criden, Elaine Feldman and Ferne Toccin.
Also recognized were the organization’s 33 Founding Mentors & Board Members: Betty Amos, Adrienne Arsht, Lea Black, Browne, Gale Butler, Donna Feldman, Fernandez Rundle, Meri Framer-Zidel, Sonia Gibson, Meg Green, Kathleen Hoague, Karen Kammer, Judith Kreeger, Irene Marie, Tracy Mourning, Debbie Ohanian, Robyn Perlman, Sandi Powers, Debra Price, Dora Puig, Mycki Ratzan, Chris Riley, Stephanie Sayfie-Aagaard, Randy Schenkman, Millinda Sinnreich, Audrey Solomon, Mariita Srebnick, Valoppi, Diane Walder, Carole Weiss, and Sherry Williams, as well as Connie Banko and Marti Huizenga in memoriam. Special recognitions also were given to Alberto Carvalho and retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
In honor of its 20-year anniversary, the group has set up the “20 for 20” program, an initiative of donating $20 per month for 20 months. For more, go to womenoftomorrow.org.