We’re fortunate in South Florida to be the home of thousands of caring people who give generously of their time. They’re driven by a love of community and desire to serve others.
Today, Christmas Day, we’re saluting some of these angels among us:
Feeding the homeless: No other South Floridian’s humanitarian spirit made bigger headlines than that of 90-year-old Arnold Abbott. In his white chef’s jacket, the veteran do-gooder fought the city of Fort Lauderdale for the right to feed the city’s homeless, despite a new, restrictive ordinance. For Abbott to still have the gumption to fight City Hall is nothing less than inspirational.
Fighting same-sex marriage ban: Key Largo attorneys Bernadette Restivo and law partner Elena Vigil-Fariñas are not gay themselves. They just know injustice when they see it. They’ve helped lead the charge for marriage equality in Florida. Working pro bono, they engineered the first court victory in the state while defending a Key West gay couple who challenged the ban. Without a real dog in the fight, they became guardian angels for the long line of gay and lesbian couples waiting to tie the knot. They’ll be part of state history when Florida’s ban ends — and it will.
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Protecting at-risk children: These women didn’t make headlines, but they quietly fought for the lives of the children: Gail Appelrouth, a Guardian ad Litem volunteer since 2007, spoke to the Editorial Board about her concerns for children in foster care — who are often treated like the ugly ducklings of the system. She’s their champion. “My job is to make sure these kids get what they need. That’s it.” These kids are lucky to have a lioness like her on their side. Kathleen Ruggiero, a North Miami police officer — and a Christmas Day baby — makes a difference in her own small world. A former foster child, she has raised 12 adopted children, along with her own 13 biological kids. She has also fostered “one hundred of other people’s children.’’ Why? “I promised God when I was a little girl I would help other kids — and I’ve kept my promise.” Happy birthday, Ms. Ruggiero!
Delivering prom dresses: This year, two entities came together to give a memorable prom night for low-income high school seniors. Students from the Aventura City of Excellence School donated dozens of prom dresses to Becca’s Closet, a nonprofit that helps Florida high school girls attend their proms in style. The Aventura City students and Becca’s Closet pulled off a teen’s dream. Job well done.
Preserving our landscape: The battle to save what’s left of Miami-Dade’s waterfront for public use and enhancing our green spaces are battles that definitely need guardian angels. Among those who gave stepped up: Singer Gloria Estefan and husband, Emilio, are working hard to preserve iconic Miami Marine Stadium; Gregory Bush, a University of Miami professor and VP of the Urban Environment League, has tirelessly fought to keep public the only piece of undeveloped bayfront — Parcel B, a coveted sliver behind AmericanAirlines Arena; Meg Daly, founder of Friends of The Underline, has a vision for Miami-Dade — creating the longest linear park along underutilized land beneath Metrorail. The park would stretch 10 miles, from Brickell to Dadeland, and welcome pedestrians, merchants and bicycle riders. Daly says she’s obsessed with her project: “This is all I do, 24-7,” she told the Editorial Board.” And it’s great that county government has been a willing partner to make it happen.
Corporations did their share to help our community on several fronts: Rick Case Honda, Alonzo Mourning Family Foundation, Jim Moran Foundation and the Emilia and J. Pepe Fanjul Foundation are just a few.
May even more South Floridians join the angels among us.