by Elizabeth Rodriguez
Meet John Lopez, a 28-year-old Miami native who sees beauty all around him. Consumed by art at a very young age, he remembers when his third grade teacher, Ms. Horn, gave him a hardbound leather sketchbook; it was a gift for his unique creativity and artistry. Lopez treasured the sketchbook. This was the moment he realized art was his passion and would eventually become his career.
Growing up, Lopez and his nine siblings were not afforded a typical childhood. They didn’t get to play baseball for the local team or tackle the latest video games; instead, Lopez worked odd jobs to help his family stay afloat. They moved from one home to another trying to make ends meet, but he knew that eventually another eviction notice would leave them in search of shelter. “There was a numbing sense that things were about to get worse,” Lopez recalls.
He was right: They spent three years bouncing from one homeless shelter to the next. “The [homeless shelter] was like a family prison,” Lopez says. “We stayed for approximately one and a half years, and I detested every second of it.”
When they finally left the shelter, he was relieved, but he did not know the worst was yet to come.
Just days before his 15th birthday, there was a knock at the door. Police officers and the Department of Children and Families had discovered that his family was living without power and water and, therefore, declared child neglect. All nine children were placed into foster homes. His siblings were separated into groups, but he went in alone.
After three years of being in and out of foster homes, Lopez turned 18 and had no choice but to pack his bags and head out into the world.
For the first time in his life he felt in control of his own destiny and was determined to turn things around. Graduation was first on his list. He was intent on receiving his diploma from the same high school he entered as a freshman, even when it meant traveling two hours a day to attend. He studied hard during the school year and spent his summers working seven days a week. On weekdays he spent his time at the Florida Audubon Outreach Program, his favorite job at the time, and worked weekends at a local flea market earning no more than $40 a day.
Thankfully, Voices For Children was there for him to lean on. When Nelson F. Hincapie, president and CEO of Voices For Children Foundation, met Lopez, he knew that he was the perfect candidate for the organization’s “It Takes A Village” (ITAV) program. The program’s purpose was to help aged-out foster youth to successfully attend and graduate from college. A large portion of assistance and support within the ITAV program came from Educate Tomorrow, an organization dedicated to making education an attainable goal for the foster care and aged-out youth of Miami-Dade.
Voices For Children provided Lopez with financial assistance that allowed him to pay for running water and electricity, plus took care of all the materials he needed for his classes until he graduated. And he did just that. Lopez graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the New World School of the Arts this May.
“Voices For Children helped me achieve something that I thought was not possible at a point in my life,” Lopez recalls, “a point when failure and success could have been decided by a coin toss.”
Voices For Children Foundation has a valiant mission. They tirelessly raise funds to ensure that every abused, abandoned and neglected child in Miami-Dade County has a court-appointed Guardian ad Litem (GAL), and that financial assistance and other resources are available for their health, educational and social needs.