By John B. Molenda, Assistant Fire Chief
Fort Lauderdale (FL) Fire Rescue hosted its first annual Back to School Drive for the Kids in Distress charity of Wilton Manors. Kids in Distress is a nationally accredited, community-supported agency based in South Florida, specializing in children and families. This charity takes in and cares for abused and neglected children and strives to preserve the family unit whenever possible. The campus has a 24-hour emergency shelter, a preschool, daycare, and grade school (ages up to 17 years). They are staffed with therapists and psychiatrists and also have a dental and vision clinic. Kids in Distress offers a multitude of fundamental programs and services. Their vision is one of a community where children are safe and healthy. They do this by administering medical care, providing an education, and demonstrating the charity’s core values of showing compassion and instilling trust in children who have been physically and emotionally battered.
Josh Wells, a driver-engineer/paramedic and a 13-year veteran with Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue, implemented the Back to School Drive after participating in a fire safety demonstration held at the Kids in Distress campus in October of 2010.
“I knew I could help out and give back to this fine organization and the children,” Wells said. He has volunteered with the organization ever since and developed the Back to School Drive as one of Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue’s community outreach assistance programs.
“All firefighters are naturally compassionate, and we get into this field to assist others in need” Wells said. “Every child deserves new school supplies to start out the school year, and this is our way of being benevolent and helping out the cause.”
Throughout the month of July, Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue held an extensive advertising campaign to get the word out for the “Back to School Drive.” Local residents, businesses and both Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors’ employees gave more than $10,000 worth of supplies and monetary donations to the charity. On August 2, 2011, Wells and other fellow firefighters delivered over 200 backpacks filled with school supplies, new sneakers, clothing, gift cards and money to the Kids in Distress campus in Wilton Manors. The program was a huge success and will be an ongoing annual charity drive for the department.