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Volunteers pitch in to renovate Miami Gardens foster home for teens

Volunteers pitch in to give a foster home for teen girls a much-needed makeover.

BY RODOLFO R. ROMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
For more than three years, house parent Rosa Abud had been fighting to renovate the dilapidated foster home in Miami Gardens where she tends to five teenage girls.

”I had been advocating for them, but it was hard to bring something new to the house,” said Abud, who has worked at the foster home for five years. “I had to go through too many channels.”

Because of the struggling economy, Abud said donations slowed.

But Abud’s commitment to bring change to the foster home, at 1511 NW 168th Ter., paid off: Dozens of volunteers from Luke’s Sawgrass Landscaping and The Continental Group, a property management company, renovated the decaying home Saturday.

Volunteers, who also brought family members to help, transformed the three-bedroom house in 2 ½ days.

Work started June 20.

The group made improvements by installing new light fixtures and ceiling, painting the interior and exterior, repairing the air-conditioning system, replacing broken tiles and decorating the teens’ rooms. The girls chose the color for their three bedrooms: purple, peach and pink.

‘Every time they go in their room to pick up clothes, they tell me `I can’t believe it’s my room,’ ” Abud said.

Hector Vargas, senior vice-president of The Continental Group that has offices in Hollywood, said the makeover is life-changing for the girls, whose ages range from 12-16.

”By doing this, we are providing a better environment for them to live in that they can feel they have a home,” said Vargas, who organized the project’s logistics.

Continental Group employees also donated radios, comforters and kitchen ware.

Luke’s Sawgrass Landscaping provided the landscape design, materials and labor for the outside.

Vargas said the home, which is overseen by The Center for Family and Child Enrichment, a nonprofit organization, was in bad shape.

The home had outdated smoke detectors and mildew was abundant, he said.

Volunteers completed about $20,000 in improvements, but watching the girls smile was priceless.

”It was an incredible experience seeing them believe that someone was giving them the opportunity to choose something on their own,” he said.

Abud said the girls are rarely given an opportunity to make decisions — like deciding how to decorate their home.

”All the time, people make decisions for foster kids. This is the first time they have a choice,” she said.

The Continental Group prides itself in helping the community, Vargas said.

A few weeks ago, the company renovated the Miami-Dade County Regional Juvenile Detention Center’s recreation center.

The company also works in conjunction with the nonprofit Voices For Children.

Local agencies nominated several homes for the Continental makeover. Vargas inspected four homes in South Florida, including the Miami Gardens foster home. He said his decision wasn’t difficult.

”I saw a lot of sadness in their face, and it was very touching,” he said. “It was really the motivating factor.”

Bunchy Gertner, who sits on the board of directors of Voices For Children, said the girls were ecstatic when they heard the news.

‘What you can’t see is the emotion because someone cared enough to come to these girls and ask them `What color would you like your room painted?’ ” she said.

Volunteer Justo Romero, who pressure-cleaned the sidewalk, traveled from Homestead to assist in the effort.

”I feel great helping out,” said Romero, who has been with the company for 14 years. “I am always looking to help. This is refreshing to help these kids.”

Vargas said The Continental Group plans to work on several other community projects throughout the year.

An emotional Abud, whose office in the house also was given a face-lift, said the makeover will have a positive impact.

”When you give them love and care, you can see the change, including stabilizing their behavior,” she said.

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