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Student ages out of foster care, gets to work on community holiday toy drive

Takiya Brown decorates a Christmas tree at a Miami-Dade foster care group home in 2015.
Takiya Brown decorates a Christmas tree at a Miami-Dade foster care group home in 2015. (Courtesy of Takiya Brown)

MIAMI – Takiya Brown believes Christmas can be a magical holiday when strangers show they care.

Before her brother and grandmother died, Brown was able to have a special holiday celebration. It was at a foster care group home in 2015. There was a Christmas tree and joy.

For a moment, she forgot addiction had stolen her mother and domestic violence had separated her from her grandmother. The group home, she said, felt safe and it was there that Santa used a stranger to deliver a gift.

“I don’t know who donated it. It was a Bath and Body Works certificate and I went to the store and I picked the Winter fragrance,” Brown said. “It was nice. I will never forget it ... Everybody was happy.”

Brown aged out of foster care last year. She graduated from South Dade Senior High School with a plan to become a physical therapist. The 19-year-old Miami-Dade College student also volunteers for The Strong Survivors, a nonprofit organization that her sister founded earlier this year to help children in need — especially those who are in the foster care system.

Brown said she has seen how the coronavirus recession is impacting everyone in South Florida. She knows helping others is possible with teamwork. The organization’s first mission was to collect and distribute backpacks. It was a back-to-school drive-thru event during the pandemic. One of the organization’s goals was to prevent foster care children from having to carry their belongings in trash bags.

“You could feel they were thankful,” Brown said. “You could see it in their eyes. Some of them smiled.”

The organization has the backing of the Homestead Police Department and Chad Mason at MK Law, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale. Brown is hoping for more community partners. She said she and her sister dream of turning the annual holiday toy drive into a hopeful Brown siblings' Christmas tradition.

“I remember the days when we didn’t have nothing. I mean, we barely had stuff,” Brown said, adding she wants to help "bring smiles to kids' faces.”

Brown is asking anyone who wants to contribute to the Strong Survivors’ first toy drive to donate gifts for children ages 1 to 17 and mail them to 633 SE 3rd Ave #4F, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Donors can also contribute to the $3,000 goal on the new GoFundMe page and follow them on Instagram. For more information about ways to help, call 786-408-1768.

About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.