By Anna-Marie Menhenott
TREASURE COAST -- For Frank Avilla, the faces on the Heart Gallery of Okeechobee & the Treasure Coast are more than just children who need a home... they are the faces of those who need someone to stand up for them.
Mr. Avilla, marketing specialist for Children's Home Society, began placing faces of difficult to place children on the walls of the gallery in 2007. Since that time, he has witnessed the adoption of more than 60 children.
"It's incredibly rewarding when I can stand in a courtroom and watch the judge bang the gavel as an adoption is finalized," Mr. Avilla said. "We place the faces of hard to place children on the gallery. Children between the age of 7 and 17 who don't have immediate family members who are willing to adopt them. It's heartbreaking because everyone wants a place to call home and somebody to love them. We do our part to make that happen for these children."
The Heart Gallery makes stops at places with high traffic volume throughout the Treasure Coast and Okeechobee. The traveling exhibit offers details about each child and shows a little about their personality.
"What we try to do is provide a platform that shows the child with dignity," Mr. Avilla said. "Some children love sports, some love animals, some love to dance or play outside... we try to capture that snippet of their personality so the public can see them in their comfort zone."
Annually, the Florida Legislature designates the second Monday in May as "Child Welfare Professionals Recognition Day" to recognize professionals who dedicate their careers to helping children victimized by abuse or neglect.
At Children's Home Society of Florida, the executive divisions each of the divisions were asked to nominate an individual in their office that has gone the extra mile in helping children stay safe in our communities. Mr. Avilla was the nominee for the Treasure Coast division.
"People may see me as the face of the adoption program but it's the dedicated and tireless caseworkers of the adoption program who are the blood, sweat and tears. I'm in awe of what they do to being families together."
Mr. Avilla selflessly gives credit to his colleagues at CHS for the success of the Heart Gallery, however, Sabrina Barnes, executive director of the Treasure Coast division points her finger at Mr. Avilla.
"What can I say about Frank?" Ms. Barnes said. "He is such a bundle of energy and so passionate about his work. He makes sure the Heart Gallery is constantly in view so the public can see the faces of our hardest to place children. He is their voice. Without his tireless efforts, some of these children would never find their permanent place with a loving family."
The Heart Gallery is currently located at the School Board office in St. Lucie County. For more information about the gallery and other services provided by CHS, please visit www.chsfl.org.