By Libby Baldwin
Dr. Sheron Alexis-John, an occupational therapist living in New York City, thought she had seen everything when it came to the failures of the public education system in this country. Then she moved to Florida.
Dr. Alexis-John and her husband, Devon, serve as president and vice president of the nonprofit SheDev Community Outreach Center (SCOC), originally founded in their native New York, but now based in Riverview.
The SCOC’s mission is to provide resources to children and families and give them the best chance for success in school and beyond.
The idea for SCOC came to them while working with kids who were falling through the cracks of the educational system due to unidentified disabilities and parents who lacked the knowledge and resources to help them.
“When we came to Florida, we found a much more extensive problem,” said Dr. Alexis-John, 52. “We learned, for example, that some children in the Tampa Bay area were dependent on school lunches as their primary source of nutrition.”
The Johns opened a child care center with a specific focus on educating parents on attention span, interaction with others, age-appropriate problem-solving and other skills as well as connecting them to outside resources that could further their child’s academic success.
During spring break 2018, SCOC joined forces with another local organization for its first Florida outreach event: providing meals for nearly 500 students at Tampa’s Booker T. Washington Elementary.
Its most recent fundraiser was a salsa night on February 16, which raised money for food and school supplies for kids in Hillsborough County. Participants enjoyed food, a raffle and free dance lessons from Housel Dance. Similar events are planned for the coming year.
One of SCOC’s most important goals is to establish a child development center with transportation services and a team of dedicated therapists and social workers to help fill gaps in the system.
“There are not enough services available to children with autism, cerebral palsy and learning disorders to meet the demand in our county, and families who qualify to receive the services are not able to access them due to financial challenges,” said Dr. Alexis-John.
She worries about the enormous potential lost in children who do not receive adequate care for their developmental issues early enough.
Goals for 2019 include raising enough money to purchase a therapy bus to help students get to their occupational, physical and speech therapy appointments.
The SCOC team is comprised mainly of therapists, speech pathologists and lawyers, but any adult interested in helping the community can become a member.
“The greatest benefit of being a member is the pleasure of serving and changing our community while working alongside some terrific people,” said Dr. Alexis-John.
To learn more about SCOC or become a member, go to www.shedev.org, visit the Shedev Community Outreach Center Facebook page or call 718-637-1556.