She gave her life to kids in need. Now, her life is being remembered.

A deep wave of sadness is still being felt by all who knew one of Miami’s most notable child abuse prevention advocates, Rosa Maria Plasencia.

Her life was cut short earlier this month when she died of a heart attack at Baptist Hospital after going there for chest pains. She was only 59.

As director for the Miami-Dade nonprofit, Amigos for Kids, Rosa Maria’s goal was to help prevent child abuse through awareness campaigns and to empower kids to talk about or report abuse should it happen to them or someone they know. Her long-term goal, before she passed, said her cousin, Jorge Plasencia, who co-founded Amigos for Kids when he was 17, was to make the 26-year-old nonprofit more of a national organization, so that its message, “There’s no excuse for child abuse,” could reach a greater audience.

“That was definitely in Rosa’s plans and in the board’s plans,” he said, “and I think that will be part of whoever takes it over permanently — to find ways to truly become a national advocate for child abuse prevention.”

Just one week after Rosa passed, Amigos named Lydia Muñiz as interim president and CEO, to continue carrying the message and mission of the organization forward. Muñiz served as president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami for 30 years before retiring this July.

“We convinced her to come out of retirement,” Plasencia said. “She said she’d be honored to do it in the interim. She and Rosa were friends.”

Amigos is conducting a national search for a permanent president and CEO.

Jorge Plasencia, a Cuban-American who grew up in Miami, first started volunteering and helping kids when he was a kid, while attending St. Patrick’s School in Miami Beach. Through the school’s service club, he and other students volunteered at children’s shelters – but it was the face and the aftermath of abuse he saw while volunteering at the Mclamore Children’s Center, part of the Children’s Home Society of Florida, that propelled his determination to make a long-term impact in children’s lives.

“I remember being a kid and not understanding —— because I came from a loving home, how these children who were my age could be abused,” he said. “I remember seeing a little baby… she had a burn mark on her face. Her mother had taken a hot iron and burned her. I was a kid, but I said, “When I grow up, I want to do something to help these kids.”

In 1991, he and a few others got together and started a Spanish auxiliary group of the Children’s Home Society, called Amigos of Children’s Home Society. The following year, after recognizing the growing need of underprivileged children and families in South Florida’s Hispanic communities, they branched out and created their own 501(c)()3 nonprofit.

“Amigos for Kids is there to provide services for families that are most in need and the children that are most at risk,” Plasencia said.

Plasencia is the chairman and CEO of República Havas, an advertising and marketing firm, and is a chairman emeritus of Amigos For Kids. (He’s also the former chairman of UnidosUS, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organizations in the US.)

Rosa was appointed as executive director of Amigos in 2004, after working for years as a sales director for Air New Zealand, and was promoted to president and CEO of Amigos in 2012. Three years ago, under her leadership, Amigos won the Children’s Trust Program of the Year.

“From the second she became executive director, she made this organization her mission,” Plasencia. said “She lived it 24/7 and it’s evident in how the organization has grown and evolved.”

Amigos’ impact on the community is magnified by its service initiatives. Projects include an after-school program at José Martí Park in East Little Havana, which serves 120 kids; “Nurturing Families” workshops, funded by the Children’s Trust, which helps strengthen bonds between children and their parents; Back-to-School drives, in which over 1,500 children are given backpacks and school supplies; and the Amigos For Kids Holiday Toy Drive – which grants specific gift requests to kids in need.

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“What’s special about our Toy Drive is that we go out to each and every child that’s part of our organization and we ask them what their wishes are for the holidays,” says Plasencia. “We make two out of the three wishes that they ask for come true. We curate lists with children and their families and get the kids exactly what they want.”

He says individuals and corporations can help by purchasing gifts that children want for the holidays.

“Every year we make thousands of wishes come true,” he says. “We’re always looking for volunteers and donors. There’s all sorts of opportunities to get involved throughout the year.”

At the heart of the organization is educating elementary and middle school students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools that there’s no excuse for child abuse – the organization’s motto and mission.

“As a partnering entity, our school system has been working with Amigos for Kids for 15 years,” says Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “Amigos’ core mission has been to create awareness in the community in the prevention of child abuse, and they’ve supported our school system’s child abuse prevention programs through a number of ways,” he says.

School initiatives include presentations to young students, which emphasize that it’s okay to tell a trusted adult if someone is harming or threatening them or someone they know. Amigos has also distributed over 380,000 informational abuse prevention pamphlets (in English, Spanish and Creole) to elementary and middle school age students in all of Miami-Dade County’s public schools, says Carvalho.

The types of abuse the Amigos addresses are sexual abuse, physical, mental, verbal abuse and neglect.

“The one person, who for 15 years I’ve known personally as a dear, beloved friend, with an incredible passion for the work, was Rosa Maria Plasencia,” says Carvalho. “I know that Amigos for Kids work will go on, but her presence will be so sorely missed.”

Plasencia’s team at República Havas worked with Rosa to exhibit “Broken Crayons,” in a Wynwood gallery during last year’s Miami Art Week. The exhibit showed real drawings of children who had been abused. The objective was to help adults look for signs of abuse, as abused children often hide subconscious clues of what’s happening to them in classroom drawings.

“It creates awareness for child abuse prevention,” says Plasencia. “Rosa’s goal and our goal is to have it in other cities.”

As for Amigos, Plasencia says it will continue to grow, although it will be that much harder to do without Rosa’s passion.

“It’s hard to find leaders that are all heart and all brains and Rosa had both,” he said. “She put her heart and her business mind to protect families and children every day. She was a voice for the voiceless.”

How to help

Go to, or call 305-279-1155,

If you know of a child who you suspect is being abused, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1 (800) 96-ABUSE.