Born and raised in Guyana, South America, Onica Charles faced many disadvantages still experienced by its citizens today. When she was twelve years old, her parents brought her to the United States “to give me a chance at a good education.” Charles had no idea that one day, that opportunity would inspire her to create a similar path for others.
Charles’ passion is philanthropy. As an undergraduate, she was involved with Alternative Spring Break, spending time off from school to participate in local, national, or international service projects. She traveled to third world countries, visiting clinics and centers that serve disadvantaged communities. During the summer, Charles traveled throughout the Caribbean, North and South America and even Europe to continue her humanitarian work. “I started out simple; handing out sandwiches to the homeless. My work grew from there.”
After completing her M.P.A., Charles founded International Children’s Outreach (ICO), Inc., with the goal to “give back to children in need any way possible.” ICO is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children facing poverty throughout the world, by providing food, clothing, medical, and educational supplies to deserving children. ICO is not restricted as to where they may operate; however, they currently concentrate their efforts on projects which serve disadvantage children within the inner city of the United States and third world countries.
ICO also conducts service learning projects, which take college and high school students to third world countries to help those in need. The trips immerse students within the culture while they conduct community service projects. In May 2012, ICO took a group of 13 students from Nova Southeastern University to Guyana where they rebuilt a library at a local primary school and conducted community outreach by providing food, clothing, educational and medical supplies which was all donated from the students at the university.
Charles is building her first community center in her homeland of Guyana to provide a safe haven for children. After the center is constructed, monies raised will go directly to providing assistance to those children, so they can get a better education. “Every child deserves a chance, and I promise to give them one, so they too will make a difference in the lives of others.”
Her vision for ICO is to construct five Education and Wellness Community Centers globally. In addition to building the centers, ICO will host alternative break students at the locations where they will volunteer and provide assistance to the children within the community. The centers will include classrooms, medical examination rooms, a library, media/technology room, therapeutic rooms and a community garden.
In addition to being the Founder/Executive Director of a nonprofit organization, in 2011 Charles opened her first child care center within a low income neighborhood in Broward County, Little Masters Child Care Center. The center specializes in high quality education for children ages one to twelve years old, behavioral enrichment, family therapy, mentoring and tutoring. She believes that children shouldn’t be subjected to subpar education because of their socioeconomic status, and plans on making a change. “Every child deserves an equal opportunity. “I am creating a path for these children to become little masters.” Realizing that her calling in life is helping children in need, in 2012 Charles has opened her second facility in Miami, called Little Masters Academy, which will follow the same model as her first center.
In addition to that, for the 2012-2013 school year, ICO will be hosting several local and international service trips for university students across the country including, Florida International University, University of Miami and University of Michigan. During this past summer, ICO partnered with the City of Miami Gardens to have their annual back to school funday, the event offered support by providing hundred of book bags filled with school supplies, educational information, health screenings and social service resources to local families so that they can focus on sending healthy, prepared children back to their classrooms to learn.
ICO will be hosting their annual black and white ball November 17, 2012, where the funds will to go directly to constructing the Education and Wellness Centers across the world.
She hopes to instill her enthusiasm for philanthropy in future generations. “In giving back, you not only learn the value of helping others, you appreciate the opportunities you were given.”