JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville college student penned a heartfelt letter to First Coast News nominating a woman she calls Momma Dee for the 12 Who Care awards.
In the letter she details her struggles of not having a mother or father to rely on as a high school student and being homeless. She said Momma Dee changed her life.
As it turns out Dee Wilcox has changed many lives on the First Coast as founder of the Annie Ruth Foundation.
Wilcox was chosen as a 12 Who Care honoree due to her dedication to hundreds of Jacksonville's youth. Her non-profit hosts programs that connect teenagers with business professionals, setting them on a path to success.
"I actually met this young lady, she was interested in participating in one of our programs," Wilcox said. "I was at her school. She was living with a relative, her mother is in prison, she was working five sometimes six days a week."
In the months following that encounter Wilcox moved the young woman into her home, a stable environment where she would end up thriving as a student.
"She ended up not missing any days from school once she transitioned into my home," Wilcox said. "She made straight As on her report card. She made the honor roll. She expressed the desire to go to college and guess what? Now she's in college."
That's what Annie Ruth, Dee Wilcox's "Big Momma" would have wanted.
"The Annie Ruth Foundation is named after my grandmother," Wilcox said.
She describes her Big Momma as a no-nonsense type of woman who made sure all of her children and grandchildren received an education and gave back to the community.
"That's what the Annie Ruth Foundation is all about," Wilcox said. "The ultimate goal is that everybody will be a positive contributor of society."
Hundreds of local students have made it through the foundations' internship program, including Diya Bhaskar.
"It was amazing," Bhaskar said. "I learned so much from the year round program and then from the summer internship. I got hands-on experience in the medical field which I never got before."
Aden Calinisan recalls having to meet strict deadlines, interacting with business leaders and gaining a mentor in Wilcox.
"She wants us all to succeed, and you can tell just by how she talks to you and just how she's always pushing you to do your best," Calinisan said. "Really just being motivational to us."
"She's just an amazing person," Aniyah Kargbo said. "She's always there to talk to, to ask for advice. She's always giving us new opportunities, new scholarships to look at, people to talk to. She's a great role model and a person to have in my life."