“We Help People.” That’s the motto of SunServe. You’ll read that word, help, a lot in this story.

It isn’t contrived or forced or a conscious choice by the staff you’re about to meet.

The desire, the innate need to right a wrong, is a part of who they are. They want to help everyone who comes through the doors, be they seniors or youth, hungry or homeless. If people need help, SunServe is there.

“The idea is to change lives and really help the most marginalized people in our community to be able to have a safe and sound place to live,” Executive Director/CEO Tony Lima said. “To give joy and positive mental health. To help people get off substances to live their lives.”

If you walk along Wilton Drive, you’ve likely seen their sign outside the white building across the street from Shoppes of Wilton Manors. But the simple sign doesn’t belie the wide-ranging work happening inside. Inside is filled with specialists in their field, from substance addiction to trans services to educating allies. SunServe takes a holistic approach to healing those in need.

They go above and beyond to help. If someone needs housing, they find it and help with food and even bring in some furniture. It’s not about checking a box and moving on. It’s about checking all the boxes and following up. Here are the dedicated specialists of SunServe who never turn anyone away.

Misty Eyez

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Of everyone at SunServe, Misty Eyez may be the most recognizable of the SunServe family. A longtime activist in the South Florida community, she now serves as head of SunServe’s Women’s Program, Transgender Services, and LGBTQ+ Competency Training.  

“I basically wear two hats. As an educator and trainer, I go into corporate America and do LGBTQ sensitivity training, equity inclusion, understanding the transgender community,” she said.

Attacks on the trans community make it especially important for SunServe to provide space and counseling for people trying to figure themselves out. Misty said everyone’s journey is different.

“It can mean getting you on hormones if you want hormones. It can mean finding doctors that aren’t going to treat you like a petri dish. It could help get a name change, helping you get a resume together and find a job. Anything the client comes to us and says. There is no cookie-cutter thing that people need.”

Mario DePedro

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Another vulnerable and attacked group in our community is LGBT youth. Youth and Family Services Director Mario DePedro creates safe spaces and events for young people and their families.

“They find someone to help them with their goals, start them in school, help them go back to school, help them get jobs, places to live, start new hobbies, make new friends.”

Opportunities for youth include life coaching, therapy, support groups, and help getting started in life. Mario’s favorite part of working at SunServe is seeing people grow and come into their own despite adverse circumstances.

“Seeing youth build connections, build those natural support groups, and seeing them come to a place, smile, and see people they know and recognize and have a good time and be a place where they can be them.”

Rian Merrick

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Rian Merrick is one of the Youth Therapists.

“I help kids, teens, youth, and some parents too, and help them deal with mental health and cope with life’s problems and how they affect LGBTQ teens and help parents with LGBTQ teens. There’s no rule book for that.”

Navigating adolescence is hard for everyone, but being LGBT adds an extra layer mentally and socially. Merrick said building community is key.  

“SunServe is one of the best resources I’ve ever experienced. Coming from a Caribbean Island myself and seeing the development and community this has created for kids. Having groups, having events. Simple kid and teen activities and being able to connect them.”

Justin Gladney

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South Florida’s seen substance addiction spiral out of control for years, and isolation during the pandemic only made things worse. Justin Gladney works as a case manager in the Substance Use Disorder Program.

“There’s a lot of different things I help clients with. With substance abuse, a lot of clients are houseless. We help them into sober living homes and broad-based case management.”

They help addicts with immediate needs, like housing, jobs, replacing IDs, and other basics of getting on their feet. But Gladney said the most important part is helping people focus on the future.

“A lot of times, people are at the lowest point of their lives. The best thing we provide is empathy. We provide the motivation to change. If you have a reason to change, you will change. We’ll take their goals and help them discover paths to get to their goals.”

Brenda Rentas

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Brenda Rentas is the associate director for SunServe’s Housing Program. As we know, finding affordable housing is tougher than it’s been in years.

“There is a crisis right now. We are trying to be supportive because it’s exasperating the mental health crisis as well. People are stressed out and that causes medical problems. It’s a big domino effect.”

Rentas and the housing team work to find housing for anyone who walks in the door, which often means hours of work searching to find a program the client qualifies for. But their main housing help is for people with HIV.

“Our program is HOPLA, Housing for People Living with AIDS. When we have a client who has a crisis, first we attempt to contact the city and see what clients need to qualify. Then if they don’t qualify for assistance there, either their income is too low or the rent is too high, we try to find every resource available. We never turn anyone away.”

Many clients are on fixed incomes and have very limited choices. But Rentas and the team work to give dignity to housing. That means quality shelter that can be a home as people start to put their lives back together.

Lima said that while HIV patients are a large part of their clients, anyone, gay or straight, single or with a family, can come for help.

“We know there are a lot of people that need housing that isn’t living with HIV but need help. We want to help them en masse.”

Lisa Peters

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Lisa Peters works with local seniors (SunServe’s Senior and Youth Services are located at SunShine Cathedral). Some seniors are in need of care and help.

“Our senior center sees between 25 and 30 that have issues with mobility or are on the dementia spectrum,” Lima said. “They come in and are taken care of. They are fed. We provide activities.”

They also engage active seniors at Silver Serve luncheons. People come and find new friends and catch up with old ones.

Dr. Todd Tedrow

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As SunServe Board Chairperson, Dr. Todd Tedrow is taking a moment to celebrate the 20th anniversary, but then it’s back to planning for the future.

“We can take the foundation that we’ve built and assess, in a thoughtful way, what the future community needs are. We have a plan to reach out and talk to people to find out where the next need is developing. We know that South Florida has a number of issues that disproportionately impact the LGBTQ+ population.”

Tedrow said we’re seeing a convergence of crises.

“What’s emerging as a need that we’re observing is housing, substance abuse issues, and mental health.”

He believes the people of SunServe will help South Florida’s most vulnerable through tough times.

“The quality and characteristics of the staff. The first time I toured SunServe, I left so impressed with their commitment, passion, and the way they go about their jobs is brilliant. It’s unlike any organization I’ve run or observed. The staff is the strength of this organization.”

Dr. James Lopresti

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At the core of it all is Dr. James Lopresti, SunServe’s founder.

“It really is a manifestation of something dear to my heart. Providing care to the most marginalized in the LGBTQ community, and the most marginalized in that community. People who don’t get quality care because they’re different.”

He sees SunServe as something great. He sees a movement.

“We have become something that galvanizes the community. People want to be part of the movement, which we are, to make that care happen. Nobody should be getting less-than-quality care because they’re different, because they don’t have money. SunServe is changing that.”

Under his leadership, SunServe’s mission has spread beyond South Florida. Students have interned with the organization as they worked on getting master degrees in social service professions. Lopresti estimates more than 200 former SunServe interns are working across America.

“We’re not just what happens in brick-and-mortar buildings. We’re also connected to an energized network of other professionals, who are, in one sense, part of us. We call it the collective.”

Tony Lima

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Tony Lima became executive director last autumn.

“Our slogan is We Help People. We help people at different intersections of their lives in order to make sure they’re living healthy, happy, and fulfilled lives.” 

Lima praised his team for being able to find solutions when solutions are hard to come by.  

“We don’t work in just departments. We work across departments. We roll up our sleeves and do whatever needs to get done at the moment. They truly care about the communities they serve and have a passion for the work they do.” 


For more about SunServe’s programs, visit SunServe.org.


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