“If you dream it, you can do it,” as the saying goes – and for Bickley Wilson, a Mayflower resident and Central Florida philanthropist, that’s no exaggeration.
Long before she founded her first nonprofit, Bickley was already taking a hands-on approach to changing Central Florida for the better. After earning her master’s degree in mental health counseling at Rollins College, she joined a counseling center that specialized in addiction, where she spent 20 years working with children from unstable homes.
“The work was hard, but I really, really loved it,” she recalls. “And after I retired, I found myself looking for ways to make a difference.”
Then Bickley had a dream – literally. In it, she envisioned creating a supportive environment where kids who may not have had access to the arts could come and create whatever they wanted – a safe place where they could develop self-esteem and emotional resilience. There were only two rules: “You can’t paint on the walls, and you can’t paint on each other.”
In 2012, that dream became ArtReach Orlando, a local nonprofit that fosters creativity and provides programs for at-risk children in Central Florida who might not otherwise have access to art. The first program, a week-long summer camp in Bithlo, was operated out of a converted van that served as a mobile classroom – and before long, it gave rise to a series of classes for kids at Title I middle schools, farming communities in Apopka, and others.
More than 10 years later, the nonprofit has grown by leaps and bounds, and it now occupies its own studio and classroom in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood. With pottery and woodworking areas, a classroom for kids, an art gallery, high ceilings, lots of natural light, and experienced “artists in residence” to serve as mentors, Bickley’s dream of a studio where “anyone can create anything” became a reality.
“There’s so much positive energy here,” she says. “It’s a place where kids can play, have fun, and also express their feelings without the fear of rejection. If they need to talk to someone, we are available to listen. That’s incredibly healing.”
And, Bickley acknowledges, the benefits go both ways. “I’ll walk into the classroom and one of the kids will run and jump into my arms,” Bickley adds. “You can’t capture that feeling in words. Let’s just say I get back more than I give.”
When she’s not busy working with ArtReach Orlando, Bickley lends her support as a volunteer and board member to other worthy organizations around Central Florida, including the free medical clinic Shepherd’s Hope and downtown Orlando’s Mad Cow Theatre. A creative person herself, she loves getting to know local artists and writers – a habit which eventually led her to The Mayflower, when one of the women in her poetry group invited her for a visit.
Like many things in Bickley’s life, her first visit to The Mayflower was a moment of inspiration. “As soon as I walked in, I absolutely fell in love,” she says. “I had been thinking about downsizing and trying something different – and here, there’s everything you could want: a beautiful campus, an active and engaging lifestyle … and a community of wonderful people.”
Since The Mayflower opened its doors more than three decades ago, we’ve been proud of our deep-rooted community partnerships, which enrich the lives of our residents and uplift worthy organizations and causes in Central Florida. We share that conviction with many of our residents who, like Bickley, devote their time and talent to civic and nonprofit involvement.
Here, you’ll find abundant opportunities to spark new friendships, expand your horizons, and engage with causes that matter to you … and just as important, you’ll be part of a close-knit community that really feels like family.
Don’t wait to discover all the advantages of life at The Mayflower – send us a message or give us a call at 407.672.1620 to learn more or schedule your tour. We look forward to hearing from you!