Clay, of all things, has always been a big part of Silvia Dodson’s life. It helped shape her childhood in Cuba and her family’s life in the United States. Now, it is part of the foundation of her service to the community.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dodson’s commitment to success and service makes her a standout figure in this community, and it’s something that she picked up at a young age.
Born in Cuba, Dodson — then Azorin — grew up in a close, Catholic family before Fidel Castro came into power. Although she has just one brother, 30 cousins were also in the picture.
“We were raised like brothers and sisters — always doing things together,” Dodson says.
Her mother’s side of the family were farmers, and her father’s side made a living in manufacturing clay products. Business trips were combined with pleasure: Dodson’s entire immediate family often traveled to the U.S. together for extended periods of time.
“My father would drive from Miami to New York, stopping along the way to visit with friends and business associates,” Dodson says. “They always made the trips a fun adventure for us.”
It wasn’t long before Castro’s regime threw a wrench into the lives of all Cubans. The dictator’s violent revolution led to the creation of a Marxist government. This led to many Cubans’ decisions to leave. Dodson’s family left when she was 9 years old.
“My mother, brother and I left Cuba abruptly on a plane to the U.S., with a few other family members,” Dodson says. “My father had to leave Cuba via Haiti, because his visa to enter the U.S. had expired.”
The family took political asylum in Miami and received assistance for three months from the local Catholic charities and food bank, while Dodson’s father and uncles searched for work. Meanwhile, back in Cuba, the government seized control of all the family’s property and possessions.
“Through all the hard times and any despair we may have had, we were — and continue to be — a happy and loving family, due mainly to our faith and trust in God,” Dodson says.
THIS AMERICAN LIFE
Dodson’s family eventually relocated to Georgia, after her father and uncles found work at a brick company, and lived there for two-and-one-half years. It was an adjustment for everyone, although Dodson didn’t have too much trouble picking up on things.
“As a child, learning a different language or a new way of life was easier than as an adult,” she says.
The family eventually saved enough money to found a new company and relocate. Because of its proximity to Ybor City, Tampa and the nearby highways, Plant City became the headquarters for Florida Brick and Clay in 1963. That year, Dodson started seventh grade at what was then Tomlin Junior High School.
Dodson has remained in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World ever since and works in the family business with her brother, Antonio, and her husband, Vice Mayor Bill Dodson. She’s proud of her work but may be most passionate about her volunteering pursuits in the community.
FILLING THOSE BOWLS
An interest in art from a young age — and easy access to clay — has always stuck with Dodson. She loves to work with her hands and found a way to use her passion for the benefit of others in 2009.
That was when Kelly Klein, former executive director of the United Food Bank of Plant City, challenged Dodson and other board members to come up with an idea to benefit the food bank as a fundraiser. She, and two of her colleagues, founded the Empty Bowls Project.
“Personally, the project was a good fit for me, because it involved the art of working with clay and helping others who need our help during hard times,” Dodson says.
A $10 donation to the food bank will get attendees a simple lunch, and they receive a bowl made by a local student as a reminder that some people’s bowls don’t get filled every day.
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
What was your first job?
I worked at Sears Roebuck and Co. at the Wabash Shopping Center in Lakeland, while I was attending Polk Community College, now known as Polk State College. My first responsibility at Sears was in the Catalog Department, as a sales person, and I later became the night shift Teletype Operator — typing and sending the daily orders to the regional office in Atlanta.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I have always had an interest in the arts, and wanted to be an interior designer.
What’s the best advice you have for being successful?
Being true to yourself, being honest and respectful to others and being trustworthy.
Who is your role model?
What’s the hardest life lesson you’ve learned?
This is a hard question, but losing a parent — or a loved one — has got to be one of the hardest life lessons to experience. Life is short, so make every minute count.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
This may sound idealistic, but I would want to be able to combat injustice and help people around the world respect each other.
What’s the No. 1 most played song on your iPod?
Unfortunately, I do not have an iPod. But, if I did, I would play “Happy” by Pharrell Williams all day long.
If you were reincarnated as an animal, what animal would it be?
I would be a Golden Retriever.
What’s your least favorite food?
Liver, cooked any way.
Where would you go in a time machine?
I would go back to my childhood and do some things differently.