“It may seem strange to you, but it is the dream of my life to see this wilderness turned into a prosperous country.”
Julia Tuttle spoke those words as she surveyed the humid, swampy, backwoods outcropping that became the city she helped found. There was no way to prove that this corner of Florida could become the global metropolis we live in today, but she had the vision. She knew that against all odds, it was in this place’s DNA to flourish. So she, along with Mary Brickell, Henry Flagler and countless others, placed big bets on it. The result was Miami: diverse, thriving and, even with our challenges, boldly establishing itself on the global stage.
Throughout The Miami Foundation’s 50th anniversary year, which concluded on Jan. 27, we invited the members of this community to share their stories and become fervent champions for causes that mattered to them. Residents, just as our founders did half a century before, valiantly stepped up and created a historic year for our community.
Local donors contributed more than $100 million to the Foundation with one simple goal: to create a greater Miami. They included people like Dara Schoenwald and David Doebler, who turned their coastal trash pick-up hobby into VolunteerCleanup.org, mobilizing thousands of residents to preserve and protect our waterways; Taylor Moxey, an 11-year-old entrepreneur investing to create libraries where kids can learn, grow and be creative; and Jorge M. Pérez and his family, who made significant contributions to shape a more inclusive and vibrant Miami through the arts. Adding to this philanthropic wave were the more than 20,000 residents and donors who gave $10.1 million on a record-setting Give Miami Day. Across the county, people translated their personal passions into tangible resources for change. I have never been prouder to call this place home.
We celebrated the overwhelming generosity of Miamians by making $1 million in unprecedented signature grants, supporting organizations that innovate in tackling pressing challenges and molding our future. We helped The CLEO Institute train residents to become climate educators, inciting action around the disproportionate effects of climate change on under-resourced communities. We fueled Guitars Over Guns’ work to refocus youth’s attention on expressing themselves constructively through the performing arts. We helped bring Grameen America to Miami, enabling local women living below the poverty line to access small loans to start and expand their businesses.
These investments, on top of our millions of dollars in annual grants, help ensure Miami-Dade County’s resiliency, foster home-grown creativity and generate opportunities for residents. We are a significant step closer to the “greater Miami” we all want to live in.
Still, we won’t crystallize our future unless we leverage the big bets and investments we’re making today. After we created the first-ever permanent endowment of its kind a year ago, individuals, families and organizations united to launch the Miami Forever Fund with $1.5 million in contributions. In true Miami fashion, residents rallied to seed a critical source that can drive innovation and solutions to the known challenges of today and those of tomorrow we can’t foresee. The year’s volatile hurricane season reinforced this need. There was an incredible outpouring of charitable support in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. Millions of dollars went toward immediate relief efforts, and with many families still getting back on their feet, we must support long-term recovery strategies that improve our readiness against such threats to our way of life.
Tuttle envisioned this place — a community full of vitality and people who heartily invest to see it win. We’re beating the odds, but we can’t let up now. Too many need help; too many need access to the incredible opportunities and experiences cultivated here. As we look toward the next 50 years, we’ll need every Miamian to take ownership of an issue. What will you do? What will you champion? Will you talk about our youth needing direction or will you go and volunteer at Boys & Girls Club? Will you hurry past a homeless person on the street, or will you make a gift to Carrfour Supportive Housing to invest in a solution? Will you complain about the lack of civic engagement or commit to taking five friends to the polls this fall?
Time and again, we have proven that an individual Miamian stepping up to address a cause can yield an exponential return for our broader community. Now is the time for every resident to do their part and double-down on Greater Miami’s success. It’s how we got this far, and based on what we’ve seen from this community in the past 12 months, it’s how we’ll continue to prosper.
Javier Alberto Soto is president and CEO of The Miami Foundation. To learn more and hear Miami stories from the year, visit miamifoundation.org/50.