Family foundations make a significant impact in community

Fabien Cousteau waves from inside Aquarius Reef Base, an underwater laboratory operated by Florida International University in the Florida Keys. The Medina Family Foundation helps to support the project, which is developing underwater technology. Cousteau is the grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.
Fabien Cousteau waves from inside Aquarius Reef Base, an underwater laboratory operated by Florida International University in the Florida Keys. The Medina Family Foundation helps to support the project, which is developing underwater technology. Cousteau is the grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. AP

A Cuban immigrant, Manny Medina came to Miami with his parents at age 13. His father was a taxi driver, his mother, a maid.

Fast forward to 2012. Medina sold Terremark, a data services company, to Verizon Communications for $1.4billion. He decided to use some of that money to start up the Medina Family Foundation and give back to the country and community that had given him and his family so much.

Today, the Medina Family Foundation has partnered with 50 nonprofits to create opportunities for youths to break the cycle of poverty.

“I sort of dove into this,” said Melissa Medina, president of the foundation and daughter of Lisette and Manny Medina. “I started researching nonprofits that align with our goals. I was unaware we had so many thousands of nonprofits out there. I love learning about them all.”

The Medina Family Foundation is one of a dozen or more family foundations established by South Florida business leaders to give back to their community. Others include the Jim Moran Foundation in Deerfield Beach run by the family of the late auto magnate Jim Moran; the Miguel Fernandez Family Foundation started by healthcare magnate Miguel “Mike” Fernandez; the Braman Family Foundation, which has funded numerous breast cancer prevention initiatives; the Lennar Foundation, the charitable arm of Lennar Corp., the Miami-based national housing developer; and the Ted Arison Family Foundation, founded by the late Miami businessman who founded Carnival Cruise Lines.

The foundations may have different missions and causes, but all have worked to enrich and improve the community in significant ways.

The Medina Foundation has lent its support primarily to three causes. First, it provided a $1million multi-year commitment to the Seed School of Miami, a charter boarding school for at-risk kids that opened this year as one of the first in the nation.

It also supports Aquarius, an underwater lab operated by Florida International University in the Florida Keys designed to test and develop underwater technology. The project was in danger of closing down due to lack of funding when the Medinas stepped in.

“We’re very passionate about this one,” Melissa Medina said. “We grew up on the water and we all scuba dive, so giving back to the ocean made sense.”

The third major donation was to a new organization called Roots of Hope that draws on the family’s Cuban heritage. Working with Cuban writer and dissident Yoani Sanchez, the organization, along with the Medina Foundation, is seeking to reach Cuban youths through social media. Medina traveled to Silicon Valley and met with Facebook and Twitter executives to work on extending those social media sites to Cuba.

Miguel Fernandez has a similar Cuban rags-to-riches story, emigrating to the United States in 1965. Fernandez’s family originally settled in New York City but made their way to Miami. Eventually, Fernandez became an entrepreneur and founded MBF Healthcare Partners, a Miami-based private equity fund. He is now a billionaire with a yacht, a mansion, helicopter and land holdings.

But Fernandez doesn’t just spend his money; he gives away plenty, too. His three older children decide what causes to fund through the Miguel Fernandez Family Fund, which, according to published reports, has given away $28million to hospitals, an art museum and universities.

Fernandez declined to give the Herald an interview, relating through a spokesman only that his foundation supports children and educational causes. According to published reports, in 2011 the foundation gave $5million to Miami Children’s Hospital to build a trauma center. The foundation also gave $5million to the new Pérez Art Museum Miami.

A successful auto dealer in Chicago, Jim Moran had a long history of charitable giving in that city before moving his operation to South Florida in the 1960s. His early years of giving were done anonymously. His first public gift was a $1million gift to Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale in 1988 after he underwent open heart surgery there. Then in 2000, he and his wife announced a $6million challenge gift to that same hospital, which funded the five-story Jim Moran Heart & Vascular Center.

Moran, however, was most proud of the Youth Automotive Training Center, which he founded in 1984. It provides auto mechanic training, education and life skills management to South Florida’s at-risk youth.

The list of gifts from the Moran Foundation are too long to enumerate, and include gifts of at least $500,000 each to the Urban League of Broward County, United Way, the Community Foundation of Broward, Nova Southeastern University and Planned Parenthood, to name a few. In 2014, the foundation doled out $6.1million. The strategy for giving now is to spread smaller amounts of money—generally $50,000 or under—among dozens of causes rather than to make multimillion dollar gifts to a select few.

The Braman Family Foundation, meanwhile, is heavily focused on breast cancer. Earlier this month, the foundation partnered with the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine to bring 3-D mammography, the latest technology in breast cancer screening, to Miami-Dade County’s poorest communities.

A $1.1 million gift from the Braman Family Foundation will allow the medical school to establish the Linda Fenner 3-D Mobile Mammography Center, the first of its kind in South Florida. The technology is said to detect breast cancers earlier than standard mammograms.The center is named after Norman Braman’s sister-in-law, Linda Fenner, who died of breast cancer in 2005 at age 54. And the Braman Family Foundation funded the opening of the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute at the University of Miami's Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Bramans also gave $1.5million last year to Lotus House, an Overtown shelter for homeless women and children.

The most recent donation from a family foundation was made just last week by the Lennar Family Foundation. The foundation donated $50million to the University of Miami Health System to name the new four-story medical center that will cater to residents of Coral Gables, Kendall and South Miami. The project is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2016.


Ted Arison Family Foundation:

Braman Family Foundation: 305-576-1889

Miguel B. Fernandez Family Foundation: 305-476-5177

Medina Family Foundation:

Jim Moran Foundation:

Lennar Foundation: