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Philanthropic community leaders honored at Champions for Children ceremony

The Childrens Trust board of directors, from left: Gilda Ferradaz, Steve Hope, Susan Neimand, Ph.D., Karen Weller, Marrisa Joy Leichter, CEO James R. Haj, Mindy Grimes-Festege, Pamela Hollingsworth, CFO Stephanie Sylvestre, Marta Perez, Ph.D., Laurie Weiss Nuell, and Kenneth C Hoffman at the 13th annual Champions for Children Awards Ceremony at Jungle Island in the Treetop ballroom on June 14, 2018, in Miami.
The Childrens Trust board of directors, from left: Gilda Ferradaz, Steve Hope, Susan Neimand, Ph.D., Karen Weller, Marrisa Joy Leichter, CEO James R. Haj, Mindy Grimes-Festege, Pamela Hollingsworth, CFO Stephanie Sylvestre, Marta Perez, Ph.D., Laurie Weiss Nuell, and Kenneth C Hoffman at the 13th annual Champions for Children Awards Ceremony at Jungle Island in the Treetop ballroom on June 14, 2018, in Miami. dvarela@miamiherald.com

On Thursday, June 14, those who have changed the lives of children and families in Miami-Dade County gathered for the Children's Trust Champions for Children Award Ceremony. This year marks the biggest turnout yet, with over 900 attendees there to support the trust.

The 13th annual event celebrated and recognized those who have made large strides in improving the lives of children in the Miami-Dade community.

"This room is full of champions," Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said as he kicked off the event.

After the mayor's brief introduction, dancers from New World School of the Arts and Thomas Arthur Youth Ballet performed a skilled rendition of "Somewhere" from "West Side Story," sung by Isabella Stolarczyk.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy S. Lederman received the 2018 David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award for her dedication to improving the lives of children through her work in the Miami-Dade Juvenile Court system.

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The Children's Trust founding board chairman David Lawrence Jr. presents Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman the David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award, for lifetime achievement and dedication to children, at the 13th annual Champions for Children Awards Ceremony at Jungle Island in the Treetop ballroom on June 14, 2018, in Miami. Daniel A. Varela dvarela@miamiherald.com


"The Children's Trust elevated the needs of our children, and made tremendous efforts to meet them," Lederman said. "These children belong to all of us."

Lederman is best known for the union she made between science and law, as she was involved with the National Research Council and the National Academy of Medicine for over 10 years.

"The children's welfare system will never be perfect, but we have many more successes than not," she said in her acceptance speech. "We will never stop trying to make it perfect."

Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez received the Excellence in Public Policy Award for his work regarding children's arrests and the juvenile court system.

The most important aspect of his work is helping juvenile defenders be treated like kids, Martinez said in his acceptance speech. "Kids need to be treated in a fair way."

At the end of his speech, Martinez emphasized the need to eliminate gun violence in Miami-Dade County.

Earl Maulding, director of Theatre for Young Audiences at the Actor's Playhouse, received the 2018 Excellence in Direct Service Award. He has been director for 30 years, and his Young Talent Big Dreams program was funded by the Children's Trust.

Maulding clearly loves every second of what he does. "It's so humbling ... every day when I go to work, it's fun," he said. "When working with a child, they can transform with some belief and encouragement."

He compared the trust to "fingers, reaching out into the community."

"The community is so fortunate to have an organization like this," Maulding said.

Three organizations, Concerned African Women, Fit Kids of America, and Holy Cross Lutheran School, received Program of the Year awards.

Concerned African Woman aims to assist families in achieving their greatest potential, whether educational, social, or economic. Founders Kiani Nesbit and LaTrisha Carter accepted the award on behalf of the organization, which was founded 29 years ago. No matter how successful the organization becomes, it recognizes that its mission will never be completely fulfilled, which is reflected in its motto: "No matter how good we are ― we can always become better."

Founder Rhonda Smith accepted the award for Fit Kids of America, which strives to support children and families in the Westchester area with homework and school help as well as physical education.

Sherri Mackey, director of Holy Cross Lutheran School, accepted the Program of the Year award. The school provides assistance and support to families, and also has a successful early learning program.

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