To Javier Alberto Soto, Miami represents a tale of two cities, with the rich and poor separated by an ever-widening equality gap.
And as president and CEO of The Miami Foundation, a philanthropic group celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Soto plans to fund the efforts of local nonprofits to bridge that gap and serve the underserved.
During a Friday morning reception celebrating the group’s anniversary, Soto announced the foundation would be donating $300,000 in grants to five Miami-Dade County nonprofits that work to create equal opportunities for disadvantaged members of the community. The donations were part of a $1 million pledge the foundation made this year, which will aim to help different areas of the nonprofit sector in Miami, including those fostering creativity and resilience.
“Fifty years later, we’re still focused on equality and opportunity,” he said.
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The nonprofits, which will each receive a $50,000 grant, deal in a wide array of causes, including educational services, affordable housing, mentorship and legal services for underpriviledged youth and adults. They are Breakthrough Miami, Carrfour Supportive Housing, Overtown Youth Center, Voices for Our Children and Grameen America, which will also receive a $50,000 capital investment to help fund its micro-business financing inititative for low-income women in Miami.
Eight nonprofits that represent Miami’s legacy were awarded grants totalling $100,000 in January, and more will be announced throughout the year, said Charisse Grant, the senior vice president for programs at the Miami Foundation.
Elissa Vanaver, the CEO of Breakthrough Miami, which offers students academic enrichment programs, said the grants were a testament to the service the nonprofits provide the city and Miami-Dade County as a whole.
“It’s a celebration of what this community can do when it comes together,” she said.
According to the most recent Census data, 20 percent of Miami-Dade County residents live in poverty, and 21 percent of those under 65 don’t have health insurance.
After the reception, keynote speaker Xavier de Souza Briggs, the Ford Foundation’s vice president of economic opportunity and markets, said while the work nonprofits do in Miami is crucial, they need assistance if their goal is to improve inequality.
Briggs, who was born in Miami and attended Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, said Miami has two distinct challenges that separate it from others: its origin as a low-wage haven for tourists and the segregation still present among its residents. Overcoming those challenges, and the discrepancy in opportunity they bring, cannot be left entirely up to nonprofits or charities. Universities and government should shoulder some of the load, he said.
“It’s a task that nonprofits can’t take on alone,” he said. “It’s not enough to think of this as a project simply for nonprofits... but rather to think of it as community problem-solving, in which you bring together different sectors of the community — as the Miami Foundation and other philanthropies work to do — and you figure out what it’s gonna take to face up to your big challenges.”