Three years ago, I criticized the Children's Trust for largely ignoring grassroots youth programs that serve African-American communities, including the Liberty City Optimist Club, which I founded. A lot has changed since then.
The trust, an independently run group funding kids' programs through a Miami-Dade property tax, studied why some organizations were more likely to be funded. The process favored big organizations that could afford a grant writer. You also had to submit an audit, which is expensive for a small nonprofit.
To solve these problems, the trust created a community-based organizations initiative. The goal was to teach us how to operate more efficiently and understand what funders such as the Children's Trust expect from applicants for funding.
More than 500 people attended grant-writing workshops. I’m proud to say the Children’s Trust board recently recommended the Liberty City Optimist Club for funding. We were not alone. Thirty-one percent of the successful applicants were black-owned. That's a 63 percent increase in funding to black agencies from 2015.
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All told, the Children’s Trust awarded grants for school health clinics, parenting support classes, and after-school, summer, and youth enrichment programs at 773 locations across Miami-Dade County. That represents a recurring $84 million annual investment in our community for the next five years. For grassroots organizations that struggle to make payroll, nothing beats reliable funding. This will help us ensure the children we serve improve their reading, social skills, and physical fitness and are exposed to a host of opportunities.
More than half of all applicants not previously funded got in the door. This was made possible because the Children' Trust's executives, staff, and board members had the vision and dedication to level the playing field.
"We are thrilled to be able to bring more services to our community to make families stronger and children healthier, and to help all our youth succeed in school and in life," James R. Haj, the trust's president and CEO, told me. Haj has lived up to his promise that he would make the Children's Trust more inclusive when he took the job in April 2016.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.