From Tiffany’s to CHARLEE

The Ritz hosts SocialMiami and friends

April Bolet, Kim Bacardi, and Ibis Noda

Bal Harbour is a fine place to start a journey. This particular one began with an invitation by Kim Bacardi to a book launch at Tiffany’s for Diamond Dishes – From the Kitchens of Baseballs Biggest Stars by Julie Loria, wife of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. The event benefitted the Florida Marlins Community Foundation and Common Threads, a group that helps to educate foster children.

The “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was a nice start to the day. Many of Miami’s star social figures were in attendance and I met Julie. We had a conversation about cooking; although with my track record in the kitchen, the chat was brief.

My friend and SocialMiami columnist Amy Rosenberg was in attendance. She was with Carolyn Travis and Rodrigo Gonzalez. I had never met Rodrigo and following the event we all went to Books and Books for coffee.

Rodrigo is a former board member currently working with the non-profit CHARLEE, an organization located downtown that cares for children who have been placed in foster care due to abuse, abandonment and neglect. I had heard of the organization through SocialMiami, but never studied their mission.

Initially, I thought it would be interesting for musicians from Amy’s Overtown Music Project to visit the kids and teach them about some aspect of music. The idea led to more brainstorming, but the collaboration could only go so far without my knowing more about CHARLEE.

Rodrigo invited me to take a tour of their facility located on South Miami Avenue between 1st and 2nd Streets. CHARLEE offers this tour monthly.

A week later I was joined at CHARLEE by Michele Sadkin, SocialMiami’s Charity Liaison, and five others from various backgrounds and professions who were interested in becoming involved. We were greeted by Rodrigo, CHARLEE’s executive director Suzy Schumer, and Kedy, who would lead our tour.

Rodrigo Gonzalez and Amy Rosenberg Photos by Manny Hernandez

Rodrigo started us off with a personal account of a recent experience. The episode still lived with him as he told the story of a new born baby who was brought to CHARLEE. The baby was shivering and Rodrigo asked if he needed a blanket. He was informed that the child was not cold and was shivering from cocaine withdrawal.

From there, Kedy led us to the medical center, which is the child’s first stop at CHARLEE. Next was the depot, an area filled with games and toys, as well as tooth brushes, soap, clothing. Many of these kids come to the facility dirty and without basic needs like underwear. The depot is where they can obtain these necessities.

Mr. Mumford, a counselor who works with the foster kids to find them adoptive homes, was who we met next. His work area was filled with photos of kids at special events and field trips. If I were a foster child, I would want him on my side.

He told a story about a brother and sister that he placed together – which is not always the case – with a family in another state. The dual placement was based on his gut feeling not to separate them.

Mr. Mumford recollected the moment just prior to the brother and sister boarding the plane en route to their new family. The child thanked him for finding him and his sister a family. The boy’s comprehension of the importance of family, though he had never had one, was a profound moment in Mr. Mumford’s life.

Not all of these stories have happy endings. More than 2,700 children were placed in foster care this last year alone, and the older kids are harder to place. On their 18th birthday, children in foster homes age out and begin an independent life. It’s a harsh conclusion to childhood and CHARLEE works with these kids until they are 23 to make their transition into adulthood as smooth as possible.

Our tour ended back in the conference room and Kedy revealed to us that he was one of the kids that went through the program. His eyes welled with emotion as he told us how his father would abuse him and his brothers. He told us, between long pauses where he would gather himself, about how school was his refuge and that he hated going home. Away from home was where he was safe.

To learn more about CHARLEE, call them up and take a tour. It’s a reality check and reminder of where the money goes when you buy that ticket to a young professionals’ charitable happy hour, or to a champaign lunch at a department store, or to the opulent gala at a posh hotel. And if not CHARLEE, then learn more about the organizations that you do support through event participation. You’ll be glad that you did.

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