marlienebastien_fc.jpgAugust 26 is a special day for voters in Miami-Dade County:  They will vote to safeguard the special district designated as The Children’s Trust, whose mission is to fund children’s programs in the domain of health, development, safety, parental education and after-school programs.

Initially defeated in 1988, voters winked in favor of a tax-generated fund for children in 2002, mainly due to the Herculean efforts of a big bear of a man: David Lawrence Jr., the chairman of the board of The Children’s Trust.

To an untrained eye, Lawrence looks quite intimidating, until he starts talking about children. Then, the twinkle in his eyes manifests. The heat of his passion can light a fire in any heart. If not, then you’re a cold-hearted son of a gun. Don’t put words in my brain!  We’re talking about children here!

Lawrence, L’Homme Sage (the wise man in Creole), raised big money and energized an army of unlikely bedfellows to volunteer for a successful campaign.

The Children’s Trust was officially established.

Lawrence wrote: “The Children's Trust came to be because I felt, as did others, that “trust” was and is the greatest single issue in our community. It is the people's money that is being spent, and they absolutely deserve to have the fullest level of comfort that their money is being spent wisely and prudently on behalf of children.”

When asked how he was doing a few days ago, he replied, “Busy, busy, busy.”  He is busy alright. He is calling friends and foes, raising money, e-mailing, text messaging, talking to everybody who will listen.

If you do not wish to listen, well, he’ll talk to you anyway. He wants you to safeguard this dedicated source of funds for all children.
He just won’t give up!  It is a wonder how he manages to give attention to all. In the midst of everything, he remains a fiercely devoted family man.  Incroyable – (Creole for incredible)!

Called fondly “Mo” by most, Modesto Abety, president and CEO of The Children’s Trust, is Dave Lawrence’s alter ego.  He is calm, approachable, unassuming.  Don’t be fooled by his demeanor, though.

He’s a quiet force, a powerhouse who managed a $99.3 million budget during fiscal year 2007-2008 alone.

He interfaces with a mega list of grantees daily. Assisted by staff and blessed by a powerful board, he grants some requests, and denies many. He has unleashed the passion of some, the frustration of others.

Detractors, who for the most part vote for anonymity, believe that The Trust failed some poor communities by awarding lush contracts to well-endowed, powerful  institutions, while denying others most deserving.

Some people are still sitting on the fence even as early voting has begun. To those hesitant folks, Lawrence penned, “It would be deeply painful if this were lost. No longer would The Children’s Trust be in existence. No longer would The Children’s Trust be able to fund health teams in public schools – programs for children with special needs – a higher-quality, after-school care and summer camp for literally tens of thousands of children – high-quality child care. All this would go away. That seems to me so sad for children…so sad for the future of our community.’’

Other fence-sitters have no bones with The Children’s Trust. They simply  “mistrust” the state of our  economy. They are weary of yet another tax burden.

“This is a renewal,’’ Lawrence added. “Not a new tax. It costs the median-assessed-value homeowner $57.88 a year, or a little more than a dollar a week. It is not simply about investing in the future of children, but in the future of all of us. It leads to a safer, more secure, more thriving community for everyone. I give you just one example: The biggest increase in crime in our country occurs mid-afternoons on school weekdays. Children either have something constructive to do, or they find something else to do. Just imagine the impact of 45,000 young people – in Trust programs – having higher-quality after-school programs. I believe in a splendid future for our community but only if we truly invest in our children and their futures.”

No need to worry just yet. Even those skeptics about the raison d’etre of the Trust seem to support its continuance.  No matter the shortfalls, the gains undoubtedly outweigh all past failures.

Lawrence encourages teams of friends, neighbors, colleagues and co-workers to call each other up for a collective sprint to the finish line.  Through the power of the oldest, cheapest networking tool known to man – Teledyol (Creole for the power of the mouth) – the words are getting out, building real momentum for the Children’s Trust reauthorization.

Abety said, “This community is so blessed to have such a broad range of deeply caring, concerned and capable people who truly are devoted to improving the lives of children and their families.  It has been such an honor to work with them and to help make a piece of their dreams come true…”

Voters are encouraged to vote early until Aug. 24.  Who knows what the weather will be like on Aug. 26?

As the Creole Proverb aptly says, “Se sak nan vant ou ki pa ou,” which means, “Only what’s in your stomach is truly yours.’’

Let’s not leave anything to chance for the sake of all children. Why? Because, as the Trust states on its website, “All children are our children!”

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.