MIAMI — Eleven-year-old Aundre H. is an aspiring lawyer who hopes to one day change the world, and help people who are less fortunate.
But right now, Aundre is the one who needs help.
The state Department of Children and Families took him away from his biological mother after she was deemed unfit to care for him because of an unstable mental condition.
Today, Aundre is one of nearly 70 foster children whose photos are on display in a traveling gallery. The gallery seeks to find permanent, loving homes for the children, who are all from Miami-Dade County.
The Children’s Trust is sponsoring the exhibit, named The Children’s Trust Miami Heart Gallery.
Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe is hosting the exhibit.
The exhibit of museum-quality portraits features some children in Miami-Dade’s foster care system, like Aundre, who are available for adoption.
“I think it’s a good thing what they’re trying to do with the gallery because they’re helping out other kids that don’t have families so that they could be with people who can take care of them,’’ Aundre said. “I’d like for my adoptive parents to be lovable and to be able to meet my needs.”
The gallery’s organizers would not release Aundre’s last name, citing a state law designed to protect foster children.
Some children have the luxury of a loving, caring and stable family. Others have to deal with being passed around from foster family to foster family throughout their entire adolescent lives.
The Heart Gallery, which will be on display at a number of locations around Miami-Dade County, is one of the many across the United States that attempts to find permanent homes for foster children.
“We know that statistically a lot of the children’s futures are not very bright at 18 when they did not receive care, and many end up homeless or on drugs,” said Emily Cardenas, senior communications manager at The Children’s Trust.
Miami-Dade voters in September 2002 approved The Children’s Trust as an independent special taxing district dedicated to provide funding for children’s needs.
According to a study by the University of South Florida, one third of Florida’s foster children are likely to become homeless within three years of “aging out” of the foster care system when they turn 18.
Gallery organizers say they hope that by providing foster children in the exhibit with stable families, the children’s needs will be met, even after they turn 18.
“The Heart Gallery has been proven successful since the first one opened in Santa Fe [New Mexico] in 2001, so we just brought that here to Miami-Dade County,” Cardenas said.
Since the opening of the first Heart Gallery as a project of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department seven years ago, there has been a 60 percent success rate for the adoption of children featured in the gallery, organizers say.
That success rate is mirrored in other galleries across the country.
Rachel Fasciani, community and government liaison for Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, the non-profit agency responsible for foster children in the regions, said, “We are happy to be partnering with the Children’s Trust, the event’s organizer and sponsor.”
Fasciani added, “The Children’s Trust funds ventures that improve the lives of children in Miami-Dade County. So, because of the nature of our work, it was a natural marriage for us to work together in a partnership.”
One of the world-renowned photographers who has dedicated his time and effort to this charitable cause is Jeffery Salter, who took many of the photographs in the exhibit.
“It’s good as a professional to help in bringing out the best in pictures to help these children,’’ Salter said. “It says a lot more than a snapshot would. These pictures mean the most to me as it makes a tangible change in someone’s life. I think the kids have a lot to offer and I’m happy to be part of the possibility of them finding a home.’’
In addition to the exhibits, the Miami Heart Gallery has a website that will bring awareness to the more than 500 foster-care children in Miami-Dade who dream of one day having a secure family.
The site, www.miamiheartgallery.org, includes photographs, biographies and audio recordings of the available children, and gives information about the adoption process. It also offers online forms that people who are interested in adopting the children can complete.
Photo courtesy of The Children’s Trust. Photographer Jeffrey Salter, right, sits with Aundre H., 11, who hopes one day to become a lawyer.
IF YOU GO:
What: Children’s Trust Miami Heart Gallery
Where: Miami Art Central, 5960 S.W. 57th Avenue, Miami
When: June 14 to 29, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
An adoption education lecture at Miami Art Central is offered on June 28 at 10 a.m.
What: Children’s Trust Miami Heart Gallery
Where: The Windisch-Hunt Fine Art, 2911 Grand Avenue, Coconut Grove
When: July 4 to Sept. 7, Tuesdays to Fridays from 6 to 10 p.m. / Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 9 p.m.