little-girl_web.jpgMIAMI — The Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI), formerly known as the Magic City Children’s Zone, is pushing full speed ahead, despite the controversial legislation and administrative changes that left the Liberty City community in jeopardy of losing infrastructure and funding.
State Sen. Larcenia Bullard, who sponsored the  legislative changes in April, was publicly scrutinized by community members for removing the original board of directors and expanding the boundaries beyond the Liberty City community.

State Rep. James  Bush, whose District 109 includes a vast majority of Liberty City, was the only representative who voted against the change. It passed 113-1.

“The Children’s Initiative was not designed to be run by elected officials. It was designed for those who live in the heart of this community,” Bush said. “We want to see smiles put back on the faces of the children in our community and are not going to allow this to go forward without the input of the residents.”

Bush, along with more than 150 Liberty City residents and supporters, recently participated in public forums at the Joseph Caleb Center and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center to address concerns about the legislative changes and ensure that community interests were documented.

MCI representatives, nevertheless, are moving forward with the planning process. State legislators allocated $3.6 million for MCI to plan, market, and do outreach within the community over a three-year period. Plans call for the development of a ten-year structural and programming business plan. The plan is supposed to improve the quality of life for area residents.

Although Florida state legislators changed the name of the organization to avoid litigation for copyright infringement (letters were sent to Tallahassee and Miami-Dade County commissioners from the Harlem Children’s Zone, noting the copyrighted term “Children’s Zone,”) MCI is pushing forward with improvement initiatives for the Liberty City community with all funding still intact.

“The money is still here!”  said Winifred Heggins, vice president and director of program administration for the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida, which serves as the fiscal agent for MCI. “It is important that everybody understand that the funds will be spent in Liberty City. This community has the opportunity to be a model for the state and the nation.”

Heggins, who publicly supported Bullard’s efforts during the forums, said the updated legislation addressed two major concerns that arose from the original legislation signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008 at the Belafonte Tacolcy Center.

At that time, The Magic City Children’s Zone, MCI’s predecessor, was to be a 10-year pilot program designed to transform the Tacolcy Center into the headquarters of a new initiative that would organize efforts between public and private social service agencies. The 2008 state Legislature approved the program, allocating $3.6 million for the program’s first three years of operation, or $1.2 million per year.

In 2006, the group paid a visit to the hugely successful Harlem Children’s Zone in New York and met with Geoffrey Canada, that organization’s founder, to gain a firsthand accounting of the program’s operation and determine how it could be replicated in Miami.

The original group’s initial excitement about the project later turned to frustration.

Bullard’s legislation placed the zone under the state Department of Children and Families, and renamed the zone the Miami Children’s Initiative.

The legislation also expanded the zone’s geographic boundaries beyond Liberty City, and reappropriated the $3.6 million away from Tacolcy, also placing the funding under DCF’s control.

Heggins told the South Florida Times that by eliminating the specific boundary lines in the original legislation, which encompassed more than one community, it would be less problematic for MCI to implement its plan. Second, the new legislation added a provision allowing funds that were not spent during the first year to be carried forward for the implementation of the initiative, rather than reverting to the state for reallocation to other projects.

Heggins also said it was important for her to participate fully in the forum process, especially to address confusion within the community as to exactly what activities are being supported through the state dollars that were allocated for the community.

“The focus of this initiative is not to support the creation and maintenance of direct services, but to assist existing community service providers in disadvantaged areas in creating a collaborative, community-based service network to provide a continuum of care to address the needs of children and families,” Heggins said.  “The appropriated funds will cover allowable expenses directly related to the development of the Community Strategic Plan and the incorporation and operation of the Miami Children’s Initiative, Inc.”

The Florida state statute directs Miami-Dade County to work with Liberty City residents and supporters to develop a coordinated approach to provide overall services for the community to improve the quality of life in the area.

For more information or to get involved in the development of MCI, please visit