alison-austin_web.jpg MIAMI — On a starlit night on a basketball court-turned-elegant-outdoor-banquet-room, about 100 people braved Miami’s unseasonably cold weather to support a 43-year-old Liberty City institution in its efforts to save the children.

The Belafonte Tacolcy Center’s annual “Save the Babies” awards presentation shone a deserving spotlight on three people whose actions make a significant difference in the lives of Miami’s children and families.
Hosted by ABC 10 News reporter Glenna Milberg, the event also included a silent auction, a catered dinner and performances of poetry, dance and song.

“I love this center. This place is just such a treasure,” Milberg said before introducing Tacolcy CEO Alison Austin.

“We are gathered here … to collectively combine our energies to save our babies,” Austin told the audience.

“I am a product of Liberty City,” said Austin, who not only works in the community, but also lives and attends church there.

Tacolcy boasts a variety of programs and activities that serve children and families in its surrounding areas. Its two latest additions are nationally recognized programs.

Habitat for Humanity Miami is partnering with the center to “put families in their own homes,” Austin said. The center also has the distinction of housing South Florida’s first Freedom School, an initiative of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Since the inception of Tacolcy’s Freedom School last summer, the South Florida Freedom School Partnership has launched. It includes an additional seven Freedom Schools, slated to open this year.

The Tacolcy Center’s awards program recognized outstanding community leaders.

M. Athalie Range Leadership Award recipient Danielle Levine was compared to the late community leader, politician and funeral home director after whom the award is named.

Referring to Tacolcy as a “fellow traveler,” Levine said she was “just totally blown away” by the recognition.

“Without deep connection to the people in the community, service is hollow,” the founder and executive director of the Human Services Coalition said.

The Angel Award went to Karen Fryd, referred to by Milberg as the “great connector.”  Fryd is founder of the South Florida Youth Foundation, an organization that “makes it possible for kids to have what they need,” Milberg said of the woman who has seen to it that South Florida youth get “school supplies, prom dresses and turkey for Thanksgiving.”

Introducing the recipient of the Chic Lee Athletic Award by saying, “good sportsmanship is good human ship,” Milberg told the audience that Coach Ralph Edwards has coached youth for over 30 years, nearly 20 of them at Tacolcy.

In his acceptance speech, Edwards recalled his own childhood with his single mother and the coaches who stepped in to fill his father’s void.

“If not for those coaches, you people wouldn’t know me today,” he said of his motivation to also give back. Edwards said his mission as a coach is to help “one kid at a time.”

Tacolcy’s highest honor is the award named for the center’s founder, Frances Henderson. Miami Northwestern Senior High School Performing and Visual Arts Center  (PAVAC.)

Director Charlette Seward accepted the award with a simple, “I thank you,” after finding herself speechless.

The PAVAC group, which has traveled around the nation and has also visited Scotland, performed a spirited musical production of The Color Purple.

As of Tuesday evening, figures on how much the event and the silent auction, which included athletic footwear from Miami Heat basketball players, were still being tallied.

Photo: Khary Bruyning. Alison Austin