MIAMI — Six young women transitioning out of the foster care system are starting 2012 in a new home as they begin their journey into independent living. They owe it to Miami’s River of Life, a non-profit that provides shelter, transportation, literacy training and other developmental supportive services for youth.
The organization recently celebrated the grand re-opening of its property located at 1361 N.W. 61st St. in Miami’s Liberty City community that offers six apartments for transitional housing.
The building underwent extensive renovations with support of the City of Miami, the Liberty City Trust, El Dorado Furniture, Macy’s and the Kiwanis Club.
The city of Miami’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund paid for $224,950 worth of renovations that included new bathrooms, floors, a plumbing system and roof.
The transitional facility, which is named after pioneer youth advocate Georgia Ayers, will provide temporary housing for three to nine months to help foster youths become self-sustaining.
George Ellis, who heads Miami’s River of Life and manages the property, said it took the organization about three years to get it ready for use. Now, he said, the Georgia Ayers Transitional Living Facility will be a haven for young women who need extra love and support as they evolve into young adults.
According to Ellis, Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones contacted him immediately after returning to office as the District 5 commissioner following a two-year criminal investigation into mismanagement of city funds — a charge on which she was acquitted — to inquire about the progress in the renovations.
“Her first day back in office she was at this building asking what has been going on in the past two years,” Ellis said.
Ellis sees the facility as proof that his organization is fulfilling its mission to help youth and give them a tangible resource in Liberty City.
“We are about helping people and I am very proud that we are able to provide this program for young ladies to have an opportunity to get a fresh start at life,” he said.
“Just because you turn 18 doesn’t mean that you’re an adult; it’s just an age. With being an adult comes responsibilities. But we are happy that they are not being pushed back into
the community without resources. We are putting them in an environment to help them move in the right direction with support.”
Community partner Elaine Black, CEO of the Liberty City Trust, described the facility as a “labor of love” and her organization was honored to have been part of the network of support that made it possible.
“We have a game plan and we want to make sure that all members of our community remain in our community and have a good quality of life,” Black said. “That is why we were created and that is what we do. We are here to service (Liberty City) and make sure our residents get the kind of properties they want to see in their community that provide the services they need.”
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Dec. 21, Black, Ellis and Spence-Jones, along with officials such as state Sen. Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami, Miami Mayor Tomas Regaldo and Miami-Dade School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, were on hand as the six young women moved into their new home.
“We all know that when young people age out of foster care, there really is no place for them to go. If nothing else, I wanted to make sure they had a fresh start,” Spence-Jones said. “It’s not about just putting them in a building; it’s about making sure they have support along the way. We want them to know that people love them and despite whatever challenges they may have faced in the past, they can look forward to their future.”
Ayers, the 83-year-old Miami native and community activist for whom the facility got its name, capped off a lengthy career of service with founding and leading The Alternative Program Inc. that provides intervention between children and the criminal justice system.
Braynon said he was filled with pride as he looked on Ayers’ name on the building. “When I was a little kid, you saw Hadley Park, Charles Drew Elementary, Gwen Cherry Park, and you weren’t sure who these people were,” said Braynon. “But now we know exactly who Mama Georgia Ayers is.”
Regaldo paid tribute to her diligence in the fight for a better community and recounted his first commission meeting which Ayers attended and made her presence known. “I see this woman heading towards me pointing and screaming at me and I thought, ‘No one told me about this.’” Regaldo recalled. “Even then, I knew she was there to keep us in line. Georgia, the city owes you so many things. Thank you.”
Ayers, who witnessed the racism of Jim Crow when she and several other families were forcibly removed from their homes to make way for a school for whites, recounted her childhood memories of growing up in the neighborhood.
Beaming with pride, she told the crowd that her persistence and sharp wit earned her the nickname “spitfire” when she was 11 years old. “I remember my days at Holmes Elementary; I used to walk this road every day,” she said. “Thank you so very much for this. I am so honored.”
Photo: City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones and community advocate Georgia Ayers cut the ribbon to officially open the Georgia Ayers Transitional Living Facility in Liberty City on Dec. 21. In center, rear, is Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado.