The Children’s Trust’s mission is to improve the lives of all children and families in Miami-Dade County by allocating funds and other resources to clubs and groups throughout the county. Some of those groups however, ones that benefit the most underserved populations, are not getting the support they say they need or deserve.

Local attorney H.T. Smith says the trust is forcing non-profit organizations to compete against people who serve on the trust’s board.

“It’s an incestuous conflict of interest,” said Smith, who said there are too many connections between people who serve on the 33-member board and the groups seeking funding. “There are too many people who are on the board but who are also connected to groups trying to get funding. One may say I’ll vote for your funding and you vote for mine.”

Meanwhile, according to the bylaws, “no member shall serve as a staff member of any agency when more than 10 percent of the agency’s budget is provided by The Children’s Trust, and no portion of a member’s salary may be paid by the board funds.”

“There is no quid pro quo between board members and nobody is watching each other’s back. In addition, keep in mind that all funding applications are considered through a competitive solicitation that includes a cone of silence so no board members or trust staff can even talk to an applicant about the details of their proposal during a funding solicitation. No board member or executive staff person even reviewed a proposal. We have a very air tight funding process that is designed to shield against influence peddling by anyone of any race, creed, color or gender,” said Senior Communications Manager Emily Cardenas.

Smith however still believes the trust is not allocating funds in a way that addresses the needs of those who need it most.

“We were going to seek funding but were told by trust members that the committee would recommend that we not receive any monies,” said Smith.

He says the problem is the $28.7 million that will be distributed throughout the county in order to run everything from summer camps to after school programs. These groups submit applications, a committee of three people (two who work for the trust and one who doesn’t) reviews the application, then based on a point system, recommends how much the group should receive in funding. According to the trust, it funds 69 of the highest ranking applications who score a 79 or higher. New groups are reviewed solely on the basis of their applications, existing organizations are reviewed incorporating past performance from previous years.

For example, reviewers recommended the Thomas Armour Youth Ballet from South Miami be given $1 million. The school offers a variety of programs ranging in price from $630 annually to $2,300; the summer program ranges from one day per week for $35 to four days per week for $120. The Overtown Youth Center offers programs annually as well with a registration fee of $25. Reviewers recommended the youth center receive $284,000. (Some amounts vary based on the number of children to be serviced.) Additionally, reviewers recommended the Centro Mater Child Care Services of Hialeah be awarded $1 million; they recommended nothing for the Belafonte-Tacolcy Center in Liberty City, or Vision to Victory in North Miami, a program created by New Birth Baptist Church. The Tacolcy Center asked for $250,000, Vision to Victory asked for $78,000.

“Our mission is to partner with the community to plan, advocate for and fund strategic investments that improve the lives of all children and families in Miami-Dade County and in doing so that means we have and must always dedicate the majority of our resources to children in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods, knowing full well that Miami-Dade County is vast and has some of the highest rates of urban poverty in the nation. We’ve done that and will continue to do so.  No doubt there will be times when our competitive approach to grant making does not include all agencies that have been funded in the past,” said Charles Auslander, president and CEO of the trust. “Still, we have the responsibility to look carefully at ways to assure as best we can that children are served, recognizing that resources can’t possibly cover all the need. As a result, a collective approach is necessary involving the private and public sector to provide our children with the essential foundations for them to achieve their full potential.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Mae Bryant, director of Vision to Victory said, “We have filed an appeal and are awaiting their response. We prepared the paperwork and showed the inconsistencies from our point of view.”

Horace Roberts, interim C.E.O. of the Tacolcy Center appealed as well but feels the application process doesn’t address certain key points.

“I understand that this is their process but this is eliminating those of us who don’t have money to get a qualified grant writer to answer the questions the way they want them answered. The process also doesn’t speak to the intangibles like the relationships that have been established for the last 48 years here. We fell short because of their scoring mechanism,” said Roberts. “Plus, if you look at who got funded, the groups rooted in the inner city, none of them got funding. There’s no one on the board to speak out.”

Roberts is referring to the fact that now that Bill Diggs, president of the  Mourning Family Foundation has been cycled out, the board has no African Americans. Its members are either White or White/Hispanic. One member is Asian and one is Haitian.

According to Cardenas, the trust only selects four out of the 33 and the rest are appointed by other entities, mostly the governor.

“For example, the current president of the UTD (United Teachers of Dade) is African-American, but he has chosen to appoint a designee who is not African-American. The Chief Judge of Juvenile Division of the Eleventh Circuit had previously appointed Judge Orlando Prescott (an African-American). We have two at-large vacancies right now and the board sub-committee is interviewing and considering candidates at the moment. The largest block of board members are appointed by the governor, whom we do not control. Clearly, no system is perfect and we are striving to diversify our board because it is the right thing to do,” said Cardenas.

She added that the nominations committee announced on Tuesday their recommendation to fill two of the at-large positions. One is an educator and one has a background in finance, both are African-American. Their names will be submitted to the full board at its meeting on Monday, April 13 for approval.