Advocates for kids cited as champions for children

caines | 12/6/2012, 6:30 a.m.

Dressed in African folkloric fashion, the children on stage beat rhythms on djembe drums and sang a song theyd learned in their after-school program: Tell the world, I am my brothers keeper, I am my sisters keeper. The song, performed by the Children of Urgent Inc. a NW Miami after-school program, captured the spirit of the day for the close to 700 who attended The Childrens Trust 8th Annual Champions for Children Awards Ceremony on Nov. 16 at the Jungle Island Treetop Ballroom. The awards ceremony helps raise awareness of childrens needs in the community and to recognize those individuals and organizations providing the highest quality services to children and families. Champions is among the most anticipated events of the year for the hundreds of organizations funded by The Trust across the county. While these programs are available for all children, they are especially geared to at-risk neighborhoods and special populations such as children with special needs or those in low-income families. This annual celebration served as the occasion for President and CEO Modesto E. Abety-Gutierrez to announce his retirement. Abety-Gutierrez has served as The Childrens Trusts only president since its creation in 2002 and has a total of 38 years in public service, much of it advocating for and representing the interests of societys most vulnerable citizens. At the ceremony, Dr. Michael Alessandri received the 2012 David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award for his lifetime of achievement and dedication to children. Spoken word finalists from the Young Talent Big Dreams talent competition and Tigertail Productions WordSpeak team gave stirring examples of the power of the word. Janay Blakely, a 17-year-old at Coral Reef High School and one of four teens who performed, shared My Grandfathers Hands, a moving piece that highlighted her love and respect for all shed learned from her grandfather. Former NBA basketball star and author Etan Thomas was on hand to sign copies of his latest book, Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge and performed his own spoken word piece that encouraged all children to believe that you can be anything your heart desires. In addition to Dr. Alessandri, the Excellence in School Readiness Programming was awarded to S.T.E.P.S. in the Right Direction, a family-centered organization that works to safeguard children who are being raised by their grandparents, predominantly in the Hialeah and Liberty City areas of Miami-Dade County. Catholic Charities' Strengthening Families program, which helps parents, especially Haitian-American, in North Miami-Dade County better understand their children, nurture them, and create stronger family ties, received The Trusts Excellence in Health, Family or Community Services, and Kidworks USA, a 5-star preschool and after-school program in Hialeah, was recognized for Excellence in Youth Programming for School and Life Success. Emily Gunter, program coordinator and training manager at Urgent, Inc., whose young drummers and singers performed at the ceremony, received the Excellence in Direct Service to Children and Families for her selfless dedication in the direct service of children. Affectionately called muti,or grandmother in Zulu, by the children at the school, Gunter is a former engineer, math professor and author of several books. She promotes literacy in Urgent Inc.s programs, and uses a variety of languages English, Spanish, Swahili, Zulu and Arabic and art and music to inspire respect for diverse cultures. What could be better in life than doing work like this and knowing that it matters so much? said Gunter, emphasizing that shes retired, but plans to keep at this as long as Ive got breath. Were at a race with destiny one moment at a time, she added, and that destiny is our children.

By Michael R. Malone