New organization brings hope, opportunities to urban youth

Pictured (l-r) are Judge Migna Sanchez-Llorens, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle and UrbanPromise Miami Co-Founder Kristy Nuñez, Esq.

After piloting its programs locally for two years, UrbanPromise Miami officially kicked off its services in the South Florida community recently with an inaugural celebration at the Coral Gables Museum that drew nearly 300 attendees and raised $60,000.

UrbanPromise Miami, a non-profit organization serving children in high-risk urban areas in Miami-Dade County, is based on the successful program model of UrbanPromise Camden in New Jersey that works to help youth graduate and succeed in what has been called “one of America’s most violent cities.” For its success in Camden, UrbanPromise has been featured on ABC’s 20/20 and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

“We were inspired by the difference UrbanPromise has made in Camden, and we’ve replicated that model here,” said Dr. Ana M. Ojeda, co-founder and executive director of UrbanPromise Miami.  “Although Miami is often depicted as a tourist’s paradise, the truth is Miami is one of the poorest big cities in the country. The youth in our urban areas face overwhelming hurdles, and our role is to provide them with opportunities and support that might not otherwise be available to them.”

Through its after school and summer camp programs, UrbanPromise offers tutoring, academic enrichment activities, professional coaching in reading, professional psychological counseling, and arts and sports activities to youth ages 5-18 at no cost. Its unique StreetLeader Program also provides teens with vocational and leadership training, as they are taught to serve as mentors and camp counselors to younger children in the program.

UrbanPromise Miami’s mission is to equip children for academic achievement, life management, leadership, and spiritual growth.  Its after school and summer camp program site currently is located in East Little Havana.

During the inaugural celebration, UrbanPromise Miami StreetLeaders shared their experiences from participating in the program.

“The UP staff and interns taught me what it meant to trust somebody for the first time,” said one 17-year-old in a written testimonial displayed at the event. “They were patient with me and accepted me for who I was. I felt welcomed and loved from the moment I walked in, despite the walls I had put up around me.”

Another event highlight included the “Chen Medical Challenge” issued by Dr. Gordon Chen, ChenMed senior vice president, who also serves on the UrbanPromise Miami board. Dr. Chen called on attendees to pledge a dollar a day to sponsor a child for a full year.  Many attendees stepped up to the challenge, filling out pledge cards to sponsor children for a full year of after school and summer camp programs with UrbanPromise.

The celebration featured a live performance of classic rock hits by local band People You Know and a silent auction. Guests included Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, Judge Andrea Ricker-Wolfson, Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat, Judge Deborah White-Labora, Judge Migna Sanchez-Llorens, and Judge Don Cohn, School Board vice chair Dr. Lawrence Feldman, and Coral Gables Commissioner Frank Quesada. Major event corporate sponsors included ChenMed, Mayoral Dermatology, and Cantera & Associates.

“We’ve started with a site in East Little Havana, and we plan to continue growing to other under-served neighborhoods,” said Kristy Nuñez, Esq., UrbanPromise Miami co-founder. “The need is so great; we can’t work fast enough to meet it. Our vision is to equip children to avoid negative life choices such as dropping out, drugs, and crime and give them the guidance and tools to graduate and succeed.”

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