Author Archives: soniavdiazpr

Our Kids had a strong end to 2014, we look forward to further success in 2015!

Highlights from the last quarter of 2014:

Holiday Toy Drive 2014

BunchyAt Our Kids, holiday season means toy drive season! This year marked Bunchy Gertner’s 18th year organizing the toy drive and her 3rd year partnering with Our Kids.   Through Bunch’s efforts and the support of thousands of donors in our community, every child in care age 0-17 years old receives a special gift for the holidays. Bunchy also makes sure that young adults who are exiting the foster system receive a special gift to prepare them for independent living: the Good Housekeeping gift includes basic necessities for their first apartments. Currently, there are approximately 4500 children in the dependency system in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. We thank everyone who supports Bunchy’s Toy Drive, with a very special thank you to Bunchy for her tireless efforts!

Miami Walk of Fame Annie Event

AnnieOn December 9th, Our Kids participated in the Miami Walk of Fame Annie event at Bayside Marketplace. Through our partnership with the City of Miami and Mayor Tomas Regalado, Our Kids was invited to participate in the festivities and raise awareness of the need for more quality foster homes in our community. Several Our Kids families attended the star-studded event, where the film and cast received their own star on the Miami Walk of Fame. Thank you to the City of Miami, the Miami Walk of Fame, and Sony Pictures for your support!

National Adoption Day 2014

JudgesOn Friday, November 21, 2014, we hosted our annual National Adoption Day event, sponsored by The Children’s Trust. The event took place at the Miami Children’s Museum where exhibits were turned into mock courtrooms and 43 adoptions were finalized, creating 38 Forever Families. Each family received an annual membership to the Miami Children’s Museum so they can return throughout the year and enjoy all that the museum has to offer. Families also received gift cards to Publix and Toys R’ Us, on behalf of the family and friends of Carla Merhige and Lisa Merhige Knight. Thank you to The Children’s Trust and everyone who helped make this day special for our families, it would not be possible without your hard work and dedication.

Meet Our Kids’ newest Board Members and Board Chair

Bringing direction, guidance and oversight to the Our Kids Board of Trustees are Rudy Fernandez and Andrea Nhuch; both joined Our Kids’ Board of Trustees in the last quarter of 2014. Existing board member, Raimundo (Ray) L. Ruga, was named Our Kids’ board chair for 2014-2015. We are positive that their leadership will ensure the continued success of the organization and welfare of our kids.

Ray Ruga, Chair

Ray L. Ruga is a principal of the CVOX Group, LLC, a strategic communications and public affairs firm that specializes in the financial services sector in Latin America. Ray served as both strategic advisor and spokesman for both the Obama-Biden Presidential Campaign as well as for the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign. Ray received both his Bachelor’s degree in International Business and his MBA in Finance from George Washington University.

Rudy Fernandez

Rudy Fernandez is the Chief of Staff to the President, and Vice President for Government and Community Relations of the University of Miami. He has been a member of the University’s senior leadership team since 2007. Fernandez has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from Harvard University and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Miami.

Andrea Nhuch

Andrea Nhuch is a mixed media artist born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Nhuch studied Combined Media, Assemblage and Art in Three Dimensions at the Art Students League in NYC with Bruce Dorfman. Andrea has a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Ithaca College and a Masters in Cosmetics and Fragrance from the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Thank you Ray for your dedication to Our Kids, welcome Rudy and Andrea!


Give Joy to Our Community’s Foster Children This Holiday Season

The holidays are the most magical time of the year, and there is no better way to give back during this time than by helping ensure every kid has a wonderful time!

For those who wish to help children in foster care but are not able to become foster or adoptive parents, there are other ways in which you can get involved. This year Bunchy Gertner is hosting the toy drive for children in foster care for the 18th year and she aims to ensure every single child in foster care receives at least one present during the holidays.


You can get involved by buying a present(s) for a child in foster care. Come by the Our Kids lobby area (401 NW 2nd Avenue, South Tower, 10th Floor) and choose a star from our Christmas tree, each of which has the name and age of a child in foster care. If you are unable to stop by the office, please call Our Kids at 305-455-6000 and we can help you select a child. The gifts need to be brought to the Our Kids office no later than December 15th and need to be new and wrapped and have the child’s name attached.


You can become one of Santa’s helpers and wrap the gifts for children! Thousands of donated presents need to be wrapped before being sent to foster kids. Wrapping paper, tape and scissors will be provided. Bunchy is stationed at the Village of Gulfstream (aka The North Pole) and is there 7 days a week wrapping the gifts. If you can’t wrap, you can also volunteer and help by lifting/stacking gifts, moving cartons and re-arranging and straightening the area. All volunteers must be at least 16 years of age. Please contact Our Kids if you are interested in volunteering.

Happy Holidays and thank you in advance for helping to brighten the holidays for Our Kids!

National Adoption Month Website Launches

The Children’s Bureau, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, is pleased to announce the launch of the 2014 National Adoption Month website, created in partnership with Child Welfare Information Gateway, it’s information service, and AdoptUSKids.

National Adoption Month (NAM) draws attention to the urgent need for permanent families for the more than 102,000 children and youth waiting for adoption in foster care. This year’s NAM theme, “Promoting and Supporting Sibling Connections,” emphasizes the critical role sibling relationships play in helping to promote permanency for children in care. The NAM website offers a variety of audience-specific resources:

· Professionals can find information to help them promote and support sibling connections, recruit adoptive families, and see examples of how other States are promoting permanency for siblings and youth.

· Adoptive parents can find information on adopting siblings from foster care, learn what permanency means, and view powerful videos from youth and other adoptive families.

· Adopted people can find information on openness in adoption and search and reunion.

· Birth parents can find information on kinship adoption/adoption by relatives, openness in adoption, and search and reunion.

· Youth can learn about how to get involved in their permanency plans, stay connected with adults and other teens through social media, find out about the benefits of being safe online, and more.

Bookmark the NAM website today.

For more information and other adoption resources, contact Child Welfare Information Gateway at 800.394.3366 or

Renewing Our Commitment During Foster Care Awareness Month

Dear Partners and Community Members,

May is National Foster Care Month, a month set aside to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections. During National Foster Care Month, we renew our commitment to ensuring a bright future for the nearly 3600 children and youth in foster care in Miami and Monroe, and we celebrate all those who make a meaningful difference in their lives.

We are honored that Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Letinen mentioned Our Kids, Foster Care Review and Charlee in her floor address as just a few of the many organizations working on behalf of the over 400,000 children in foster care in this country. Below is a link to her comments from the congressional floor. We are thankful for your continued commitment to the role you play in the child welfare system. We cannot do it alone, we as a community need to take care of our kids.

In the world of foster care, trash bags are often synonymous with luggage.

By: T. LaShaun Wallace

Imagine walking into a relative’s home for a visit with your clothes stuffed in a huge trash bag. Most people would be mortified, but unfortunately, this is a way of life for foster children. Every day a foster child transitions to another home with his or her belongings in a trash bag, and it shouldn’t be this way.

When my husband and I picked up our first foster child in 2008, we were handed this precious little boy … and a huge black trash bag. We were brand new to the system of foster care so this practice came as a complete surprise to us. Questions such as “Are the clothes clean?”, “Am I supposed to keep the bag?” or even a simple “What IS this?” ran through our minds. However, the newness of it all and the excitement of welcoming a baby into our home made us temporarily forget about that bag, which was promptly left in the garage.

While our first foster child was too young to care where his clothes were placed, that does not hold true for older youth and teens. Carrying belongings in a bag meant for the trash can have a profound effect on self-esteem and cause feelings of worthlessness for older children in foster care. This is where the Duffels for Kids program enters the picture.

Duffels for Kids aims to eliminate the demoralizing practice of placing children in homes with their belongings in trash bags. This part of the child welfare culture must be changed but it begins with you … and me … and others who are willing to donate or walk in solidarity with the Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association on May 17 in the Duffels for Kids Walk. While we cannot change the fact that a child must be in foster care in the first place, we can do our part to ensure they are treated with respect and dignity while there. Having a new — not used — duffel bag to call their own is a small step in that direction.

Join us May 17 at Jungle Island … let’s change the culture of using trash bags as luggage for our kids, one duffel at a time.

What: Duffels for Kids Walk
When: May 17, 2014
Where: Jungle Island, 1111 Parrot Jungle Drive, Miami
Time: 9 a.m.
Registration: $35
Event Website:

More info:

A Successful 2014 Legislative Spring Session for Foster Care

Florida Foster Care Parents' Association President Martha Pedroso, Our Kids External Affairs Manager Kadie Black, and South Florida foster parents met with Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez during legislative session in Tallahassee.

Florida Foster Care Parents’ Association President Martha Pedroso, Our Kids External Affairs Manager Kadie Black, and South Florida foster parents met with Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez during legislative session in Tallahassee.

As you may have already heard, there has been much activity around the topic of foster care in the Florida legislature this session. After much advocacy on behalf of the foster children of Florida, the legislature moved to pass legislation that would help keep kids safe and appropriated additional funding to the system.

Last year, Our Kids helped to create the Foster and Adoptive Parent Legislative Committee to ensure that foster and adoptive parents have a voice in Tallahassee. This year, 12 parents traveled to Tallahassee in three groups to meet with legislators and ask them to fund the system appropriately.

Needless to say, we all had an amazing experience, not only because we were able to overcome a huge hurdle in our fight for foster children in the state, but our group was also able to make some very significant contacts.

We met with key folks such as House Representatives, Senators, aids and Miami Dade Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, to go over our legislative goals. We also recruited potential foster parents and answered many questions on what it means to be a foster parent.

Each week parents stood up in committee to convey the importance of putting kids first. Standing up to have our voices heard in committees sparked the legislature to ask important questions. Some of us were even interviewed by the Miami Herald. Each of the groups built on the momentum of the last. On the final group’s last day we had a sit down meeting with the Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera in his chambers.

We are so thankful to all the elected officials and their staff for their hard work this session. We can always do more on behalf of children and as a committee we look forward to continuing our work on behalf of the children we serve.



Our Kids Welcomes New DCF Interim Secretary Mike Carroll

This past week, Governor Scott announced the appointment of Mike Carroll, managing director of the Suncoast Region for the Department of Children and Families, as the new interim secretary for DCF. Our Kids would like to extend a warm welcome to Mr. Carroll and we wish him well in his new role. Our Kids looks forward to working with him to partner in providing services to families in Miami-Dade and Monroe as well as the rest of the state.

At the same time, we would like to wish our outgoing interim secretary, Esther Jacobo, all the best in her new role at the Miami Dade County State Attorney’s office and thank her for all the dedication and hard work she put into her time at DCF.

Undoubtedly, the first quarter of 2014 has been a transformative one for all of those involved in the child welfare system. From foster parents to legislators and media, we have seen some of the highest levels of participation from the community regarding this issue. As a result, this effort has served as a call to action to bring reform and a newfound outlook to the way we approach the safety and well being of our children.



“We are deeply saddened by the sudden death of nine-month old Carter Turcanu in Monroe County. Our Kids and Wesley House staff work tirelessly to ensure the safety of abused and neglected children in South Florida. The death of any child due to abuse by the parents is a tragedy and something that cannot be tolerated. Both organizations will continue to cooperate with investigative authorities and work with everyone involved to determine the circumstances that led to this tragic incident and to find solutions to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.”

Bittersweet Symphony

As many of you may now know, I have accepted a terrific opportunity to take on the role of Founding President of the SEED School of Miami, the first public boarding school in the State of Florida. This is an exciting opportunity as well as a brand new challenge for me.

I have spent the last 20 years working in our foster care system and, after ten years at Our Kids, I have decided to take on this new venture that I feel strongly is the right decision for me at this time, for Our Kids and for SEED.

That being said, the time that I have spent at Our Kids has been personally transformational for me. Working to better the lives of so many children and families in our community has been truly rewarding and fulfilling and nothing will ever really compare to this time.

I have seen our organization develop and progress tremendously. Implementing programs like Heroes for Our Kids, hosting dozens of families for National Adoption Day and watching our foster care kids graduate will always remain as some of the most special memories I will ever have. Nothing can really top incorporating our nationally recognized wireless tracking system, as it has probably been the greatest contribution the organization has made to the child welfare system. Not only because we revolutionized the industry, but because we helped to vastly decrease the number of children in care. It is truly amazing what you can achieve when you have the right team of people working towards the same goal.

Over the next couple of months, my goal is for Our Kids to remain as strong and successful as we have been over the years. To do this, I will be working with our amazing leadership team to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible and that we continue to provide the community with the best service possible.

We all, together, have a hand in the success of Our Kids. Every day we create our organization’s culture, every day we decide what kind of organization we will be.

I am undoubtedly a better person as a result of having worked with such an inspirational organization. Each of us has a role to play in our continued success. Every one of us is a leader. Our Kids is not one person. It is all of us. Our Kids will always be a big part of who I am. Our Kids will always be my family and will always hold a great place in my heart.

Love to all,Fran