When the Foundation opened our annual Community Grants Program in January, no one could have imagined a global pandemic would shut down our entire community and country, triggering an unprecedented health, social and economic crisis. The financial stability of our nonprofit partners eroded, and the pandemic cut off residents’ physical access to the social support network at a time of exponential need. We had to adapt and innovate … and we had to do it quickly. 

Our 2020 Community Grants Program will award 71 organizations with a total of $1.38 million. We are deeply grateful to Javier Alberto Soto, former president of the Foundation, whose vision and dedication secured resources to make Inclusion of People with Diverse Abilities a new and permanent funding category. Also, the generosity of The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation provided matching funds to support grants for Creativity.  

The Foundation sought to adapt our approach throughout this year’s process. We signed onto the national Philanthropy Call to Action, joining nearly 750 foundations pledging flexible funding to grantees in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis – and we made changes to put the pledge into practice. We encouraged applicants to recast their proposals to account for shutdowns, social distancing, and health concerns. To help grantees best serve our community and stabilize themselves, they have leeway to modify programs that are still viable, and some received unrestricted funds to generally support missions critical at this moment. 

The innovation of nonprofits has been remarkable: creating virtual services and programs for everything from health support and education content to dance classes for children; transforming walk-in food banks and pantries into mobile neighborhood-distribution operations; and getting digital devices into the hands of children so they can connect and continue to learn. One even converted a job-skills-training thrift store into an online marketplace.   

COVID-19 made more urgent the vision for an Inclusion Fund that Javier put in motion before leaving the Foundation in October 2019. He committed to raising permanent funds that advance equitable access to programs and services, as well as full community integration of people living with disabilities. The Javier A. Soto Community Fund for Inclusion of Diverse Abilities, named to honor this legacy, secured and leveraged resources sizable enough to establish the category as a permanent part of our Community Grants Program. We also thank our donor Jo Watkins for her additional contribution to our first year of grantmaking. 

The design for the Inclusion category was rooted in guidance from people directly affected by the issue, steeped in their service needs and allies across Greater Miami. We sought to reflect their imperative that the fund be not only about services for people with disabilities, but their integration in all aspects of community life in Miami-Dade County. True integration must remove barriers in areas like employment, health care and social and civic opportunities. The impact of the coronavirus made these needs even more pronounced. 

Here is a snapshot of work supported by the Inclusion Fund in this first year: 


The Foundation is proud to work alongside our nonprofit partners as they lead the way on inclusion and rebuilding a stronger, more resilient Greater Miami.  

Charisse Grant is the senior vice president for programs and grants administration at The Miami Foundation 

Pictured: Karen Peterson Dancers, a 2020 Community Grants grantee

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