The Miami Heart Gallery: Helping Dreams Come True for Foster Care ChildrenPublished Monday, June 14, 2010
At the podium with Aundre, his newly adopted son, Roger Riquelme’s voice quivered with emotion. “I told him that everything that’s happened in his life has brought him to us,” Riquelme said.
The proud new father was speaking to the crowd at the opening night reception of The Children’s Trust 2010 Miami Heart Gallery, held June 4 at the Miami Art Museum in downtown Miami.
Aundre has been through a lot, as have the 154 other foster children featured as part of the three Miami Heart Galleries, the first launched in 2008. The children chosen – teens, sibling groups and some with special needs – are among the most difficult to place in permanent homes. Yet the initiative, which follows a national model, has proved extraordinarily successful as it begins its third year: 59 – or half – of the children have been adopted or are in the process of being adopted.
Award-winning photographers spend a day or more photographing the children in some of Miami most recognizable locals – Miami Beach was the site for the 2010 shoot. The stunning photographs then become part of a traveling photography exhibition to attract interest and potential parents for the children. The 2010 exhibit includes 43 portraits and will be displayed at HistoryMiami (formerly the Historical Museum of South Florida) from June 8-July 2.
Johnny Nuñez, one of more than two dozen photographers who collaborated this year with the exhibit, knows how important an adopted family can be.
Melissa Dunn, formerly of Circle of One which organizes the photo shoots, and Rusty Wolf, of M Network, which oversees the video production, received special recognition as “Heart Gallery Heroes.”
“We’re proud to say the Miami Heart Gallery is the most successful in Florida – and we want to be even better,” Allegra said. Other developments continue to facilitate and improve the process.
Carla and Orlando Mayorga attended the reception and are interested in adopting several of the Heart Gallery children. Both grew up in large families and know the support that family can provide. Carla has an older son, but doctors advised the young couple she wasn’t able to birth children again – and then two years ago Nikolas was born.
“He’s our miracle baby,” Orlando said. “And now we’re going ahead with faith, the faith to adopt and have brothers and sisters for our son.” Carla explained that the family has a comfortable home with a large playroom. “I’m ready to start decorating – I can’t wait to get started,” Carla said. “We have to help our next generation of children.”
Darrel, a 17-year-old student at Coral Reef High School and one of the foster care youths featured in this year’s exhibition, thanked the volunteer photographers for “taking the time to make us look like stars.”
Darrel, an articulate young man and budding journalist, received a “Do the Right Thing” award several years ago and traveled to London with other youths as part of his award. He operates a blog with friends where he writes about news, sports and other trends. In foster care for several years, Darrel remains hopeful that he’ll be adopted before he turns 18.
Written by Michael R. Malone