The Children’s Trust Hosts 18th Annual Champions for Children Award Ceremony

The Children’s Trust Hosts 18th Annual Champions for Children Award Ceremony

The sold-out event honored individuals and programs that are beacons of hope for Miami-Dade County's children and families.

Miami, FL, April 11, 2024 - The Children’s Trust proudly hosted its 18th annual Champions for Children Award Ceremony on Thursday, April 11, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Miami International Airport & Convention Center.

Drawing nearly 1,300 attendees, this sold-out event celebrated the exceptional achievements of individuals and programs dedicated to serving the needs of children and families. This highly anticipated gathering in the child advocacy community inspired a collective commitment to advancing the welfare of Miami-Dade County’s youth. TD Bank was the presenting sponsor of the event.

"Reflecting on the exceptional dedication and impactful contributions of this year's Champions for Children recipients, we acknowledge their unwavering commitment to creating and shaping a brighter future for the youth of Miami-Dade County,” said The Children's Trust President & CEO James R. Haj. “Each of their unique stories is a testament to the profound difference one can make in the lives of children and families. These inspiring individuals remind us all that positive change begins with a compassionate heart and a determined spirit.”

The following individuals were honored:

Dr. William E. Pelham Jr. (Posthumous), Founding Director of the FIU Center for Children and Families, was recognized with the distinguished David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award for lifetime achievement and dedication to children.

Bianca Sandoval from Kayleen’s Learning Center received the Excellence in Direct Service to children and families Award.

Zoe Terry, a 12th-grade Miami Country Day School student, was recognized as the second-ever Excellence in Youth Leadership Award recipient.

Ruban Roberts, a licensed therapist who uses a holistic approach to youth by developing evidence-based programs like Amplify Community Wellness and the Teen Talk Dialogue Sessions, was also honored with the Excellence in Advocacy Award.

Three Trust-funded programs were honored with the Program of the Year Award: The Children’s Trust Books For Free operated by Miami Dade College, The Liberty City Optimist Club of Florida, and the University of Miami’s Jump Start Program.

The Trust takes great pride in recognizing the outstanding individuals and organizations who go above and beyond in their service to bring hope and essential services to children and families in Miami-Dade. The annual Champions for Children Awards Ceremony celebrates their exceptional efforts in our community.

The event was made possible thanks to the generous support of Presenting sponsor TD Bank, Platinum sponsor PNC Bank, Gold Sponsors City National Bank, Florida University Center for Children and Families, Miami Herald/ El Nuevo Herald, Senator Rene Garcia, University of Miami UHealth, Wels System, WOW MKTG, and Silver Sponsors ACentral, Commissioner Roberto J. Gonzalez, Florida Memorial University, Greenberg Traurig, Health Foundation of South Florida, Key Biscayne Community Foundation, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Office of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and United Way of Miami-Dade.

2024 Honorees Profiles:

Dr. William E. Pelham Jr., David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award Dr. William "Bill" E. Pelham, Jr., was a pioneering figure in children's mental health, serving as Director of the Center for Children and Families (CCF) at Florida International University. His 50-year legacy included groundbreaking research on ADHD, shaping national standards and establishing the renowned Summer Treatment Program. Dr. Pelham's leadership transformed the FIU CCF into a world-class research center, providing clinical services to over 3,000 families annually. He prioritized hands-on involvement, personally engaging in the Summer Treatment Program and mentoring over 50 graduate students. Despite his untimely passing in 2023, Dr. Pelham's dedication to mentoring and training the next generation ensures his impactful work will continue to benefit children's mental health for years.

Bianca Sandoval,  Excellence in Direct Services to Children and Families Award Ms. Sandoval, an experienced caregiver at Kayleen's Learning Center, is dedicated to ensuring the safety and well-being of the children under her supervision. Alongside her responsibilities of following program policies and leading age-appropriate activities, Ms. Sandoval goes above and beyond her job description to provide personalized support to each child. She fosters community engagement by organizing events and workshops, enriching the educational experience for children and their families. One of her standout initiatives is the "Storytelling Extravaganza," where she creates a magical experience to ignite the children's love for reading and learning in addition to "Family Literacy Nights" at the center, which has improved children’s reading skills and brought families together. Ms. Sandoval's commitment to fostering a nurturing environment and her innovative approaches make her a true inspiration to her colleagues and a positive force in the Miami-Dade community.

Zoe Terry, Excellence in Youth Leadership Award In the heart of the Miami-Dade community, Zoe Terry stands as a beacon of inspiration and innovation, having embarked on a transformative journey at the age of 5 to challenge the status quo. Over the past 12 and half years, Zoe has overcome adversity and bullying to establish Zoe's Dolls, a nonprofit that has distributed over 60,000 dolls worldwide. Zoe's commitment to youth advocacy is unparalleled, channeling passion into meaningful action to amplify voices and advocate for equitable opportunities. Through programs like Zoe’s Dolls Girl Ambassadors, The Girl Fit Experience, Girl Box and after-school/summer camps, Zoe has impacted the lives of over 670 girls, addressing mental health, fitness and educational needs. Her global reach extends to countries like Haiti, Africa, Cuba, India, London, Greece, Jamaica, The Netherlands, and Trinidad, making Zoe Terry a phenomenal force for positive change.

Ruban Roberts, Excellence in Community Advocacy Award With nearly two decades of experience, Ruban Roberts leads the Teen Talk Dialogue Sessions program, imparting essential life skills to young adults aged 13 to 21. The program has achieved milestones through 250 sessions and engagement with 3,000 participants, including cultural field trips and partnerships with law enforcement agencies and community-based organizations. Roberts's commitment to holistic education, covering mindfulness, nutritional guidance and conflict resolution, contributes to improved emotional well-being and healthier lifestyle choices in the community. He fosters positive law enforcement-youth relationships and impacts nearly 400 students through the Back-to-School Youth Readiness Summit. Roberts's dedication inspires others to contribute to improving children's lives in Miami-Dade County.

The Children’s Trust Books For Free, Program of the Year Award Books for Free, a program of The Children's Trust operated in partnership with the Miami Book Fair at Miami Dade College, is dedicated to promoting early literacy in underserved communities. Placing bookshelves in over 70 high-traffic locations, the program strategically focuses on areas with low rates of satisfactory third-grade reading levels. The program takes a culturally responsive approach by providing English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole books. Emphasizing children from birth to 8 years old, the program integrates seamlessly into communities, removing barriers to access and delivering nearly 3,887 books weekly. Its commitment to free access ensures that every child, regardless of economic background, can benefit from the joy and educational value of reading. Books for Free's community impact addresses literacy gaps and fosters a culture of learning

The Liberty City Optimist Club of Florida, Program of the Year Award The Liberty City Optimist Club's after-school and summer camp initiative at Charles Hadley Park in Miami focuses on K-5 students, offering diverse activities to foster literacy, sports, wellness and overall personal development. Emphasizing a supportive learning environment, the program encourages accountability and communication between teachers and parents. Beyond sports, LCOC addresses academic improvement, social and leadership skill development and long-term success for children. The program's success is evident in promoting critical thinking skills, positive behavior shifts, confidence building and social-emotional growth, complemented by valuable partnerships for comprehensive support.

University of Miami’s Jump Start Program, Program of the Year Award Jump Start, a collaboration between The Children’s Trust, the University of Miami Mailman Center for Child Development and community partners, focuses on enhancing early childhood development. Utilizing culturally sensitive techniques, it offers toolkits for program directors and teachers to manage challenging behaviors and foster children’s development. The program aims to build the capacity of early care and education providers, reducing challenging behaviors and preventing preschool expulsion. Since 2018, Jump Start has worked with over 300 childcare programs, contributing to the long-term social-emotional development of children in Miami-Dade County.

Click Here for still images from this year’s event.

Click Here for video biographies of each honoree.

To learn more about the event and each award category, visit

Media Contact: 
Natalia Zea
Chief Public Policy & Community Engagement Officer, The Children’s Trust