History of Infants In Need and Linda Ray Children's Centre Miami, Florida

This is a replica of a booklet developed and dedicated to Infants In Need, Inc. board of directors, both new members and old members, by Wendell E. Ray, Secretary/Treasurer so they can know and remember from whence we came and more importantly, our mission!




History of Infants In Need


Wendell Ray

The question is often asked of me, "How did you and Linda get involved with children in the first place?". My answer would be, "I guess God has a purpose or plan for all of us and this is His plan for us".

The history is based on my recollections of the events over the years and facts that are public knowledge. The history is written in everyday Southern English and is intended to be informal, and personal, so if you need interpretation, please do not hesitate to email me at [email protected].

In 1986 Linda served on the Board of an organization named "Society for Abused Children" (SAC) that exists for the purpose of raising funds for Charity that has operated in Florida for some 75 years and owned and operated facilities for abused children in the State of Florida.

After Linda was elected Treasure of SAC, she and the President attended a Board meeting at the main facility the Children's Charity and to her dismay she saw, first hand, that abused and abandon children, age one through eight, were being housed together and learning from each other how to continue the practice of the strong abusing the weak in their group. This was a carry through what they sawed, lived and learned in their own homes.

Linda also discovered that there was no facility, and very little interest, to care for and house he many infants that were being abandoned almost daily in trash bins, vacant buildings and other life threatening places, and indeed, many did lose their lives before being found. She left with a sense, that something was very, very, wrong with the situation.

These were the days in Miami-Dade County Florida when drug abuse as rampant and there was an average of 16 infants a day being born in the UM/Jackson Hospital to drug addicted mothers.

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The infants were taken from the mothers at birth and put into foster homes within a few weeks or as fast as they could be set-up. It was later found that for a lack of proper supervision, some of these foster homes were sometimes a place of abuse themselves.

The infants were taken from the mothers at birth and put in foster homes within a few weeks or as fast as they could be setup. It was later found that for lack of proper supervision, some of these foster homes were sometimes a place of abuse themselves. At this time, in Florida, drug abuse by a mother was prima facia evidence of child abuse and grounds for the State to take custody of the infant/child with a simple hearing before a Judge. (This law has since been changed and now substantial proof must be presented to the courts and actual abuse proven before an infant/child can be removed from its parent/parents).

Linda came home after her visit with this story and related it to me. I listened, as I looked up from the sports page and said "I understand my love and I sure hope someone will do something about it." Little did I know!

Linda went on to say, the Children's Charity that she visited was trying to raise money to purchase a old run down vacant house across the street from its location to have a place to house infants that were abused and abandoned, but was having difficulty raising funds as there was little interest shown by the public. I said, "well, that will be very nice dear and I hope they find someone soon as apparently there is a need", and kept on reading the sports page, slipping down further and further into my easy chair with a very uneasy feeling.

You have to really know Linda to know how this works, as she is relentless when it comes to children, so she pressed and pressed in her usual subtle manner until...

After I wrote a check to the Charity to finish the funding for the purchase the old house, the Charity named it the Linda Ray Infant Center, even though Linda protested, as she did not want the home named after her, but rather, just name it "The Infant Center". The Charity insisted, however, that by doing that they could raise money to refurbish the building so they needed to name it after her and use her name in charity events. For the sake of the infants, Linda permitted the use of her name.

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I thought, foolish me, that this was the end of our involvement in this movement, as we had done our good deed for our lifetime and I would spend a lifetime paying for it, but what the heck, Linda was happy, the infants would be helped and I could go back to reading my sports page in peace. Then a week later, on a Saturday morning, it hit the fan.

The Directory of the Charity called Linda and said that there were 12 infants sleeping on the floor in the State Welfare office (HRS) as there was no place to house them, either in foster homes or institutions. What could we do? I wondered what do they mean, what could 'we' do. 'We' had done all, and more, than I ever intended to do, but again, here comes Linda.

I called the maintenance crew from our Hotel/Mart and Vendors that I knew personally to meet us at the, old house, and we spent Saturday and Sunday cleaning, painting, putting down temporary flooring, walls and plumbing while Linda went to the local children furniture stores that she knew. There she explained the situation, and paid for, or talked the owners out of 12 baby beds and other baby items so the infants could be brought on over to the emergency Infant Center that Sunday afternoon.

No license, no approval, no staff, no nothing, but yet, a safe haven for the 12 abandoned infants that had been sleeping on the floor.

That Sunday afternoon marked the real beginning of the Linda Ray Infant Center. Here was Linda & Wendell, and others, changing baby diapers, feeding, and caring for 12 infants until the Charity could assemble a staff to care for them on a full time basis.

Ok, I have to admit that it did not take long for me, rocking, feeding, changing diapers, and seeing their little faces to join Linda in her feelings, if not passion, for these infants.

I was hooked and Linda became even more determined in her effort to make a difference.

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We found during this period that the subject of drug abused children and abandoned infants, was not a popular subject and not a charity that most big companies wanted their name associated with as supporters. A number of large Banks told us that they could not explain to their Board of Directors how abandoned infants or drug abused children could help their bank deposits, and therefore could not support donations to the charity. Some donated money with the provision that we would not use their name. Guess what? We took the donation and smiled all the way to our bank.

We worked hard over the next two years to incorporate Infants In Need, Inc as a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization, to raise $350,000.00, and completely rebuild this little house into a 24 crib haven for abused and abandoned infants that was a model for Miami-Dade County. The Charity did a wonderful job in staffing and running their new facility.

The Infant Center was managed and the infants were in the charge of the Charity that had existed for over 75 years in the State of Florida.

Linda and I spent as much of our time as possible at the Infant Center to be sure that the infants were properly cared for at all times.

Linda had our home in Coral Gables approved and licensed by HRS as a foster home to care for up to six infants at one time because the need for space was more that the little 24 bed Infant Center could handle. Linda was Fashion Director at our Radisson Mart Plaza Hotel/Miami Merchandise Mart at the time and at Fashion Show time during the ladies' Apparel Shows; she had to be on premise for 72 hours straight. She would bundle up the infants in our care at home, along with a nurse, and take them to the Hotel so she could oversee their welfare there because some needed 24 hour medical watch.

These were heart wrenching times because we were inundated with infants coming into the Infant Center and our home, then being placed into Foster Homes, back out of Foster Homes because of medical problems, caregivers problems, and what ever excuse they wanted to use when the Foster Parents changed their minds.

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Strangers would call Linda in the middle of the night to report that a baby was going to be left in a certain location and abandoned if she did not meet them in the next hour and take the baby. She would go charging off into the night and return with a baby that we then had to take to a hospital and have examined/treated before placing it with the other infants. We were hardly ever seen in our vehicle when we did not have anywhere from one to four or five infants buckled in car seats.

Talk about being on a roller coaster.

Even though the problem seemed to be overwhelming at times, the Linda Ray Infant Center was making a difference in saving a great number of infants and more and more people were calling Linda to pick up infants instead of abandoning them in trash bins. We were both elected to seats on the Board of Directors of the Charity that staffed and operated and now owned the Infant Center.

For Linda it was almost like a dream come true, but something was missing, something was wrong with this system, and something kept nagging and nagging at her day and night.

Linda and I continued to serve for over a year and work with the children in all of their facilities. We were, however, disenchanted with what we saw and participated in with the "Charity". We both had the strong feeling that there must be a better way to work with this problem of abused and abandoned children. This vicious cycle that just repeated itself over and over.

One day after attending a Board Meeting of the Charity as we were walking to our car Linda looked up and said Infants in Need should purchase those two apartment houses over there and convert them into a different type center to better help these babies. I smiled in dismay and said something to the effect, "that would be nice, but how would you pay for them?" Of course her retort was as usual, "That would be your problem, I have the ideas, and you carry them out."

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After two years, Linda and I would take a step that would change our lives forever.

In November 1989, at the direction of the Board of Directors of Infants In Need, Linda and I signed an agreement on behalf of Infants In Need, Inc. with Steven Onuska, the owner, to purchase the land and the two, (12 & 24 apartment) buildings for $750,000.00.

It is truly amazing how many problems you can purchase for this amount of money.

The two apartment buildings were fully occupied with at least 36 families with only 6 or 8 units paying rent.

Before closing, Stanley Levine, Vice President of IIN and Attorney handling the purchase of the property discovered Onuska had not paid real estate taxes to the City of Miami or Dade County for years and had first, second and third mortgages on the property that was all in foreclosure.

After months of negotiations with all parties and by the grace of God, Stanley was able to clear up all the mess and obtain a clear title to the property. Linda and I were able to obtained mortgages with Popular Bank, the AFL CIO Plumbers Union and Onuska carried a third mortgage for us. The interest rates were upward of 12% and the payments were a tremendous burden as our only income was through donations and special events Of course, the only way a charity could obtain mortgages was for Linda and Ito personally sign a guarantee of payment.

What next? Now that we had two apartment buildings inhabited by drug dealers, drug users, and street people and over $750,000. In debt.

A good friend introduced me to the President of the Plumbers Union who in turn took me to a Union meeting where we were able to sell the Union Leaders of

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the AFL-CIO SOUTH FLA. TRADE UNIONS, with a 22,000 membership, on the idea of accepting Infants In Need as their charity to support. The Union Presidents agreed to have their different Unions, such as Plumbers, Roofers, Carpenters, Painters, Electrical, Iron Worker and others, (26 unions in all) join in and donate the labor, on week-ends, days off and holidays and whatever material they could obtain through donations to completely renovate the small apartment building to tIN'S specifications. We persuaded our friends at Sasaki and Associates, nationally known Architects to donate their services in drawing up the plans for the smaller building for the new Center.

Eviction notices were served on the tenants of the smaller building, hereafter called the Toddler Building. With the aid of the Sheriff's department we were able to empty the building over the next month.

Demolition started with as many as 100 union workers on site on weekends and holidays over the next year and a half. The building was completely gutted and rebuilt with all design, wiring, plumbing, elevator, sprinkler system and brought up to the strict code of the City and County for the proposed use.

The building was completed in 1990 and ready for the Charity to start with programs for infants, as agreed to by Infants In Need.

The situation in Courts, in the State and County had changed during this time and the Charity, did not have the funding or a program that met the agreed IIN criteria.

The Charity wanted to have a different non infant program for teen age children as they had in another home. That type program was unacceptable to the Board of Directors of IIN, the Union Board, and donors that donated to the purchase and rehab of property for infant programs.

We choose not to go into the unpleasant details of the problems that ensued over the next two years, with the Charity, but Infants In Need did prevail.

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The Toddler Center was leased to Miami-Dade County for Project TIPP Early Head Start program that program fully met the intended purpose for the new building, known as the "Toddler Center"

The term of the lease, five years at $1.(0 per year. This developed into a wonderful program and utilized this new building to the fullest for its intended In relating the history of Infants In Need, Inc., I must point out that the children and Infants In Need, Inc. has enjoyed the support of thousands of wonderful people not only in the Miamiā€¢Dade County area, State of Florida, but Nationally and Internationally.

The following pages relate the next important and challenging task of making use of the much larger 24 apartment building with design and programs to further the importance of the Children's Center.

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INFANTS IN NEEDS Officers and Directors were still seeking the, need and use of the 24 apartment, building, as well as when to start the design, work, how to pay for it. Also the task of evicting the tenants that were still worrisome with their drug use, and other illegal activities, with only 6 families paying rent.

The Toddler Building had been a challenge, but this building is 4 times as large and was also found to be infested with termites, rotten timbers, and other issues that dictated complete gutting and rebuilding, enclosing the court yard. Other large and expensive issues were compounded by the size, age, and condition.

We again called on our friends with the Unions and they agreed to help, to the best of their ability, to contribute the same effort in the renovation of the larger building as they had with the Toddler Building. I made it clear to them; IIN could/would not start this project without their full support. We realized this was asking a lot, but it was for the children of Miami-Dade County, not for Infants In Need organization. After much debate and soul searching, they agreed and the demolition work began.

Charles Crumpton, formerly with Sasaki agreed to donate the architecture plans for reconstruction, but IIN would have to pay for mechanical plans. Every thing was looking rosy at this point as the plans came together.

During the years of construction and other challenges with the Toddler Center, I received a call from Dr. Keith Scott, Professor at the University of Miami Department of Psychology. He wanted to discuss the Children's Center and potential programs.

I invited him to come on out to the Radisson Hotel and have lunch so we could talk. You just never know how much a lunch can cost you some times. The price of the meal is just the beginning. had lunch with Dr. Scott and we had an interesting discussion about a research

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program he and his staff were working on involving infants that had been prenataty exposed to "crack cocaine". Keith indicated the UM program needed two things, one a facility to house the program and two, funding for the program. Wow! he sure did not need much, so that should be a snap. Not like IIN's plate was not running over already with problems with the Charity with the Toddler Building, but they were also demanding an interest in the large building, on which demolition and preliminary design had already started.

However, I agreed to have further discussions with Linda, President of Infants in Need and IIN Board of Directors. The Board was supportive of whatever use Linda and I decided to select. Linda and I met with Keith a number of times, over lunch, of course, and the more information he gave us the more we became interested, as this was in line with Linda's dream of a program to take infants out of the treadmill and give them hope and a future. Upshot was, we agreed to try to fill the needs as Keith had set forth. Keith and I started working together on the design of the building to fulfill the physical needs of the infants that would be involved in the program. Keith and I started meeting at the hotel often planning for the physical plant with Charles Crumpton, the Architect, engineers, Union officials and others involved with the planning process.

We were on course with the physical plant, so now was the time to address the very real challenge as to how to obtain funding for the construction. This was a major project for infants, and there were no programs like this in existence in the USA as far as we could determine. Keith and I met with a number of Foundations, such as Johnson & Johnson, and they all showed interest, but when it came down to it, they were never able to sell the program to their Board of Directors.

We found out there was a possibility of obtaining funding from Federal programs that could come through the Miami-Dade County School Board. One of IIN's best supporters, the Equitable Suquet Insurance Agency, was a personal friend of the Superintendent of the Dade County Public Schools, and I had two personal

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friends on the School Board and Senator Firestone, IIN Board member, had a life time personal friend on the School Board. These friendships gave Keith and I the opportunity to meet with these friends, and sell them on the program.

Many months later, we obtained a commitment from them to bring the program before the school board to financially support the program.

Keith and I did sweat out many School Board Meeting in getting this program across. However, this was and is the most important association we have developed over the history of Infants In Need as we still receive major funding, the backbone of the programs, to this day. from the school board.

With the Basic funding in place, staff in place, programs in place the Center opened in 1993 to be used by the University of Miami Department of Psychology to conduct research programs involving infants prenatally exposed to crack cocaine. I will not go in depth about the programs as this is a history of Infants In Need. Inc and the total Linda Ray Children's Center.

The Research program information can be found on our web site at www.iin.org.

Linda signed a lease agreement on behalf of Infants In Need, Inc. with the University of Miami.

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The lease was for 5 years at the rate of $1.00 per year fulfilling Infants In Need's Mission to buy, renovate, and furnish the Intervention Center for Dr. Scott and the University of Miami for the research program.
The University of Miami named the new facility 'Linda Ray Intervention Center (LRIC).* While this was a great step forward, both faced formidable challenges both in the short term and long term. The University had made it clear to Dr. Scott. that the program had to be self financed as they could/would not offer any financial support. Scott had to find start up funds to keep things going until the funding came through from the Miami-Dade School Board, which would take several months. Soon had his hands full, but somehow he managed.

Infants In Need. Inc. had several high interest rate mortgages to pay each month along with the burden of the high cost of completing the construction as Hurricane Andrew had taken away the free, committed labor by the Unions. The union members now had jobs as a result of hurricane Andrew. We surely could not fault the Union members as many had been without work for many months.

Linda devoted her time to fund raising with events such as Fantasy Miami Ball, Hats off to Kids fashion show, as well as many other events.

I devoted my time trying to secure a mortgage that would allow us to pay off the group of mortgages. We were unable to accomplish this until 1996. Linda had become friends with the new owner of TotalBank, so the owner had the President of the Bank come to see me regarding a mortgage.

We were able to work out a long term $900,000.00 mortgage at a variable rate, with a set principal payment of $3,000.00, plus interest each month of around $6,000.00. Of course, Linda and I had to personally guarantee the payments to be able to close on the loan. The Banking Institutions just do not want to loan money to charities.

This step did allow us to move forward and devote all our combined efforts toward raising funds to meet IIN's obligations each month. Thank goodness we had the Hotel to use to maximize the amount we could net from various events and it also opened other doors for us.

The Linda Ray Children's Center name recognition along with the fact the University of Miami's unique research program at LRIC had obtained National and International recognition enabled IIN to receive Grants totaling over $402,000.00

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from 1991 to 1996. The Linda Ray Children's Center won an award of $100,000.00 from UPS in a 1991 competition with hundreds of other Charities nation wide, held in Atlanta, GA. These grants coupled with the successful events held by Linda and the many friends developed by the Board and other supporters of the Infants In Need organization enabled IIN to meet its obligations each month.

In 1997 after the Radisson Hotel and Miami Merchandise Mart was sold and Linda and Wendell retired from the business and social world other means of income had to be found for the Center. We knew that without the Radisson/Mart support, we could not earn enough net on social events to keep the mortgage and other expenses at the Center paid.

Early in 1998 the TIPP program at the Toddler Center was losing its funding so a new program had to be found to replace it. We approached the Director of the Jackson Pediatric program located in a high rise office building on the UM/Jackson Hospital campus, and showed them the Toddler Center which offered more of a home like setting, atmosphere and with an outside playground.

The Director was thrilled at the prospect of obtaining this facility for their 40 medically dependent children and convinced her Administration. They in turn presented our offer to the Public Health Trust. In July 1998 Linda signed a five year lease with a renewal option, on behalf of Infants In Need, to lease the Toddler Center to the Public Health Trust for $5,000.00 a month which was much less that they were paying at the old location, for a much better facility and yet in keeping with the Mission of Infants In Need.

The Public Health Trust has exercised their option to renew 3 times since 1998 as the facility has worked so well for their program and the rent has remained the same since the outset.

Although IIN is not involved with the program or staff on a daily basis, IIN has had an excellent working relationship with the Director and Staff of the Jackson Pediatric Center, as the building is now called.

We have had a different relationship with LRIC both with the University and with the Administration and Staff, as well as the programs. Since the outset with our meetings with Dr. Scott we developed a close and lasting personal relationship. We went through some tough times together, but we always felt we would

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Department of Psychology, and Linda and I had a 247 position with the Radisson Hotel and Miami Merchandise Mart, we continued to have daily contact. Dr Scott maintained an office as Executive Director of LRIC at the facility and made the daily trip from the UM Campus in Coral Gables.

Dr. Lynne Katz joined the LRIC staff in 1994 as Director and has been a tremendous asset both to LRIC and IIN. Additional programs have been added, as LRIC's mission expanded to programs designed to bring families back together with the children after being torn apart by drug addiction.

Dr. Scott was able to obtain grants to pay rent on the facility to help with the mortgage payments in 2001 as IIN was struggling to make expenses along with the heavy mortgage payments. So a new 5 year lease at the rate of $7,500.00 per month was signed by Linda on behalf of Infants In Need. This rental amount was about 1/3 of the prevailing rate in the area, but a real blessing to all.

This amount added to the rent from the Public Health Trust not only enabled IIN to improve its financial condition, but to also accelerate it mortgage payments to TotalBank.

Dr. Scott retired several years ago and moved to Georgia. Dr. Katz took over without missing a beat. All of the programs continued to be tremendously successful and the Center was growing and LRIC was able to establish a small reserve.

Then, of course, the economy hit a wall, funding stopped for transportation which is necessary for the program because the children have to be brought to the Center every day and returned home in the afternoon. The State changed the criteria for children that were eligible for the program at the Center. All in all LRIC funding turned upside down causing great challenges for Dr. Katz. IIN worked with LRIC last year with a $50,000.00 donation to support the Transportation Program and again this year with a $25,000.00 donation and IIN donates housekeeping services valued at around $518,000.00. Dr. Katz had to make severe staff cuts to continue the programs, but we all know we have no choice, but to continue because, again, this is for the Children and IIN and LRIC will not/can not let them down.
The best news of 2010 was the knowledge that the mortgage was completely paid and UN is debt free.

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We now have to set up a cash reserve account as the A/C Chiller, Coil units, roof, parking lot and the entire facility is over 20 years old and while both buildings have been well maintained it is just a matter of time to when we will be faced with huge replacement cost for failing components.

I have related this history of some 23 years as I feel it is important for our Board Members to know and remember what has occurred over the years and be even more determined to keep the LINDA RAY CHILDREN'S CENTER with the Pediatric Center, LRIC and IIN alive and well for the sake of the children, as Linda wrote our Mission Statement years ago:

"Help the helpless - the children who cannot defend or speak for themselves, to give them hope, happiness, a sense of worth and to ensure them a childhood."

Infants In Need logo

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Children Learn What They Live

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to be shy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If children live with fairness, they learn patience.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with acceptance and friendship,
they learn to find love in the world.

Dorothy Law Nolte