After more than twenty years of leadership within the Miami arts and cultural community, Stacey Glassman Mizener has shifted her focus to enhancing the lives of people with disabilities, as Founding Executive Director at Sabrina Cohen Foundation, and is taking the lead in the creation of the Adaptive Fitness and Recreation Center in Miami Beach. We spoke to Stacey recently to learn more about the inspiration behind her career change and her plans to bring this ambitious project to fruition.
I’d been working in the arts in Miami for 20 years, from the Miami City Ballet to the New World Symphony to the National YoungArts Foundation. But in October, I made a change and became the Founding Executive Director of the Sabrina Cohen Foundation (SCF), which is dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities. SCF was founded in 2006 and spent years raising funds for potentially transformative stem cell research, but in the past couple of years it has pivoted to helping people with disabilities in Sabrina’s hometown of Miami Beach to live active lives. In 2016 SCF launched its Adaptive Beach Days to ensure that people with disabilities -- from veterans to the elderly to children with special needs and beyond -- can enjoy beach and ocean recreation, and in 2017 Sabrina’s Playground became the first fully accessible playground in the city, designed to encourage children of all abilities to play together.
The arts are of crucial importance to us as humans and to our communities, but there are other initiatives in need of philanthropic support that are often overlooked -- especially in the Miami region. A lot of people don’t know that approximately 29 percent of Miami-Dade residents are living with some type of disability. The obstacles they face in life have come front-and-center for me because of my 20-year friendship with Sabrina Cohen; when she was 14 years old, she suffered a severe spinal injury in a car accident that left her with quadriplegic paralysis.
Sabrina took a horrific situation and turned it into her purpose in the world, lobbying for funding for research that can transform lives and then taking a head-on approach to making the Miami area accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities. In this time I’ve seen firsthand her heroic strength, vision, and ability to make her dreams of a more inclusive community for individuals living with disabilities into a reality.
We’re building a first-of-its-kind, state-of-the-art Adaptive Fitness and Recreation Center with a fully accessible beach in partnership with the City of Miami Beach. This Center will offer physical fitness programs, a robotics and technology center, along with daily activities that promote mental and spiritual wellness including visual, dance and music therapy. Having come from such stellar arts organizations, I want to ensure our arts program is best in class and offers participants excellent teachers, artist in residence programs and an innovative program in a beautiful and inspiring arts space. Services will be offered daily to children, veterans, the elderly, and the community at large.
But here’s where the arts come into it: I believe that we don’t just have to think about the utility of a space. We also have to think about beauty, and we have to tell people living with disabilities that they, too, are worthy of spaces that embody beauty and elegant design. The Center’s building was designed by renowned architect Kobi Karp, and was honored by Architectural Digest as “Best Pro-Bono project of 2019.” With the development of the Adaptive Fitness and Recreation Center, the SCF will continue to defy odds, push limits and inspire others to reach their full potential.
The SCF Center needs to be backed by a capital campaign and I’m tasked with leading this $10.5 million initiative and raising the funds necessary to make this a reality. I am enjoying working on all aspects of this campaign, from strategy to design to budgeting, management, fundraising and communications. We are forming a Capital Campaign Committee and Founding Pillars Circle to help advocate for and fund this inclusive wellness facility. I want our support to come from the most inclusive community possible to facilitate a better understanding of the everyday challenges of people living with disabilities -- and the solutions to them. I also want to expand our programs to serve more people. Once this campaign is a success, we will look forward to bringing this platform nationwide for other cities to embrace.
I am empowered to advocate for a community that deserves equal access and has, in many ways been overlooked and underserved.
Miami’s Sabrina Cohen Adaptive Recreation Center will provide disabled adults and children the ability to access the beach and swim in the water with specialized equipment and trained volunteers. “Sabrina Cohen was the inspiration for how we designed the disabled-accessible sculptural ribbon that wraps around the multilevel beachside building,” says Kobi Karp, architect and designer for the project. “The continuous ADA compliant ramp allows for the individual to be part of the natural, tropical environment.”