Mailman Center Celebrates 50 Years of Improving Lives Through Innovation, Impact, and Connection
The Center has advanced the cause and improved the health of children with developmental difficulties.
When Angelica Martinez realized her young son Mason faced a challenging disability, she turned to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Mailman Center for Child Development for guidance, treatment and support.
Now 10, Mason is a flourishing fourth grader in his school’s gifted program.
“I feel like I have no limits,” he said. “Thank you, Mailman Center, for making me the person that I am today.”
Making a Difference in the Lives of Children
For more than five decades, the Mailman Center has been helping thousands of South Florida children with developmental disabilities and special health care needs reach their potential.
“Through the decades, our team has made a profound difference in the lives of South Florida children and families,” said Daniel Armstrong, Ph.D., Mailman Center director since 1999, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine professor of pediatrics and psychology and special senior advisor to the chair of Pediatrics. “Our vision for the future is to continue improving lives through innovation, impact and connection.”
On September 29, the Mailman Center celebrated 50-plus years of service by showcasing its training, clinical, research, and community outreach programs. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava declared it “Mailman Center 50th Year Celebration Day.”
“This center has been a beacon of hope and support for our community,” she said. “Your dedication to service, research and advocacy has made an indelible impact for half a century.”
Julio Frenk, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., president of the University of Miami, saluted the Mailman Center’s longstanding support for the rights of individuals with disabilities to have access to health care, as well as its vital research and introduction of new treatment models for children’s services.
“The Mailman Center exemplifies the value of an academic program in improving lives outside the university by generating, translating, and disseminating knowledge,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what the next 50 years will hold.”
Henri Ford, M.D., dean and chief academic officer at the Miller School, called the Mailman Center one of the “crown jewels” of the medical school.
“The center’s trajectory of growth in 50 years has been truly remarkable,” he said. “Mailman Center faculty are national leaders in their fields, and the programs initiated here have been replicated all over the world. The impact of the Mailman Center has been wide and deep, and we are grateful for the donors and partners who support our vision.”
A History of Serving Children with Developmental Needs
The center’s roots date back to 1958, when Lee Worley, M.D., became the first director of the medical school’s child development program. In the mid-1960s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver pointed to her sister, Rosemary, as inspiration for encouraging Robert Cooke, M.D., then-chair of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, to create alternatives to institutionalization for developmentally delayed children. That conversation led to a new federal grant to launch 11 university-affiliated training programs across the country.
“My mother recognized the critical importance of having programs to support children and adults with special needs,” said Anthony Kennedy Shriver, CEO of Best Buddies, in a video message. “This center is one of the pillars of South Florida.”
In 1966, brothers Abraham and Joseph Mailman donated $3.5 million to the University of Miami School of Medicine (later renamed the Miller School), and additional gifts from the Mailman Foundation and the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation soon followed. Abraham Mailman’s granddaughter, Debbie, had cerebral palsy, and the center’s program for developmentally delayed children became known as the Debbie School.
On March 21, 1971, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget were among the dignitaries attending the grand opening of the Mailman Center.
At the dedication ceremony, Abraham Mailman commemorated the event by saying, “Children who have grown up hanging their heads are learning now to look up.”
The university’s new center won a number of architectural awards and was named one of the top 100 academic buildings constructed in the 20th century. But R. Rodney Howell, M.D., professor and chair emeritus of pediatrics, pointed to a pragmatic bit of development as important to the center’s growth.
“When I joined the school in 1989, I wanted to move the Department of Pediatrics’ offices to the ninth floor of Mailman Center, but we had to have an elevator installed to make that happen,” he said. “Along with that accomplishment, the most important thing I did was to appoint Danny Armstrong as director. Under his leadership, the Mailman Center has made incredible contributions to South Florida and the world.”
Celebrating 50 Years of Innovation
Glenn Flores, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics and senior associate dean of child health at the Miller School, kicked off the in-person and video celebration, which had been delayed by the pandemic.
“Since its opening, the Mailman Center has advanced its aspirational and pragmatic vision,” said Dr. Flores, who holds the George E. Batchelor Endowed Chair in Child Health. “Through innovation that is still occurring, the center has had an impact far beyond these walls, improving lives through partnerships in our community, state, nation, and around the world.”
Dr. Armstrong emphasized that complementary impact of the center’s four core functions: training, clinical care, research, and outreach.
“We don’t operate as silos,” he said. “Instead, we create synergy in everything we do. That’s one of the reasons we deliver $2 to $3 in benefits for every dollar invested in our programs.”
Jason Jent, Ph.D., director of innovation and community engagement for the Mailman Center, introduced more than a dozen speakers from the Mailman Center’s professional team, along with video clips from key partners like The Children’s Trust, ConnectFamilias and the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center.
The Mailman Center’s accomplishments have served to define the field. Leaders collaborate with the Miller School’s pediatrics, audiology, genetics, and infectious diseases disciplines, and consult with national and international public health programs. In serving more than 15,000 families every year, the Center has:
“Though the years, our center has grown beyond the care of individual children to focus on partnering with the community and improving children’s health and welfare in many ways,” said Dr. Armstrong. “We intend to continue sharing our knowledge, while looking at what’s next.”
What’s next includes a new partnership with Shriners Children’s Florida and Jackson Health System to open a new center for pediatric orthopedic care in 2025. Other goals include addressing health disparities in children’s care and the use of new and emerging technologies expand the center’s training, research, coaching and education services.
Reflecting on the 50th anniversary celebration, Mayor Levine Cava said, “I have every confidence the Mailman Center will continue to lead the way in shaping a brighter, more inclusive future for all our children.”