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Sabrina Cohen wins grant to establish accessible 'Beach for All'

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It’s been 21 years since Sabrina Cohen’s feet have touched the sand of her native Miami Beach, but this is soon to change, thanks in part to the grant her foundation received on Tuesday.

Cohen accepted the $15,000 grant at a special ceremony for the 18 winners of the "Our Miami Public Space Challenge." The Miami Foundation and the Health Foundation of Florida sponsored the competition, which was open to all residents of Miami-Dade County. The winners will share in a total of $130,000 in grant money, which was divided up into awards ranging from $2,000 to $15,000.

In applying for the grant Cohen had dubbed the project, "Beach for All." When the applications were posted online, Cohen received comments not only from the disabled, but also the elderly and parents of children with strollers, all saying they wanted such a beach as well. “This is a huge accomplishment, and it comes with a lot of pride to be able to say, as a Miami Beach resident, that you are about to contribute to something that is monumental and will transform lives,” said Cohen.

Cohen has been working with the City of Miami Beach for several months to create the beach. There is already funding in place for the beach itself and preliminary planning is underway. The grant money will be used to complement it with a special patio area, along with adaptive picnic tables, beach chairs and water sports equipment designed for the disabled. It will be the first fully accessible beach in the State of Florida, and Cohen has said she hopes it will serve as a model for other communities.

Cohen’s determination to create a fully accessible beach stems from an experience that she and SFC Executive Director Christos Makos shared when the two ventured last year onto one of the city’s beaches. “We were under the assumption that the beach was accessible because there were wheelchair mats, but they stopped before the sand. When we got to the end of the mat, Sabrina was determined to continue, but her wheelchair ended up stuck in the sand. It weighs 400 pounds and a group of tourists had to help me pull her out," Makos recalled. "It was a discomforting moment," he added.

“The beach was my blind spot,” said Cohen. “For 21 years, I had rolled up to the beach, looked out at it and said, 'No, you can't go there.' But this time I looked deep into myself and I realized that this had to change,” said Cohen. Of winning the grant, she added, “This is the kind of project the Miami Foundation’s grant program is designed to support. They want to support ideas that no one has thought of and that’s why it’s so wonderful.”

More info: Sabrina Cohen Foundation

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