As we enter in a season that is known for giving, our middle and high school students have had a greater focus on Civic Engagement. The current civic engagement initiative is “Celebrating the Unsung Heroes.
Our first event in the series focused on Mrs. Gloria, our housekeeper at our Overtown Site. The TML youth worked hard and threw her a surprise “Appreciation Party.” In a very simple way, our students learned the power of selfless giving and the beauty of loving others in proximity. They learned that you don’t have to go far to show love and there are always people around you who deserve our appreciation.
Our second initiative was to honor our local firefighters. Our students baked and decorated cookies and delivered them to two local stations near our Overtown Site. The Miami firefighters from Stations 1 and 3 were grateful for their treats! The firefighters even took time to show us around their homes away from home. Making the time even more fun, they put some of our students to work a bit. It was a wonderful exchange of love in the community and a great way to teach our youth to have a giver’s heart.
Written by, Gary Francis Overtown Youth Coordinator
By, Amanda Knight
Mycah walked up the steps of our apartment one night. When I opened the door she was wet from running through the rain and I quickly invited her in as we both embraced. In her hands, she held a gift bag and her usual big beautiful smile. She handed us the gift and told my husband Gavin and I that we needed to open the gifts in front of her so she could see our reaction.
As I opened the gifts, I took out beautiful baby onesies full of colors, with dragons, cute sayings, and adorable prints. Since Gavin and I announced our pregnancy, these were some of our first baby gifts so the feeling of gratitude was especially powerful. But the clothes didn’t stop! More and more outfits, all thoughtfully selected. I noticed a card still in our bag. I eagerly reached for the card, but she stopped me. “…You have to wait until I leave to read that,” she said.
Instead, we chatted about her upcoming summer job. She was looking forward to returning to work at Kids Across America—an inner city summer camp. This would be her second year to serve. Gavin and I were happy to congratulate her in person on her amazing grades in college (straight A’s!), her leadership on campus as a Resident Assistant, and her involvement at her church.
After chatting, we realized her ride was still waiting for her in the parking lot. We thanked her and hugged goodbye. She ran back through the rain while Gavin and I both sat down to look again at the beautiful clothes that God had blessed us with. It was more than just gifts we were admiring, but more importantly, the beautiful relationship that God had been molding for so many years. The relationship had impacted both Mycah and me! It was humbling to think back on all the Bible studies, outings, trips, and stories Mycah and I had gone through together. I gave God praise and then remembered the card still in the bag! As I opened the card, I read Micah’s note. These words stuck out boldly: “You’ve supported me…now it’s my turn to get to support you.”
In my training as a social work major, there was always talk of boundaries, which indeed are especially important. Some understand boundaries to mean no contact with people you serve outside of work hours. As Christians though, I think there are significant times when we need to evaluate if our boundaries are keeping others from using their God-given gifts for the kingdom.
Those of us who are used to giving, or “providing services,” often can feel very awkward receiving. But in the same way that Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” we cannot be selfish and always be the giver. We must also allow others the opportunities to serve and to give, even if that means we are the receiver. It is indeed a humbling place to receive.
It reminds me of the feeling Peter must have had when Jesus said He must wash Peter’s feet. Peter’s initial reaction was, “No Way! You can’t wash my feet! Jesus, no! I serve you! You don’t serve me.” When we are usually the ones that give, it can feel so wrong receiving–like things are out of order. But we need to remember that Jesus told Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Then Peter said, “Then not just my feet but my hands and head as well!”
We don’t always know where we will see the Lord in our everyday lives. If we are open to both giving and to receiving, we may see Jesus through the interactions of people all around us.
Amanda, far left, with a group of TML Alumni.
The ability to read is not just essential for getting a good education; it is essential to life! Reading helps students grow their imaginations and build empathy skills as they envision themselves in the stories they read seeing the character’s life experiences through a new lens. At Touching Miami with Love, we provide all kindergarten through eighth-grade students thirty minutes of Literacy Class every day. Additionally, we have five Reading Interventionists between our two sites working individually and in small groups with our most struggling readers. Through our partnerships, we can provide bonus incentives for improved reading. One of our partners in this effort is the Bubba Gump Shrimp Restaurant. They offer us the opportunity to bring five students a month for a free meal at their restaurant. One parent recently commented, “I’m so glad that you can reward my daughter for her improved reading. I’d love to be able to take her to Bubba Gump’s as a reward, but I just can’t afford it. It’s so nice to know TML can take her for me. Thank you!”
We’re excited to add another component to our reading program this summer. In collaboration with our all-day summer programming, we are launching CONNECTED STORIES. In this initial project launch we are inviting TML supporters to take part in one or more ways:
• Come to our Overtown Site and read to children Fridays throughout June and July
• Purchase books from our Amazon book list
• Host a drive or donate to our children’s book drive for gently used books
• Volunteer to assist in sorting and preparing for our book giveaway at both sites.
CONNECTED STORIES is our way to connect to the larger community to the work of Touching Miami with Love and instill in the children the importance of reading. We hope you can join us! Find out more HERE
We are always encouraged by the generosity, creativity, and passion of our supporters. An article recently came across my news feed about why teenagers were always so hungry. Thinking of our son’s first weekend home from college and his constant grazing, it resonated with me. Reading deeper researcher Susan J. Popkin shared about the immense gap in food insecure teens. She wrote, “It’s easy to line up little kids and give them a backpack filled with food,” says Popkin. “But you can’t really do that with teens. There are stigmas about not wanting to stand out. I think they’re often seen as too hard to get to.”
We recognized the difference dinner could make over five years ago when we began providing meals each night of our youth programming as we re-created the family dinner hour. Not only were evening meals providing nutritious food to hungry youth in Overtown and West Homestead, it also created space for caring staff and volunteers to be a listening ear for young people. As we tried to match our resources with hungry youth, we found a new opportunity to engage the community at large and our project “Guest Chefs” was born. Individuals, church small groups, companies, and even families have joined us in providing one night of meals to our youth. We ask that groups do not just provide the meal, but stick around and chat with our youth too. It’s led to great conversations and open eyes on both sides of the table.
One partner church has taken being a “Guest Chef” to a completely new level. Several times a year, a small group of people from the church gathers to create hundreds of servings of dinner. It’s part of their outreach event, City Serve, and Christ Journey Church has created some huge fans of their cooking! We’re grateful for all those in the TML Family who use their time, talent, and treasure to bless the children and youth we serve.