TML’s Impact – Adult Literacy Program

In September, we launched our new Adult Literacy Empowerment program in West Homestead, which incorporates educational elements that will help our adult population who struggle daily due to illiteracy and poor computer skills.  We are thrilled that our adults have begun to dive into our literacy workshops this month, where we incorporate introductory computer skills. Digital literacy is part of the secondary effort to reduce disparities and promote economic mobility in the community of Homestead.

Our Instructor found 100% of adults participant surveyed expressed a high need for work purposes, furthering their education, assisting their children, applying for services, and leisure. The content covered throughout the first workshop included learning the parts of a computer, turning a computer on and off, logging in, utilizing the Google search engine, connecting to the internet, accessing the control panel, changing to the preferred language on websites, keyboard definitions, and uses and settings.

At first, many adults were overwhelmed and expressed their struggles; however, their patience, determination, and focus allowed them to learn things they had never known before. Towards the conclusion of the class session, the participants expressed how thankful they were and how they are looking forward to more computer literacy classes in the future.

We know that this opportunity will have a lasting impact on our community; therefore, we will continue to host literacy classes to help new learners gain skills and confidence to increase their capacity for economic and social mobility.

The Effects of Gun Violence in our Community

The vast amount of violence across our nation is heart-wrenching, and our hearts ache with the nation, as so many more mainstream Americans are now experiencing the same devasting impact of gun violence. Unfortunately, our communities of Overtown and West Homestead have endured the epidemic of gun violence for many years.

Many of our staff members, including our CEO Jason Pittman, Vice President Trina Harris, Spiritual Formation Director Amanda Knight, and Office Manager Brittney Jackson, are long-time Overtown residents and have experienced the horrors of gun violence. They have witnessed the devastating and lasting impact gun violence has on families through the loss of loved ones and the financial hardship, trauma, and associated mental health issues that accompany these incidents. 

For instance, a few months ago, for three consecutive days, there was a shooting in the housing projects across the street from our Overtown location. In addition, one of our staff members experienced the thunderous sounds of gunshots in the parking lot of her nearby home on lunch break. Consequently, we have invested in deep and meaningful relationships with the youth in the community, only to see some lose their lives at an entirely too young age; many were innocent and were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have attended way too many funerals, candlelight vigils, and collectively, our staff has grieved while supporting others in the grieving process. We have been listening to countless children and teenagers who have witnessed the horrors of what can only be like warfare. We saw countless youth and adults killed with minimal media coverage of these losses.

As part of a community effort to see gun violence cease in the Overtown community, many local organizations have gathered to speak up. During a live interview with Michael Putney, Senior Political Reporter with Local 10 News and host of “This Week In South Florida,” 

Trina, our Vice President, addressed questions and provided feedback and strategies to push for large-scale changes to combat violence. Her petition to local government officials is to address the violence at the community level with community partners directly.

We are proud of TML’s work with children at a young age with our current resources and programs. However, it is time to add a new model that starts with the understanding that we have a public health crisis of gun violence and work to see community and cultural norms on violence change.

A new role for Angel Pittman

As Touching Miami with Love (TML) celebrates twenty-five years of faithful work in 2020, it’s a great time to celebrate our impact while also taking a glance forward towards the future. Since 2005, Jason and Angel Pittman have served in leadership at TML through the support of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). Working alongside each other, they have brought their unique gifts and educational backgrounds to allow TML’s growth to serve more children and youth in more impactful ways for fifteen years.

No matter what role Angel has held at TML, her motivation has always been to support students holistically. From her first years at TML serving as Overtown’s Children’s Director to moving towards fundraising and organizational leadership, it has always about helping students get the support they need. Her passion for students is what has made her so skilled at developing new programs and projects for TML and made her an effective fundraiser. Whether in a personal conversation, a written story, or a grant application, it’s not hard to miss Angel’s love for the students at TML. Angel has also worked hard to shape the culture of TML from building a strong sense of family within the staff to the students at TML. Both staff members and TML participants have both created fond memories over meals and games in the Pittman’s home in Overtown for many years. Through her efforts, Angel has supported TML’s strategic plan by helping the organization grow exponentially, and her impact has gotten her notice. She was named a “Miami Leader” class of 2017-2018 by the Miami Foundation, a “Woman to Watch” by Global Women, profiled by Baptist Women in Ministry in “This Is What a Minister Looks Like” and named AXA Advisors 2013 Businesswoman of the Year, in the Non-Profit category.

Angel will be transitioning out of her role at Touching Miami with Love and is excited to continue her eighteen years of service with CBF as she begins to advocate for students more broadly as an Educational Advocate. This multi-faceted role will include supporting students in Miami, building capacity for local advocacy efforts, and working on behalf of public-school children on a state level all to reduce educational inequities. She will also have the opportunity to use her experience at TML to support CBF’s national educational programming efforts.

While her departure is undoubtedly a loss for TML, she’s excited to step aside to allow Trina Harris to become Touching Miami with Love’s next Vice President. Trina brings her eleven years of leadership at TML, along with a fantastic set of skills, gifts, and passion for our communities, to this new role. While her duties will be different from Angel, her work will be vital for the continued growth of TML’s impact. Angel begins several months of transition from July to September to ensure a smooth and successful conversion. You can learn more about Angel’s new work HERE.

Spring into STEM and Camp Oasis!

As we gear up for Spring Break, nearly 400 students are continually being served in Overtown and West Homestead at Touching Miami with Love.

Thanks to great supporters we have a new and engaging STEM curriculum and during Spring Break we’ll be enforcing different skills and topics! Last month Brave Church provided items necessary for the upcoming STEM projects and assembled the kits!  Supplemental to our STEM activities, is “Structured Free Choice” where our students play to reinforce the skills they’ve learned throughout the day. For example, after learning Human Anatomy, their structured free choice will be playing a game of Operation.

volunteers creating kits     

In addition to STEM activities, we will offer a fun approach in our Children’s devotional, fitness, visual arts, social skills, and literacy. Another fun addition to our Spring Break week is the opportunity to explore Zoo Miami. At the zoo, we will enforce previous lessons about animal habitats, differentiating between predators & prey, and really giving them a hands-on experience.

The children don’t have all the fun, it’s Camp OASIS time for our middle and high school youth! During Spring Break, our youth will embrace a change of scenery in Central Florida where they will get to connect with one another and grow spiritually. This years’ theme is “Disrupt” and coinciding verse is Mark 16:24 “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

During this spiritual retreat, the youth get a chance to disconnect as they have no access to their cell phones, allowing God to “disrupt” the normal day-to-day hustle and bustle. Some of the activities available to our youth are swimming, archery, boating, and crafts. Being exposed to different activities really opens up the youth’s mind as they learn more about themselves and what they enjoy.

Looking back at past Camp Oasis pictures has us excited for what’s to come!

archery sunset girls fishing

Sharing the Love at TML

This Valentine’s Day Touching Miami with Love celebrated with some special treats! Our youth showed love for their TML family, and children and youth both practiced some self-love too.

Just a few days before Valentine’s day, we welcomed the Stephanie Rubinstein Foundation as they conducted a mindfulness workshop for both children and youth. The students learned breathing techniques, how to calmly acknowledge their feelings and to accept their thoughts. They also received a take-home to practice their mindfulness techniques along with some Valentine’s treats.Mindfulness workshop

When Valentine’s Day came along, our youth prepared goodie bags for our children and sweetly distributed them to each class as the children celebrated with a pizza party. The youth also handed out flowers to each staff member as a reminder too of the command in 1 Corinthians 16:14: “Do everything in love.”

youth passing out candy staff and youth

A Note-Worthy Day in the life at TML

In just a few days, I will have completed 90 days at Touching Miami With Love. However, I feel like I’ve been here forever since it all seems so familiar; from sharing God’s love and heart to empower people to working with leaders on building a legacy in our community. For the most part, “Impact Stories” make their way to my desk for review, but this time I thought I’d write my own.

Over the holiday break, the office was quiet as students weren’t around. One of the highlights of it being slow around the office was the opportunity to connect with a few of the coordinators that were also working. I got to see how they prepared lesson plans, bulletin boards, and cleaned so the instructors and students could come back to tidy class rooms. The air was filled with hope for the future and new beginnings as we neared New Years Eve.

I missed seeing the students, but I realized how much work goes on “behind the scenes” to prepare for them and their success in and out of our program. This time without Children and Youth Program running was necessary, even God rested on the 7th day right?

On December 31st, 2019, I walked into work and found a note on my desk that read “You’re amazing and valued! Feel like I’ve known you forever!” I smiled and held back thankful tears as I thought to myself “It’s too early to cry”. At that moment that feeling of being at TML forever made sense. Yes, the faces and experiences at TML were new, but it was the same God behind them all. I realized that even in the quiet restful moments, He’s also doing “behind the scenes” work to set us up for success. I am blessed to work for an organization where people and their ideas are valued. I am eager to celebrate TML’s 25th anniversary this year and seeing the positive impact in the community grow. If you’re reading this, here’s your reminder that you are also amazing and valued!

-Vanessa Urrego, Fundraising Coordinator