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.
As we are coming to the close of our summer programming here at Touching Miami with Love, we reflect on the many triumphs, laughter, and learning opportunities our children and youth engaged in this Summer. After not being able to offer Summer Camp last year, we are glad to provide our students with live in-person programming in Literacy, Math, Science & Art. Offering Summer camp once again has tremendously impacted all students’ lives by allowing a safe space for them to learn and grow, especially those who only attended school virtually due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, the lack of interaction throughout the school year left many students craving social interaction and physical activity. Therefore, our instructors diligently crafted fun, relatable, and hands-on activities for every subject to keep students engaged. Some instructors used Differentiated Instruction, a student-focused approach that tailors instruction to students’ different learning needs by teaching children phonological awareness basics through chants, rhythms, and movement. Our instructors worked hard to implement these approaches to retain students’ attention and teach them different learning skills throughout their lessons. These strategies help us bridge gaps and assist our students in making adequate academic gains. Additionally, we used Reading Rockets, Scholastics, readers Theatre, and Nearpod, which are essential resources and curriculums to reach various milestones.
Furthermore, we made sure to engage in daily transformative interactive learning activities, including investigations, solving math problems in escape rooms, making zip lines for dolls in our exploration of Brazil, and many more! And all this was possible because we had a great team of staff, certified teachers, volunteers, and community partners working together to serve our children.
In addition to our instructor’s efforts, we are thankful to the many partners who joined us to make Summer Camp a success; because of their help, we offered the best programming for our children and youth. We have received support from community partners like Florida International University (FIU). The FIU’S Reading Explorers team rekindled their partnership with us to work alongside selected students needing grade-level literacy assistance. The Children’s Trust Summer 305 Program assigned four certified teachers who spent one-on-one time with our children. The Children’s Trust provided grade-level standards summer success kits to assist our students in critical areas effectively o impact learning in the upcoming school yearly.
Finally, we included weekly field trips in our program, which has provided memories that will last a lifetime for students and staff. At Pinto’s Farm, the children had the opportunity to feed and pet several farm animals, including horses and cows, and enjoyed a pony ride, while our youth zip around a racetrack on an avocado farm. The day ended with a tractor ride and an extra-large bounce house, the perfect way to end a fun-filled day. Our students are still talking about their memorable day at The Venetian Pool, where they explored the caves, grotto, natural rock cliffs, and ventured through waterfalls.
Summer camp has come to an end, but our impact continues! We know that the tools we shared with our students will positively impact their success in the upcoming school year, and we are looking forward to having them back for after-care programming.
For over 25 years, Touching Miami With Love has significantly impacted many children’s lives. From alumni graduating college and succeeded in the workforce to others deciding to be part of our staff at TML, it’s a joy to be a part of their success.
Our commitment and dedication to our families are our utmost priority, especially during these challenging times. The pandemic’s ongoing impact affected our community the most. Parents who lost their jobs faced a tremendous financial burden, often affecting life at home. It is for this reason that we were glad to open our doors once again.
*Amy, a sweet and bright girl, was one of the first students that joined our day program. Unfortunately, Amy struggled to settle in, and for weeks, she cried almost every day, expressing that she missed her family. Her challenges included difficulty identifying letters and sounds, command of the English language, and computer skills, making it difficult for her to work independently.
Despite her difficult circumstances, TML’s instructors worked patiently with Amy, helping her gain confidence and making her feel at home. With love and dedication, Amy began to show progress every time her instructors interacted with her. After a few months, her progress was undeniable; even with the virtual barrier, she continued to show an exponential amount of growth day by day.
As we fast forward seven months, we are proud to say that Amy is doing fantastic and is one of the best students in her class. She developed a love for education and quickly learned her letter sounds, leading to significant gains in her ability to read and speak English. She has also learned basic computer skills, works independently, cooperates with tutors and teachers, and has developed new friends.
The impact made on her life is inspirational! TML’s programming served as a vehicle for her academic improvement and gave her new possibilities for her future. She inspires us every day, and it is an absolute honor to have her as part of our program. Like many of the children that have walked through our doors, we are confident her future is bright, and she is an example of hard work and perseverance. Her success is proof that nothing is impossible with the right opportunities, resources, and hard work!
*The child’s name has been changed to protect her identity
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.
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.
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!
February in Miami is all about the Super Bowl coming to town, and our students were buzzing with excitement for the big game! We are utilizing the spotlight on the Super Bowl to “tackle” pressing issues facing our youth as well as have some football fun.
The month began with a visit from a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader teaching our Kindergarten through Fifth-grade girls a cheer routine during their fitness time.
We then hosted a Super Bowl themed Fun Friday which included a friendly series of flag football and hot dog and popcorn feast for our children. Our youth didn’t miss out on the fun as we hosted Super Bowl watch party on game day for them at TML.
It’s not all fun and games when it comes to the Super Bowl, though. As you may know, whatever city the Super Bowl is in, human trafficking increases. To ensure our students understand the dangers, as part of our holistic programming, our middle and high school youth will take part in a three-day human trafficking workshop led by Unitas, whose mission is to prevent human trafficking and exploitation through education and awareness.
We are very thankful for our current partnerships that continue to help us provide a fun yet safe, secure, and healthy environment for our children and youth at Touching Miami with Love.