At TML, we believe in sowing into our youth so that they bear the fruit of long-term impact. While it is no surprise to have students visit us after they’ve graduated from our program, it is always rewarding to see them return for a simple “hello,” others invest and become part of our staff team. If you’ve ever called our offices, then you’ve likely talked to Brittney. She gave us permission to share her story.
Brittney was in grade school when she moved to Overtown with her grandmother when she and her two sisters began attending our children’s programming. By the age of fourteen, Brittney was already showcasing her leadership skills and became one of our summer Jr. Interns are working alongside our children’s program. During the summer, our Vice President, Angel Pittman gave Brittney one of the most precious yet valuable opportunities to babysit her own children while she would debrief with summer teams. Not only had Brittney become a leader, but she earned trust as she always showed signs of love, loyalty, and commitment through her actions.
As Brittney matured into a young woman, she consistently proved herself as a calm and caring individual. After graduating from high school, Brittney began volunteering at TML, which eventually led to a regular position as a receptionist. Our programs grew and we discovered the need for a Program Assistant. Brittney was the obvious choice as not only had she first hand experienced our programs as a student but now her son would be joining as well. While serving as Program Assistant, Brittney discovered many things, from having more confidence in herself and how to communicate professionally and effectively with her colleagues. Five years later, we are excited to announce that Brittney has become our new Office Manager. While this role has more responsibilities, we firmly believe in her ability to continue to learn and grow alongside the rest of our staff.
Having Brittney transition from a child in our program to a staff member years later is another example of the tremendous work our teams dedicate themselves to. We believe in our students, even on the days, they don’t believe in themselves. We are confident in the leader Brittney has become and are excited for her as she takes on her new role.
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.
Our doors are always open for you to see the impact of your giving and we invite you to stop in and see us in Overtown or West Homestead. When you do, here is just a glimpse of what you may find.
Our Spiritual Formation Directors (Amanda in Overtown and Martin in West Homestead) will be guiding the children through weekly devotionals that proclaim how they were fearfully and wonderfully made. Some of our children’s program instructors are leading engaging and educationally enriching lessons on literature, fitness, and enrichments in science topics, literature, or history. Others are teaching the kids a drum cadence or dance lesson or are cooking up a culinary arts lesson. You can peek in the window and see our Reading Interventionists; five in all at both sites. They meet with students in one of the tutoring rooms where students get needed help with reading skills. Our Case Managers will likely be just returned from their daily time in our partner schools where they met with teachers and shared lunch in the cafeteria with our students. Over the course of the afternoon, they will meet one-on-one to encourage the students and ensure that they are on track with their individualized Success Plans we create each year with students.
Our middle and high school students are working on TML’s laptops as they do their homework every afternoon and if you have time to stay for evening programming you’ll find staff setting up for dinner as we serve a full sit down dinner to begin each night of youth programming. After dinner, our staff will then lead Creative Arts sessions, and on other nights Social Skills classes. Our Spiritual Formation Directors lead devotions for youth, challenging students to connect with the God who loves them.
We stay busy with nearly 450 children, youth, and adults actively engaged in our year-round programming and we couldn’t do it without your support.
After thirteen years of faithful ministry, Wanda Ashworth-Valencia is moving to be closer to family in July. As we looked to hire a Spiritual Formation Director, one of the many roles she filled, we sent job requests to seminaries, partner ministries, and made online postings to seek the best candidate to lead this important aspect of our programming. We looked across Miami-Dade County and across the country for the right person to guide our children and youth. After numerous interviews, we found no one with as great sense of passion, understanding of the West Homestead community, and experience with youth as our very own Martin Villa.
As many of you know, Martin first came to Touching Miami with Love: West Homestead (formerly Open House Ministries) as a second grade student. During his time in the program, Wanda’s love had a profound influence on Martin. As he grew up in the program, Wanda encouraged him and challenged him to grow as a leader first through a summer position in high school and later as a fellow staff member. Martin has shared about his passion for TML and his West Homestead community in several settings. In 2015, he was asked about the students that he teaches, “I see my second grade self in them as I teach them and hang out with them. When they tell me their struggles, I see my struggles. I see the things I used to go through as a child with my family. I can feel them. My passion is in these kids . . .that’s what TML is for. For the teenagers and everyone else that I’m teaching now. This is their home. This the place they need to be.”
We are so grateful to Wanda the legacy she leaves behind in the life of Martin. Please join us in welcoming Martin into his new role as he leads the spiritual formation of West Homestead’s children and youth.
Martin with campers, Summer 2012