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
A new decade is around the corner and if you are wanting to make some resolutions for your business in 2020 – how about adding “giving back” as one of them? In 2019, MIAM Café raised $1,034.50 one dollar at a time for Touching Miami with Love.
How did they do it? Miam Café partnered with us in creating a “Drink of the Month” project and pledged to donate $1 for every purchase made. In turn, we promoted their partnership online and in our social media. Does your business have an item or service that you could designate a portion of the sale to be donated to Touching Miami with Love?
Need more ideas? Here are other ways to support TML while you determine your New Year goals.
Be a Guest Speaker
Do you or a co-worker have an inspirational and empowering message? Would you like to inspire our students? Then, we’d love to have you. Sharing your story can be vital as it could help young people in ways you never knew possible. Empower and forge connections with our middle and high school students through your story.
Come Out and Play with Us
In 2020, TML celebrates our 25th Anniversary with a series of tournament events. Kickball, Top Golf, or Bowling—what’s your game of choice? Find out how you can create comradarie while supporting a great organization. See all tournament events online on our 25th Anniversary page.
Denim Days at Work
Do your employees dress up for work? Consider supporting Touching Miami with Love in exchange for giving employees the option to wear jeans on a particular day of the week. You can even ask to make it a regular Friday event and pledge your support for a year. Need help pitching the idea? Invite your team to one of our monthly TML impact tours, and we’ll do a “show and tell’ for you!
Touching Miami With Love has many opportunities for you to volunteer as an individual or with a group. As we celebrate our 25th anniversary year, there are various events where your company’s helping hands and willing heart would be appreciated. Head to our website and complete our Volunteer Inquiry form, and we will schedule a follow-up phone call to see which program or event you’d like to volunteer.
Donate an Item or Service
Does your business have items or a service you provide that could be donated to TML? In 2020, TML is hosting several tournament events and an online auction. We will gladly receive your item(s) for use in our events and provide you a tax receipt for the value of your donation.
Be a Guest Chef
Have someone in the office that loves to cook or even an employee with take-out ordering skills? Have representatives from your company serve as Guest Chefs for our Youth Evening Program. Each Wednesday evening in Overtown and Thursday evening in West Homestead we serve dinner to our youth before programming. We encourage our “guest chefs” to eat with the youth as a great time to get to know our students over a delicious meal. Past companies serving as Guest Chefs have shared how much they loved the experience bonding with our students and each other.
Now that you have some ideas for smashing your resolution on giving back, let us know which one best suits you. Ask to receive our 25th Anniversary sponsorship packet for more information on how you can celebrate with us in 2020!
At this year’s Thanksgiving Showcase, we had a packed house at our Overtown site as parents and relatives gathered for dinner and a show. We host this event as an opportunity to get to build stronger bonds with our families outside and bless our community with a memorable meal as Amanda, our Spiritual Formation Director leads the show each year.
Every class had a different song they performed, each with a powerful message on the love of Christ. Our students practiced for weeks, and when it came down to performing, they really rocked out! It was terrific seeing the crowd record the show on their cell phones, stand up and clap, and sing along. Not only could you see all the families beaming with pride, but you saw each instructors’ eyes light up watching their students perform.
One particular performance stood out –our 4th -5th-grade “Marlins” group. One minute into the song, the music unexpectedly stopped, the class looked over at their TML instructor, Ms. Ashley with concern on their faces. Ms. Ashley kept her cool and encouraged her students to keep singing and continue their choreography without the music. As everyone else cheered them on, the children belted out lyrics,
“In every circumstance
no matter where I am
I will trust you
I will trust in You!
It’s so sweet to trust in Jesus.”
At that moment, the words seemed to come alive for everyone under the sound of the students’ voices. Singing passionately, even amidst the technical difficulty, the children reminded us that no matter what the situation, God has everything under control. What could have been a disaster and awkward ending to their performance, turned into a great lesson of overcoming and victory. It was beautiful to see the teamwork and self-confidence we teach our students on display.
We are so grateful for everyone who participated at our annual Thanksgiving Showcase– from volunteers, staff, parents, and students. As we continue to celebrate the holiday, let us remember the real reason for the season and carry the lyrics within us – “It’s so sweet to trust in Jesus.”
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.
Payday Lending Practices Harm Communities
Join Touching Miami with Love, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and CBF FL and faith leaders across the country to stop harmful predatory lending practices. Read more about CBF’s advocacy efforts on payday lending HERE.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is rolling back a recently created rule that requires predatory payday lenders to make affordable loans. Without this rule, payday loan sharks can prey on vulnerable consumers with debt trap loans causing default on other bills, overdraft fees, and even bankruptcy. The CFPB must protect families and stop the debt trap – not enrich payday loan sharks.
In my first months of ministry, I remember a faith leader offering a challenge to not simply create programs and services that serve people who are caught in tough situations in the river of life, but instead to go upstream and see who is pushing people into the river. That analogy stuck with me. Heading up the river is what advocacy is all about.
Recently I was able to be a part of CBF’s training event, Advocacy in Action, held in New York City. Throughout the four-day event, pastors, faith leaders and seminary students from across the country joined together to learn practical ways to put faith to action while impacting the most pressing issues of the day including immigrant and refugee issues, religious liberty and human rights.
Our group visited the United Nations to learn about global advocacy and hear about interfaith work being done from a panel of UN advocate experts. During our week, we viewed refugee stories up close at the Tenement Museum and stood beneath Plymouth Church in Brooklyn in the same room as those escaping slavery through the Underground Railroad. All of this was a great reminder of both the importance and the investment required for advocacy.
It seemed fitting that the following Monday, I would get to be a part of putting my new advocacy learning into action at a Pray-In and Press Conference to denounce the abusive practices of the payday lending industry.
This gathering brought together the Center for Responsible Lending, the Florida Council of Churches, the 11th Episcopal District of the AME Church, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida to protest outside of the Trump National Doral Resort in Miami as the national payday lenders association, The Community Financial Services of America (CFSA), held their annual meeting.
Touching Miami with Love joined this effort years ago and continues to learn about the industry that grows wealthy off a debt trap designed to force borrowers to take out increasing loans to pay off previous loans. It was encouraging to join prominent leaders in this movement as we prayed and called for justice to uphold the rights of the poor. We held signs attracting the interest of the police and media as we condemned the industry for their 400% APR rates and predatory practices that lead to an average of ten loans per borrower.
Following this experience, I was invited to join a researcher from the Center for Responsible Lending to be a local voice on Miami’s local public radio station WLRN’s show, “Sundial.” It was a privilege to shine light on the abusive practices of payday lending because no one should be thrown in the river drowning in debt.
Angel Pittman is a CBF field personnel serving as the Vice President of Touching Miami with Love. Since 1995, Touching Miami with Love has been serving the neighborhoods of Overtown and West Homestead, sharing the love of Christ through providing hope, opportunities, and resources.
Reset! Oasis Camp, hosted by Branches, was truly a “reset” for our youth. God’s presence was at camp this year and the youth were blown away by their experiences. Surrounded by nature and with no technology for four days, they have an opportunity to connect with Jesus in new ways.
The theme this year was centered around Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
At camp, the youth and counselors had a chant that focused our attention on this verse.
“Hebrews Twelve. One two, One two…
Drop the weights.
Run the Race.
Set your eyes on Jesus’ face.”
After a few rounds of the chant, everyone would yell: “RESET—right now, right now” and the chant would begin again from the top. Reset.
Camp is an opportunity for our TML staff to connect on a deeper level to youth. During Cabin Devotions, one youth was really struggling with if she could stop a bad habit. She said she didn’t want to “drop the weight” because she didn’t think she’d be fully committed. “I want to follow Jesus, but I need to stop sinning first.” TML staff encouraged her that despite our human attempts, we are not the ones to clean up our lives. Jesus is. Reset. Jesus didn’t come for healthy people, but the sick. Reset. He died for us while we were sinners. Our bad habits might not change overnight. The more we learn more about Jesus and His love for us, the more we walk closer with Him, the less attractive those heavy sins will become.
The last night that same youth wrote these words, “I realized I don’t have to be perfect in order to follow Jesus.” She said she wanted to “put two feet in, instead of one foot.” She wanted Jesus to reset her life.
The truth is, we all need a reset. Not just our youth, but all of us. Omar, one of the staff from KIX, another participating ministry, said it like this: “We don’t need just a daily reset, but a moment-by-moment reset.” That is true for all of us. Reset.
Choosing to follow Jesus is a journey. It happens over time. There are days we will mess up, and we will need to reset. So, we will start again giving God the stuff holding us down, getting back to our purpose, and fixing our eyes back on Jesus.
Here’s what other youth shared from their experiences at Oasis camp,
“I don’t want to go back home; can we stay another week?”
– N. G.
“I’m going to make an effort to be different when I get back.”
“After tonight’s worship service, I felt a weight lift off of me!”
Drop the weight.
Run the Race.
Set your eyes on Jesus’ face.
It’s tough news for any parent, their child’s diagnosis of a disability. Parents are often unsure of where to turn or what to do. After the shock begin to fade, the panic, fears, and the distress begins to set in. For low-income families, like the ones served at Touching Miami with Love, it can feel overwhelming.
We are excited to announce that our partnership with the University of Miami’s Mailman Center for Child Development has expanded. In February of 2018, we announced our formal partnership as University of Miami brought their impactful Parent Child Interaction Therapy to our two sites, read post HERE.
This winter, TML was asked to be among three community agencies to have staff trained in their Family Navigator Program. Five of our staff representing both our Overtown and West Homestead Site received the extensive training to be called a Family Navigator for the families served by Touching Miami with Love. The Family Navigator program was developed to ensure that children and their families receive needed services. The navigotors empower, support and educate families by implementing a system of care where Family Navigators work with families to help them get services for their children.
Our team of TML Family Navigators are equipped with skills to help parents identify family strengths, connect with needed services, advocate for their child, learn how to address school concerns, and help parents connect with other families of children with special needs or health care needs.
Touching Miami with Love is pleased to expand our partnership with the Mailman Center and are excited to continue working with Dr. Jeffrey Brosco, MD, PhD and his great team. Dr. Jeffrey Brosco, MD, PhD knows better than most about how important serving the whole child, and their family, is to their overall health. In a 2017 interview with Miami’s local public radio station WLRN following his appointment as Florida’s deputy secretary for Children’s Medical Services Dr. Brosco shared,
“A person’s health, and especially child’s health, is not just about their medical conditions. It’s also about their school, and their neighborhood, and their family, and violence in the community, and if there are playgrounds. And so we also have to think about the public health issues that inform child health.
Events that children live through, their environment, how they grow up—actually gets written into their biology, gets written into their bodies. If you look at the most important health issues in the United States, things like stroke and cardiac disease and cancer, almost all that starts as a child.”
As Touching Miami with Love continues to serve children through our wholistic programs, we are excited to now have five trained Family Navigators to assist our efforts, ensuring our families in Overtown and West Homestead have access to the support they need.
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