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
Touching Miami with Love kids know how to live and enjoy each moment. We were so pleased to be invited to be a part of Run51’s latest video release for their song “This Moment.” The moments we have to live, to grow, to smile, to enjoy, are not to be taken for granted. In this life there are challenges, trouble and hard realities we all face, but through Jesus and what he accomplished we can live a victorious life now. Check out Run51’s video and follow the story of one young boy as he journeys through a crazy world, but chooses to to take a moment to make the most of it, new friends that make the journey an adventure! Click below to watch and order your copy of Run 51’s EP HERE!
A recent 4-H National Youth Survey on Leadership of 1,501 students in 9th-12th grade gained their thoughts on leadership. Only one in three young people say they have the skills needed to be prepared to lead. “Survey shows American youth feel today’s leaders have a different agenda; they lack skills to lead themselves.” (2016, April 12 National 4-H Council). Students participating asked for 1) hands-on experience in leadership roles and 2) programs to build confidence and 3) regular encouragement to lead. We see the same requests in our work in West Homestead at Touching Miami with Love. Homestead’s historically low high school graduation rate, high poverty rates, and high crime illustrate the need for strong youth leaders to not only rise above these struggles, but impact change for the next generation.
Our solution to the need for Youth Leadership is to continue our successful project “West Homestead Youth Internship.” Through the continued support of Ocean Reef Community Foundation Touching Miami with Love will provide meaningful summer jobs to 10 youth with hands-on leadership training as youth take active roles in our summer programming, but also a comprehensive approach that includes lessons for leadership skill building. We are excited to announce our 2017 Ocean Reef Community Foundation TML: West Homestead Summer Interns-Irina, Edwin, Tiana, Eufemio, Christian, Travis, Jerry, Darrian, Luis, and Jessica. These students were selected to apply and interview for these coveted positions. Almost ALL of the interns we selected are frequent volunteers.
Our model for empowering young leaders is working! We recently expanded our children’s programming this year to include seventy-five more children served every day for a total of 150 students in K-8th grade in our Tomorrow’s Leaders program. Our need to increase our staff includes many young adults who grew up in our programming. This year we added Vanessa, Paul, Kennesha, Maria, and Celina to our staff ALL of which were formerly in our children’s and/or youth programs and many who are past TML Summer Interns. We are extremely thankful for the continued partnership of Ocean Reef Community Foundation to continue to make a measurable impact on our community through the lives of our young leaders.
Some South Florida communities continue to falter when it comes to financial growth and economic mobility, despite the overall recovery of the U.S. economy. The situation may be getting worse. Barriers to economic success are growing in South Florida with all wage earners seeing an income decline, except for the top 5 percent, a report from the FIU Metropolitan Center reveals.
Furthermore, United Way of Florida’s latest ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report reveals that 21% of households in Miami Dade live in poverty and an additional 27% are one emergency away from financial instability, meaning more than half of all households in our community struggle to make ends meet.
It’s clear that effective solutions are needed to close this growing economic disparity in South Florida, now one of the largest such gaps in the United States. Bank of America recognizes that low-income individuals and families face a variety of challenges, have diverse needs and may qualify for multiple services, so they support nonprofit organizations providing supportive services that will enable individuals and families to move forward.
The invaluable nonprofit organizations that provide a safety net for individuals and families are central to the success of these efforts. To this end, we are proud to announce the Bank of America Charitable Foundation has named Touching Miami with Love a recipient of its 2017 Workforce Development and Basic Needs grant. Touching Miami with Love will use the funds to support our Bridges Program in West Homestead. Growing up in West Homestead is difficult, many children are underperforming academically, struggling with behavioral issues that leads to trouble in the classroom, and suspensions further impede their academic progress and their chances of exiting generational poverty.
Touching Miami with Love’s Bridges program provides wraparound services in conjunction with our Tomorrow’s Leaders Out of School Children’s Program Monday to Friday afterschool and all-day on most Teacher Planning Days, Spring Break, and six week of Summer Programming. Children meet with our Case Managers in sessions within the afternoon program hours to doing social emotional learning individually and in small groups. Our Case Manager visits the children’s school every day in the midmorning hours to meet with teachers and talk with administrators to track the progress of students in her caseload. Through our strong partnership, our staff is also able to check in and encourage the students at school as well. We are grateful for this partnership, because it means helping more of our children get the necessary support to succeed.
Touching Miami with Love is also indebted to all of the volunteers, including Bank of America employees, who continue to demonstrate how incredibly invested they are in our community. They generously share their time, passion and expertise to improve the quality of life of their neighbors and people they have never met in many ways every day.
Over the course of five years, the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning conducted a research study in which experts visited fifty-three high-functioning afterschool programs across the United States that reported student academic gains. The study concluded that “the benefits for the students who attend them: better attitudes toward school and stronger school engagement; stronger school performance; higher rates of school attendance; fewer behavioral problems; and lower dropout rates.” They identified the specific strategies for building supportive relationships as the following:
- Encourage positive relationships between staff and students.
- Link to the school-day staff.
- Support and train program staff.
- Engage family members.
- Collaborate with community organizations.
These five elements remain the core of our children’s out of school program, Tomorrow’s Leaders Children’s Program. We are blessed with committed staff who are passionate about creating a positive environment for students. Ten of our children’s program instructors are graduates of our programs, so they know the impact a positive role model can make in children’s lives as each of them are living proof.
Our Children’s Director and Case Managers are in the schools of the children we serve literally every day. Talking with teachers, sharing lunch with students, and linking parents to the school through attending and advocating at teacher-parent meetings and Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings.
Touching Miami with Love places a high value on quality training. That is why we dedicate one week at the beginning of the school year, full days throughout the school year, and one week before summer programming to staff training. We designed our weekly program staff meetings and monthly all-site staff meetings to encourage, inform, and equip our staff to give their best to the students every day.
Our partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools in our Parent Empowerment Project engages families in our meetings and activities twice a month. The many Community Outreach Projects we do: Back to Back, Christmas Store, Community Cookout, and Easter Party keep our families connected to the larger TML family.
All of this would not be possible without the incredible support of our partners—churches, community organizations, and partner schools’ support. Each Tuesday middle school youth with a passion for art are bused to the Perez Art Museum for a special art class and our top readers each month enjoy a meal with our partners at Bubba Gump Restaurant. Our K-6 graders enjoy learning about nature, art, and God each month in our multi-year partnership with Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church and School. We could go on and on about how many are pouring into the lives of our children and youth each day in partnership that is helping our students succeed and your support is part of that partnership too—thank you!
The doors are always open to the students, families, and community of West Homestead. As the site of our Touching Miami with Love programs to children, youth, and families our West Homestead Site also hosts an office for Catalyst Miami and a satellite office of Wellspring Counseling.
Thanks to funds from the Home Depot Foundation along with a volunteer team led by Mike C., we were able to replace several doors at our West Homestead Site to keep the doors open for all. Our entire 5,000 sq. foot center was built by volunteers over the course of several years in the early 90’s, so it was very fitting that Home Depot required that the installation of the new doors be done by volunteer labor. Our BIG thanks to the Home Depot Foundation, Mike C. and his volunteer team for helping to keep the doors open in West Homestead!
All the way from Anchorage, Alaska three faithful volunteers came once again to serve in our spring break camp at TML. One key way they impacted everyone at TML was through the power of prayer. Ron and the entire team prayed with our children’s program coordinator several times for the events of the week, and for our staff and volunteer teams. Nancy spent time everyday praying for each of our children and staff. There were several times during the week when there was a notable change in the atmosphere of the classroom space, a renewal in our staff team, and a joy in our children.
A second key impact was through the ongoing engagement of the volunteers. Each day, the team led enrichment and visual arts times that provided children pictures, stories, and even tastes of new foods that introduced Alaskan culture. The team sang with the children during worship times, drove to a field trip to play with the kids, and made crafts side by side with children daily. Many children immediately remembered the volunteers from last year.
Last, the daily devotional led by the team to explain the good news of Jesus Christ was powerful. Mr. Ron explained part of the gospel each day, and the team created a special opportunity for all children and staff celebrate communion. It was wonderful to see how it all built on what our March and April TML devo time has been doing to introduce the gospel. There are daily opportunities opening up to remind individual children of the good news of Jesus. We believe it’s because of the powerful impact of the prayers, caring engagement, and truth boldly shared by the Alaskan volunteer team. We are so thankful for Ron, Linda, and Nancy’s presence with us last week.
During spring break this month, our students will be attending OASIS Camp in Central Florida sponsored by our partners at Branches. We are so excited for this opportunity for our youth. Please be in prayer this month not only for our middle and high school students from Touching Miami with Love Overtown and West Homestead sites, but also for students from all over South Florida. Our youth staff is asking our TML supporters to be in prayer for all of those going to OASIS:
- Students—to hear clearly from God
- Staff—to represent Christ and show unconditional love and support
- Worship Teams—to honor God in all they do
- The camp speaker—that God would speak through him
- Safety—as students and leaders travel from South Florida to Central Florida
We also ask that you continue to pray for our students when they return home. Many youth become close to God at camp, some for the first time, but struggle as they return home because their friends and surroundings are often not supportive of their new life choices.
The theme this year is “Woke” and during OASIS, the youth will be encouraged to be consciously aware of what is going on in the world and invited to join in working against the injustices happening in the world. Along with a lot of fun in the outdoors with sports, canoeing, fishing, swimming, and more, students will choose to participate in many sessions, some of which include:
- Eracism—Racial Reconciliation
- Global—Around the World Issues
- We the People—Know your Rights
- Get Lit—Surviving without drugs and alcohol,
- Down in the DM—Uncover the Secrets of Social Media
- Flawless—Attacking the Lies of Society About Beauty and Image (Females Only)
- Champions—(Men Only)
- Lifeline—Suicide Prevention
- Vibes—Music and Its Influence
Thank you to our friends at Branches sponsors of OASIS Camp.
Family time is important in order to strengthen bonds, and sharing in special events together creates memories that make being a part of a family feel special. But what if you don’t have transportation or you can’t afford the entry price for the popular events in your city? Without a car, it is hard to experience new things and in an expensive city like Miami, it can be next to impossible for low-income families to enjoy new experiences.
As Touching Miami with Love seeks to create strong communities, we create opportunities for Family Field Trips each year to provide families in Overtown and West Homestead the opportunity to enjoy our beautiful city. Over the past few years, we have taken our families to the Miami Symphony, Zoo Miami, Universoul Circus, and more. Through the support of partners, we have taken families from both sites for several years in a row to the Fun and Fit as a Family Event at Jungle Island.
Hosted by the Food Network, our parents and their children strolled through Jungle Island’s interactive zoological park, watched chefs’ presentations and learned healthy-lifestyle tips for kids. TML’s children explored the food garden, ate free food, and played interactive fitness games, as well as enjoying everything else Parrot Jungle has to offer. Our families enjoyed the time with spent with each other, and who doesn’t enjoy an opportunity to see their favorite celebrity chefs too like Guy Fieri, Rachael Ray, and Robert Irvine!
We all know the teen years can be rough for youth. The average teen deals with lots of emotions and talking to teens about their feelings can be difficult. This is true for one of our newer teens in our youth program, Asia.* We share her story as one example of many of how your support is making a difference in the lives of those we serve.
Asia joined our youth program at our Overtown Site four months ago. Our youth staff knew there was likely something behind her aggressive verbal attacks. Oftentimes during our weekly Social Skills classes, the youth share about their personal lives, but after months Asia never shared. Her anger was coming from a deep seated pain, but staff were unable to get deeper conversations started. It was instead during Creative Arts in a small group that Asia finally opened up to TML staff member, Tianna. With her head down focused on her project, Asia shared how since she was a very young girl she’s watched her mom struggle with substance abuse. During low times when her mom relapsed, Asia had to live with different relatives and how that made school and friendships difficult. The constant shuffling from home to home, disconnect from friends, and missing out on a healthy relationship with her mom has taken its toll on Asia’s sprit. That night over a simple activity Tianna was able to be the listening ear Asia so desperately needed and trust began to form.
Fast forward several weeks and many conversations later, Tianna along with other youth staff from TML stopped in at Booker T. Washington School during lunch. Asia spotted across the lunch room and nearly ran over to them. Tianna was shocked to see Asia so excited as she introduced them to several of her friends. The smile on her face was real and the excitement in her voice such a marked difference from the sarcastic, rude Asia just a few weeks ago. Asia’s turbulent teen years aren’t over and her mom’s road to permanent recovery may still be long and winding, but because of your support Asia can have trusted adults who care about her in her life and a place to come for support.