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
The scenario is a common one. Mom is in the grocery store line anxious to check out after enduring aisle and after aisle of her young child begging for everything from juice boxes to her favorite cereal. The candy is now the latest in a string of battles and Mom has had enough. If this scenario sends waves of memories I bet you wished you had an expert voice in your ear guiding you through this and other tough parenting situations. For parents in Overtown and West Homestead, that expert guiding voice is now a reality. Touching Miami with Love is excited to be partnering with the University of Miami’s Mailman Center for Child Development in an innovative evidence-based treatment for young children with emotional and behavioral disorders. PCIT stands for Parent-Child Interaction Therapy and improves the quality of the parent-child relationship by changing parent-child interaction patterns. This parenting education program includes a blend of parent education and parent coaching. During live interactions with their children, therapists coach from an observation room with a one-way mirror into the playroom, using a “bug-in-the-ear” system for communicating to the parents as they play with their child. Concluding each session, therapist and caregiver together decide which skill to focus on most during daily 5-minute home practice sessions the following week. Substantial research has demonstrated the effectiveness of PCIT for families with children between the ages of 2 and 12. In addition, PCIT has also been shown to work with children with autism spectrum disorders, chronic illnesses, and developmental concerns. So what does this mean for TML? UM’s PCIT program rents two converted rooms at both TML West Homestead and TML Overtown sites as therapy space in order to provide PCIT services to families in our community. Given the large number of children we serve at our sites and the daily access of parents picking up their children from our programming, we were excited to answer University of Miami’s call for partnership for PCIT. They recognize we are trusted by community members and our programs and services are already regularly accessed by families. For families being served by TML and UM PCIT, the PCIT therapists provide after-school behavioral consultation to TML when children or youth are exhibiting significant behavioural difficulties that may be impacting their ability to learn or perform academically. Additionally impactful for our children, when TML students in our year-round out of school program are exhibiting disruptive and/or aggressive behaviors or are at-risk for child maltreatment, our staff are able to provide a warm hand-off linkage approach to the PCIT therapist on site. The PCIT therapist then discusses services with the family and initiates the treatment engagement process. Therapy sessions like these would usually cost families thousands of dollars, but through this unique partnership and the funding support of The Children’s Trust our communities’ parents have free access to this most advanced intervention for parents. View a video of what an example of PCIT with UM looks like HERE.
UM Therapist at our Overtown site coaches a parent as they interact with their child.
We are always encouraged by the generosity, creativity, and passion of our supporters. An article recently came across my news feed about why teenagers were always so hungry. Thinking of our son’s first weekend home from college and his constant grazing, it resonated with me. Reading deeper researcher Susan J. Popkin shared about the immense gap in food insecure teens. She wrote, “It’s easy to line up little kids and give them a backpack filled with food,” says Popkin. “But you can’t really do that with teens. There are stigmas about not wanting to stand out. I think they’re often seen as too hard to get to.”
We recognized the difference dinner could make over five years ago when we began providing meals each night of our youth programming as we re-created the family dinner hour. Not only were evening meals providing nutritious food to hungry youth in Overtown and West Homestead, it also created space for caring staff and volunteers to be a listening ear for young people. As we tried to match our resources with hungry youth, we found a new opportunity to engage the community at large and our project “Guest Chefs” was born. Individuals, church small groups, companies, and even families have joined us in providing one night of meals to our youth. We ask that groups do not just provide the meal, but stick around and chat with our youth too. It’s led to great conversations and open eyes on both sides of the table.
One partner church has taken being a “Guest Chef” to a completely new level. Several times a year, a small group of people from the church gathers to create hundreds of servings of dinner. It’s part of their outreach event, City Serve, and Christ Journey Church has created some huge fans of their cooking! We’re grateful for all those in the TML Family who use their time, talent, and treasure to bless the children and youth we serve.
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.
Touching Miami with Love provides programming in Overtown and West Homestead all-day for students. Because of all the learning and love that is happening. . . SUMMER MATTERS
Summer matters as research shows that children born into poverty are likely to suffer a 6,000 hour learning gap compared to their middle school peers. This learning gap isn’t from a lack of classroom learning, but rather from the lack of access to greater world learning through a lack of preschool, summer camps, after school activities, family reading time, and day trips. Here’s our top 10 ways we’re showing SUMMER MATTERS!
- Because Summer Matters our middle and high school students have been busy coding, drawing, writing, performing, programming, sharing, and learning a ton!
- Because Summer Matters we built partnerships with YouMake, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Children’s Bereavement Center, Project YouTurn, and Augmented Intelligence Academy to make all this learning possible!
- Because Summer Matters we’re building up the literacy learning for all students each day, offering intensive courses for our most struggling readers, and a Kindergarten readiness program in partnership with Florida International University.
- Because Summer Matters we keep our children’s minds busy as they take part in visual arts, enrichment sessions, computer time, structured free choice.
- Because Summer Matters we keep our children’s bodies busy too as they take part in daily fitness.
- Because Summer Matters we share God’s love through Devo Time every day with fun songs, games, and skits.
- Because Summer Matters we go on weekly field trips engage, enrich, and open new learning to our children.
- Because Summer Matters we engage high school youth as interns in our summer programming building leadership skills with hands-on learning through internships.
- Because Summer Matters we challenge our students to give back. West Homestead Site youth traveled to Daytona to support the children’s summer programming at Central Baptist and our Overtown Site youth take part in weekly community service projects around Miami.
- Because Summer Matters we invite teams from across the country to come share in the summer fun as they bring new learning and experiences to our children at both sites. Thank you to all our great summer teams this year!
Summer matters to each and every child, youth, and adult we serve through our programs this summer. We hope the great things happening at Touching Miami with Love matter to you too! Help support our summer programming through your summer gift to TML. Just go to https://touchingmiamiwithlove.org/give/ with your gift of $10 or more. Summer is almost over, so don’t wait to show that Summer Matters!
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.