When recent Flagler College graduate Mae Marino got her first 9 to 5 job after graduation she felt like she needed something more. So the AmeriCorps volunteer joined Branches South Miami, an after school enrichment program from South Florida Urban Ministries not for profit association. She now enjoys the kind of job satisfaction she knew was out there.
“It’s been such a blessing to be here,” said Marino. “I may not be earning what I was with a typical 9 to 5 but this is a different type of job, it is so rewarding and the support is beyond belief.”
South Miami United Methodist Church has been home to Branches for over five years “empowering people to move from poverty to prosperity.” In addition to after school tutoring, the summer program is now in full swing. Summer Shade Day Camp includes a physical fitness schedule, arts and crafts, organized sports, and field trips in addition to the one-on-one homework mentor help.
Branches began in Florida City by founder Kim Torres after Hurricane Andrew as a place for kids to go after school. Florida City is the largest site to date, and there is a North Miami Beach program as well. United Methodist Church and The Children’s Fund provide financial support to the programs that also rely on outreach efforts and volunteers like AmeriCorps staff to serve the kids.
“What sets us apart are the holistic services we offer,” said Director of Development for South Florida Urban Ministries Isabelle Pike. “Although we are faith based, anyone can participate. We also provide help for parents in the form of hunger relief, free tax preparation, and GED and ESOL courses. We help families with financial education and assist them in signing up for public benefit programs.”
Participating students must be receiving free or reduced lunches through the county to qualify, however Branches also does work with individual circumstances on a case by case basis wherever possible. There are 50 youth in the South Miami Branches program with two full time staff support, two AmeriCorps staff, and five volunteers.
Site Coordinator and new South Miami resident Laurie Kahn said most of the kids come from troubled homes. “A lot of the kids in our area come from single parent households. Some of the parents are incarcerated so these children are fending for themselves with some extended family support.”
Keeping the students engaged in learning during the summer and off the streets to prevent drug abuse or other trouble is also part of the mission. “We are all mentors to the youth,” said Kahn. “My inspiration to be here is to make Branches a standard in the community for people to know we can be trusted and stand by our word. We are a home away from home for kids. We offer love, acceptance, understanding and hopefully some good wisdom they can use as well.”
To find out more about Branches South Miami call 305-442-8306, extension 1002, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit sflum.org.