South Miami community steps up for one of its own

South Miami community steps up for one of its own

Dayan Martinez (left), who is a former South Miami Police Explorer and a graduate of
the Police Academy, helps Cristopher Zambrana set up tables at a recent event.

When the South Miami Police Explorers needed help for one of their own, they knew just where to turn – the community they had been serving for more than 25 years.

Last December, Cristopher Zambrana, 18, made a selfless decision that could have cost him the law enforcement career he so desperately wanted: He gave the Police Academy tuition he had saved for more than a year to his financially struggling parents so his two younger brothers wouldn’t go without. Now that act of kindness has been repaid to him by community organizations and individuals who want to help him succeed.

Police Explorer Advisor Det. Joe Mendez led the effort to raise more than $6,000 for Cristopher’s tuition in just a few short weeks. Together with the Post members, Mendez was able to cover all of the Academy costs for this dedicated Explorer, who started at the Academy Jan. 14. Members of the Post raised about $1,000 through their regularly scheduled fundraising efforts. They received donations for the remainder from the Rotary Club of South Miami, Non-Violence Project USA and the South Miami Drug-Free Coalition as well as local SoMi Magazine publisher John Edward Smith and SMPD Officer Christopher Johnson.

Det. Mendez said he didn’t know when he started whether it would be possible to raise the entire tuition amount, but the community response has been tremendous. “I was amazed at how much support Cris received in such a short time,” Mendez said. “Good people and good organizations still exist, and they have helped shape the life of a really great kid.”

Cristopher is eight weeks into the 27- week Police Academy program and is learning the ropes quickly. His days alternate between physical training and classroom work to learn the law, and once the classroom work is complete, he and his fellow cadets will start training scenarios. He stays attends the program from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week, and on weekends, he works a security job to help support himself, his parents and his brothers; there is no pay for academy cadets.

So far Zambrana said the experience is physically and mentally challenging, and just a little bit unpredictable, but he’s happy to be doing what he loves. The experience has reinforced what he had already discovered at age 14 – that he was meant to be a cop. Even a bout of dehydration that landed him in the hospital overnight won’t deter him. When he graduates in July, Cristopher hopes to apply with the City of South Miami and other local jurisdictions so he can be close to his family.

“I’m truly grateful for all the support that helped me achieve my dream of going to the academy,” Cristopher said. “I can’t wait to graduate and get to work so I can repay a little bit of what was given to me.”

To continue to support the South Miami Police Explorers, you can donate by check payable to the South Miami Police Explorer Post 256, 6130 SW 72 Street, South Miami, FL 33143 Attn: Detective J. Mendez. For more information, please contact

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