When you walk into the commission chambers at city hall in South Miami, the framed pictures of mayors from yesteryear stare back at you with warm smiles and confident leadership postures. One may wonder what those bygone years were like when the first African-American or female mayor took office in a municipality with a rich history and now approaching its centennial anniversary. Many of those challenges and legacies have long been lost in today’s seemingly intractable bureaucratic dilemmas. But, every now and again you find a historical gem shining brightly.
Maria E. Stout-Tate is one tough lady to get a few minutes with. She is the Parks and Recreation director and in charge of a multitude of programs, grants, outreach efforts and staff at the Gibson-Bethel South Miami Community Center. With a summer camp program that has more than 120 local children participating and many affordable fitness programs available for residents and nonresidents alike in this impressive multiuse building tucked away in the heart of South Miami, it is easy to be impressed by this 18-year veteran’s legacy.
Ms. Stout-Tate said that one of the best things about her job is the ability to reach, and perhaps add, to the lives of kids who are not always able to afford private ballet, jujitsu or piano lessons. She has witnessed second and third generations of children, now young adults, benefit from the programs “back in the day” and then come back to give back to the new generation of kids in attendance.
Shanequa Smith is now a nursing major at Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach, but her family still resides in South Miami and she has not forgotten her recreational roots at the community center. She fondly remembers when she first attended a kickball game or played jump rope with friends when she was 5 years old. Ms. Smith remains active with the center’s kids. It is important amidst her busy life in a challenging academic program to find a way to return the guidance and attention instilled in her as a pre-kinder. She credits the community center for giving her the resources to help her excel in life today.
“I built relationships with the staff and they showed me how to be a better person and make a big difference,” said Ms. Smith. “Every time I come home, I try to give back and help during summer camp and cheerleading. I want to provide them with the knowledge and responsibility and guidance I was taught here as a kid. Teaching today’s youth to be nice to one another and help each other solve problems is a blessing. The other day I saw a child I worked with two years ago who remembered me. It was such a great feeling to think that I have left a good stamp on these future leaders, to help them grow to be responsible adults.”
In today’s highly technologically-driven society, it is nice to hear about how a simple daydream and the courage to push the possibility to reality can still create bright futures. Twenty years ago, Maria Scout- Tate rode the Metrorail after leaving her work at Cedars Medical to visit her mom at Baptist Hospital while she was a cancer patient there. As she looked out the window, she marveled at the quaint South Miami City Hall building and thought – what a lovely environment it would be in which to work. She ultimately quit her job to become a fulltime caregiver for her mom, who ultimately succumbed to her illness. The family was then left grappling with overdue medical bills and depleted savings. Her auntie explained the urgency for this young woman to get a job again, so Ms. Stout-Tate stopped at City Hall and offered her resume.
She still remembers Eva Rosa graciously accepting her application, with the tough counsel that few people ever retire once they get on board. But perhaps Josephina, Ms. Stout-Tate’s mom was still looking out for her because the very next day, the Parks and Recreation secretary resigned and that is how it all began. Ms. Stout-Tate looks back on those days with gratitude and nostalgia.
“If you would have told me I would still be here 18 years later, I never would have believed it,” said Ms. Stout-Tate. “But, I found a family here. I have worked in various departments within the Parks and Recreation and developed the knowledge of how to best serve the community. I was able to work to bring in new programs, lead special events, fundraising drives, essay contests and fortunately negotiate with vendors to acquire new resources and revenue to improve programs for kids.”
Among all the challenges that plague our local government and the often unpleasant imbroglios that stagnate progress, there are many local leaders like Maria Stout-Tate who are humbly striving to make the community a better place for every child and family so they may thrive and reach for a better tomorrow.
Contact the Gibsen Bethel South Miami Community Center at 305-668-7232 or visit online at www.southmiamifl.gov.