"Florida City, LOVE YOURSELF!"

“Florida City, Love Yourself” is an ongoing service event that is held with the intention of creating a culture of caring and self-value within the small community at the gateway to the Florida Keys and the Everglades, Florida City. Just south of Miami, Florida City is a diverse town whose main inhabitants are working poor families. With a population of 15,000, few families are supported by more than a housekeeper’s salary or the ebb and flow of the green bean, tomato, and strawberry seasons. For such reasons of financial woes and intense work schedules, the community members of Florida City are distanced from one another. They rarely take time to use their skills within their town, and they easily overlook the beauty of their distinctively mixed culture. With the objective of reinvigorating and uniting this wonderful community, South Florida Urban Ministries (SFLUM) introduced “Florida City, Love Yourself” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service in 2011.

How did SFLUM accomplish this goal? We created a simple and fun way to get involved. The opportunity for service functioned out of a central location, the community center at Branches Florida City. From this site, teams were deployed to paint homes in the community, install flooring for community members, create educational murals at the local elementary school, plant gardens at home and community parks, remove graffiti, and help the community center settle into its new programming building. Almost all of our 20 SFLUM AmeriCorps members and most staff participated in this wonderful event. This inaugural event brought together community leaders from the City of Florida City, the Police Department, Elementary School, local churches, and banking partners. Event sponsors included Home Depot, Dunkin’ Donuts, Miami Dade College, Volunteer Florida and the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. The day boasted the efforts of over 200 volunteers coming from seven organizations. The revolutionary spirit of change established at this event could not be contained until the next year’s national day of service and was replicated with smaller projects in February and in March. The legacy of “Florida City, Love Yourself” lives on as families examine the spectacular mural, play in the butterfly garden, and pass by the freshly painted and landscaped homes. Participants also received a bright pink t-shirt which recognized the spirit of the day and continues to bring a bright spot to the community each time they are worn. Each of these sights brings a moment of joy to the eye and a feeling of peace to the heart, for they are all things which the community can be proud to have produced.

It is this feeling of pride and group unity that will be perpetuated as “Florida City, Love Yourself” expands to the newest day of service, September 11th. Having this event extended to another national day of remembrance will continue to instill harmony out of chaos, beauty out of pain, and unity from tragedy. Our community is not unfamiliar with tragedy. Its roads and homes have been torn apart from major Hurricanes Andrew (1992), Katrina and Rita (2005). Its families experience direct impact from global disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti or the effects of narco-trafficking across Central America. Violence even hit last summer when arsonists made victim the beloved Branches Florida City Community Center and its church. As such, community members have a strong sense of survival and the need to find purpose in each day they are given. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 will be a respectable occasion to bring all together to proclaim that we will not give into fear, but instead shall choose to share life and hope.

This addition of “Florida City, Love Yourself” will involve the partners listed previously, including: WeCount!, Coalition of Florida Farmworker Organizations, EnFamilia, Community Bank, The Vineyard Church, Branches United Methodist Church, the Wesley Foundation of University of Miami, Miami-Dade College and Florida International University, and United Methodist Church of Homestead. Volunteers will be gathered from these groups as well as from the local families who are receiving services from our nonprofit partners. The projects will focus on seemingly simple exterior needs such as home beautification and basic repairs. Yet in a poverty-stricken home it is likely that these needs will never be addressed until they are significantly dangerous. Our work will not only mend buildings but it will also restore spirits. Imagine; a man whose house is freshly painted or a single mother whose home is cleaned of mold share their appreciation and self confidence in ways that teach proactive behaviors and self-respect to their neighbors and children. Likewise, this work will carry on past the day of service, for when we see additional needs in the home we are able to refer the family to more organizations and services that are available to them. Such intentional unity between neighbors and business persons will mirror that which overcame our nation after the attacks of 9/11. People will be pulled together to serve a common goal – dispensing value into Florida City.

We will honor those who gave their time and their lives as sacrifice to those in the rubble of 9/11, as we also honor our families who helped the community survive the fire of our beloved Branches in may 2010. We shall pull 250 volunteers to share in a time of reflection and moments of silence before we set out on our missions around the town. This service event shall result in three projects of major home improvement, a project that meets a need of the elementary school, and an information fair that will educate about community services and national benefits.

We will tell the community of this day by use of banners and fliers hung in high traffic areas of our town and the offices of our partners. Advertisements will be inserted into community reports and mailings (including organizational newsletters and church bulletins) and spread through electronic marketing via social media networks. We are excited about this opportunity and will make this day a huge success!