Friday, February 26, 2010

Oh SNAP! It's now easier to use food stamps at farmers markets

The Food and Nutrition Service just announced a more streamlined process for approving farmers markets to redeem food stamps (SNAP). Markets no longer need to go through state agencies to operate incentive projects, such as the one HSC, Roots in the City and Michael's Genuine are starting with support from Wholesome Wave. Our market is tentatively slated to begin March 24, and will operate on Wednesdays from 1 to 4 pm. SNAP benefits recipients will be able to double their purchases of fruits and vegetables, up to $10 per market day. This is a model that is being used throughout the country and is making fresh, local produce more accessible to low-income families.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Get ready for county budget hearings now

Remember the Penny Wise Campaign, which stopped Miami-Dade County from eliminating funding for community-based organizations from its budget? Well, it's back with new energy and a new name: the We All Count Campaign will kickoff with a meeting at HSC (1900 Biscayne Blvd., Ste. 200, 33132) at which we will hear from Jennifer Glazer-Moon of the Office of Strategic Business Management at 2 p.m. A strategizing session will follow at 4 p.m. Come with feedback from last summer's budget hearings and with ideas for improving our campaign. RSVP to Roxanne Paisible. Let's make sure we all count!

SPEC(tacular) conversations with coworkers

Yesterday we convened a focus group at HSC to talk about our organizational culture. We were led by our friends at the University of Miami SPEC program, in which HSC is enrolled. The idea of the program is that through self-reflection and staff participation and action, organizations like ours can become more Strengths-, Prevention-, Empowerment-, and Community Change-based. Yes, that is quite a mouthful, and it's also been quite a rewarding process. The program forces us to ask tough questions. Do we consider power, justice, class, race and gender in evaluating problems and devising solutions? Do we view community members as assets? Do we invite our constituents to help shape the organization's direction? Some of my coworkers in the focus group had rosier views than others about these matters. Most of us agreed that we can improve in one or all of these areas.

But of course, one tough question leads to another. Are conversations about race (squirm) and class (cringe) prohibitive to getting funded? Can we help people become empowered without pushing our own agenda? These are issues we will have to delve deeper into as the organization transforms itself, but it would be great to hear from the public about how we can be more SPEC-ey.

Have you gotten your free census poster yet?

Nonprofits Count is helping nonprofits get the word out about the census by offering webinars, free posters, toolkits and information for community organizers. I just ordered a Census 2010 poster for our office; I think it's really going to spruce the place up. Plus, it will probably be a collectors item one day. Get yours. (Read my previous post about why the census matters.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Public Ally's Reflection

By Public Ally Lori Deus

I was excited when I learned the school in Little Haiti in which I was placed taught adult education classes at night and jumped on the opportunity to observe a classroom. I went there expecting to find people who wanted to learn English. What I found there was an experience that has changed me forever.

When I entered the classroom, I saw adults taking a test. I sat quietly in the back of the room, assuming they were taking an English vocabulary test. As I looked closer, I noticed it was NOT a vocabulary test; it was a math test- a basic math test consisting of simple addition and subtraction. I watched as a room full of 30-to 60-year-olds counted on their fingers, eyes squinted, their foreheads wrinkled deep in thought. I tried to let the fact that this was difficult for them sink in.

I watched in total confusion as wrong answer after wrong answer was written down. I saw some of them struggle to hold their pencils, fingers gripped so tightly their joints turned white, because they were still learning how to write. I did not know what to think. My mind could not comprehend what I was witnessing. I knew Haiti was the poorest country in the western hemisphere. I knew it ranked 194 out of 200 countries in dollars spent on education, and I knew people risked their lives to try to make it to the United States. I knew all of these things, but I still didn’t “get it.”

I sat there with such strong emotion, trying not to let my sadness show and hiding my guilt about how privileged I am just because of where I was born, holding back the tears of anger that burned my eyes. How could this happen? I looked around the classroom at faces tired from working all day. As I forced myself to look into their eyes, I saw something I did not understand. Under their heavy lids, I saw their eyes shining. They were bright and hungry for knowledge. Was this hope I saw? Determination? I had to ask myself, “How?” How can they have hope? I felt a rush of mixed emotions- not just the sadness, guilt, and anger I had felt moments before, but overwhelming inspiration and respect.

I asked myself, “If I were that age and in a similar situation, is this how I would be spending my time after working hard all day?” Not until THIS moment did everything sink in. I was wrong to pity them. I began to understand that Haiti may be poor economically, but her people were rich in spirit. I could not begin to fathom how much courage it must take to try to learn these things as an adult, how important it must be to them, and how thankful they were to finally have the opportunity to learn. I then understood it was this perseverance that led Haiti to become the first free black nation.

When the test was finished, I listened to the teacher ask questions. I smiled as a woman in a red shirt eagerly raised her hand to answer every single question. I watched her full lips smirk as she glanced back at me after correctly answering each one, as if she were trying to prove something to me. I saw the self-satisfaction on her lovely, dark face and I thought back about a little boy I interviewed at the school earlier that day. I wondered if his parents were in the room. I recalled asking him what he liked best about the school and he told me flag football. I searched my notes to reread his exact words. “Flag football is the highlight of my day. That’s what I do. I love football. When I score a touchdown everyone cheers for me and that feels good. It makes me believe I can make it. Football teaches me it’s about the whole team, not just me. That I can’t do it by myself. I can apply that to my life.”

At the moment, I remembered thinking, “Aw, how sweet. How cute.” Now his words took on a whole other meaning and they tore into my heart. I wish I would have told him he WILL make it. He WILL do something with his life. He CAN! I wish I would have hugged him and told him I was proud of him. I looked back at the woman in the red shirt and I smiled. I wondered if she was his mother. I had the sudden urge to talk to her. I wanted to tell HER I was proud of her. I had the words on the tip of my tongue but I let them die there. I couldn’t help but wonder if she would have thought I was being condescending. I was too conflicted to speak. How do you tell someone older than you, someone you have just met, that you’re proud of them? I let the moment pass and I will regret it for the rest of my life- because a better question would have been, “How could you NOT?”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Miami-Dade County passes wage theft ordinance

South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice (SFIWJ) and South Florida Wage Theft Task Force scored a victory last week when the Miami-Dade County Commission passed, 10-0, an ordinance prohibiting wage theft. This measure, sponsored by Commissioner Natacha Seijas, establishes a process by which workers can file complaints and employers who steal from workers will be fined. SFIWJ wrote to its base, "And now, the real work begins. We go out to the streets and we talk to workers. We visit congregations. We educate. We involve our community in a county-wide effort to implement this historic piece of legislation. The message is clear -- thou shalt not steal. Not in our community. Not anywhere." If the law is properly enforced and the word is effectively spread to workers, this ordinance will be a greatly needed boost for Miami-Dade families and the local economy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Census Bureau in major outreach push

This morning I was happy to see a table set up at the University Metrorail station with materials about the census. (See my previous post about why the census matters.) We should have more Census Bureau presence like this in visible public spaces throughout the county.

We are very excited that the Census Bureau is now coming to the Human Services Coalition on Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to distribute census questionnaires and information.

Be sure to tell your friends, family, co-workers and clients about the census. Remember the mantra: It's safe. It's easy. It's important.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What motivates Public Allies to be involved in their communities?

I just uploaded the latest video about HSC's work to YouTube. This one was particularly fun to make because it is about Public Allies, a program that I am currently in. Visiting my fellow Allies at their placement organizations and hearing about what drives them to get up each day and develop civic engagement programs, help people apply for benefits, write grants and mentor kids--among other things--was inspiring. I hope others will be moved by this video (and great music courtesy of Cal, another Ally). Public Allies Miami is currently accepting applications.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Organizing in the days ahead: some events to look for

The Miami Workers Center will be having a Valentine's Day party/fundraiser at their office (6127 Northwest 7 Ave., Miami) Saturday at 7 p.m. The $5 cover supports this awesome community organization. Speaking of MWC, they had a cool forum last night about using love in organizing. Something Hashim said that really resonated with me: (I'm paraphrasing) Love "is not about tolerance; it's about solidarity and liberation." The proselytizers on the corner of 7 Ave. should have heard that.

There will be a demonstration against offshore oil drilling Saturday from 12:30 - 2 p.m. on the sand behind Nikki Beach, 1 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Wear black and be prepared to join hands with other protesters.

If you weren't already aware, The Wallflower Gallery is looking for a new space and needs help in this process. If you are willing to get involved, go to their Organizational Meeting Monday at 7 p.m.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Community orgs develop census strategy

I'd like to thank all the
Public Allies, HSC staff and community members who turned out for our Spring Conversation Cafe about the 2010 Census. Our speakers--Ralph de la Portilla of the Census Bureau, Social Compact's John Talmage, Jackie Colon from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and Miami-Dade County's Mercedez Rodriguez--did a great job presenting the importance of the census and the challenges Miami-Dade faces getting everyone counted.

As our guests pointed out, the federal government uses census date to allocate funding to education, transportation and other programs; supermarkets and other businesses use it to determine where they will place stores, and congressional districts are drawn based on population information.
Unfortunately, not everyone participates in the census, resulting in an undercount that deprives our communities of greatly needed dollars.

What should you be telling your friends, family, constituents and clients about the census? "It's safe. It's easy. It's important."
Census information is confidential and will not be shared with other government workers, such as immigration officials.

So, how can you get the word out?
  • Distribute postcards or other materials explaining the importance of the census at your office, at events and through the mail.
  • Educate your staff about the census.
  • Add a tagline to every email message you send out that says, “Census 2010: It’s safe. It's easy. It's important.”
  • Tell your friends, family members and coworkers about census jobs (For more information call 1-866-861-2010 or go to
  • Promote the census through online social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Share resources about the census with local businesses, churches and other places in your community.
Have more ideas? Leave a comment or email me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Prosperity Campaign launches free tax prep season

Last Friday, January 29th, HSC's Prosperity Campaign had in Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) awareness event to kick off their work during the upcoming tax season. It was an exciting event, with appearances by Commissioner Natacha Seijas and Alex Sink, CFO of Florida, and it was particularly informative this year as there have been recent changes in the EITC program. Because of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), taxpayers are now able to claim a third qualifying child. Households can receive up to $5,657 on EITC this year. The event only marks the beginning of the incredible work the Prosperity Campaign will do for people throughout the year.

'Updates on local Haiti relief, census forum reminder'

Click for 'Updates on local Haiti relief, census forum reminder'

Monday, February 1, 2010

Vote for fair districts this November!

A guest blog from our friend at Fair Distrcts Florida:

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Is the November Election a long way off?

This November 2nd Floridians have a tremendous opportunity to vote YES for two Constitutional Amendments (ballot numbers 5 and 6) and meaningful political change in Florida. These amendments to our state's constitution will finally create impartial and clear rules for drawing state legislative and Congressional districts. Republicans, Independents and Democrats recognized this extraordinary opportunity for Floridians to take back fundamental control of their elected officials and signed over 1.65 million petitions to put these common sense changes on the ballot. The fact that this got on the ballot will cause a huge backlash among the entrenched Florida politicians. After all our effort, I can see this glimmer of hope dashed.

I am writing to you to ask you to join me in the fight for FairDistricts in Florida. When these are in our constitution, maybe the representatives will be responsive to their constituents and local communities. It is time to spread the word before the inevitable campaigns of lies and half-truths confuse this very clear and popular issue.

Please go to and join the campaign. Please join the campaign to tell the politicians that voters are fed up with crazy looking districts designed to accomplish a particular political result!

I am excited about this successful grassroots effort and I hope you will be too!

Best regards,

Bruce Jay