Monday, December 12, 2011

Working With Our Future Leaders: High School Youth “Soundout” for Civic Engagement

Contributed by Amber Walker

The highlight of my year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member so far has been serving as a facilitator for SoundOut, Catalyst Miami’s Youth Leadership Training Institute.  SoundOut is a free, 22-week evening leadership training program designed for students aged 13-18. SoundOut includes practical instruction that aims to cultivate student leadership, enhance project design and development skills, and empower youth issues and concerns within communities. The program culminates with students designing their own service projects.
Our inaugural cohort started this November at Miami-Northwestern Senior High School in Liberty City. Although housed at Northwestern, our students represent schools from across Miami-Dade County. Participants explore issues related to community involvement, education and school improvement. So far, the topics we have covered include: expressing youth voice, defining identity, and working effectively with various leadership styles.
SoundOut is the newest component of the Catalyst Miami Family Leadership Training Institute (FLTI). FLTI offers similar curricula for younger children and adults. One of the most powerful aspects of the program is children, youth and adults are exploring these topics together. This provides an opportunity for parents and their children to engage in conversations and take action regarding issues they feel passionately about as a family. Although Catalyst Miami hosted the adult and child components of the program in the past, this is the first class of high-school aged youth, officially providing an avenue for all members of the family to participate. There is even childcare for the little ones under six!
 Graduates of the program have gone on to run for office, designed community projects and founded their own organizations. I have no doubts that our SoundOut youth will accomplish amazing things during the program and beyond!

Catalyst Contributors: Jaime Botero

Hi, my name is Jaime Botero. I’ve recently started my stint as Civic Life Coordinator at Catalyst Miami. I was raised in Miami, but left for Massachusetts to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Amherst College. I participated in the Amherst College Rugby Team and I’m avid fan of the sport. I’m currently watching the Rugby World Cup held in New Zealand.

I started serving the Miami community by working at the Breakthrough Collaborative and then completing a term of AmeriCorps serving with City Year in Overtown. My participation in Public Allies led me to Catalyst. My main responsibilities are working with the Leadership Institutes that are run out of the Civic Life department and doing communications work in regards to stories of community success.

I hope to have a prosperous time at Catalyst and eventually earn a Master’s Degree that will allow me to continue working in the human services sector.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Day of Dialogue 2011!

We hope to see you there! Please feel free to send to your contacts and reserve your spot as seating is limited.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Super Committee Occupies My Miami Winter

Contributed by Catalyst Miami CEO Daniella Levine by way of the Huffington Post

The Super Committee "fails." Occupiers are evicted. Cool weather comes to Miami. How do these relate if at all? I try to see the large canvas. I imagine the pieces as on a chessboard, trumping and trumped. Kinged and queened. So what is the temperature this Miami Winter? Warmer for sure, but still delightful enough to turn off the AC and open the windows wide to the remaining birdsong, garden aroma and water splash.
The failure of a bi-partisan committee to find common ground on the role of government and needs of our nation does not surprise me. The fact that cities are growing weary of direct democracy and the price tag for peaceful dissent does not surprise me. But the fact that two small towns in Miami-Dade have voted to petition Congress for a constitutional amendment to end the recognition of corporations as people does. The fact that a young college graduate created the momentum to reduce banking fees does. And the tremendous appeal of being part of the 99% mostly surprises and delights me because it was so deceptively simple. Why did we not think of this angle before?

Monday, November 28, 2011



 Help Alison Win The Community Member of the Year Bull Award 

TACOLCY's very own Alison Austin has been nominated by Miami Northwestern's Class of 2005 for the Community Member of the Year Bull Award. Voting is now open and she needs your help to be victorious.

Voting is unlimited so cast your ballot as many times a day as you want until.

Simply click the link below, go under Community Categories, select Alison Austin and press send to cast your vote.

Then repeat the action several times daily!

Spread the word to all of your friends so we can help her be victorious!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Economic symposium

Contributed by Catalyst Intern Bryan Kapin

On October 26, 2011 business professionals and non-profit owners gathered in the Broward Convention Center to attend the Southeast Florida Economic Symposium. These leaders discussed the current state of South Florida’s economy and the trends along with the developments that are defining our region. With our current demographics becoming more diverse than ever, we are faced with many new challenges as well as many new opportunities. Due to cultural barriers, many businesses are having difficulty building partnerships with certain communities. This creates an opportunity for individuals to present themselves to both big and small South Florida businesses as potential employees with the ability to overcome the ethnic barriers that currently exist. Individuals must take advantage of their cultural diversity and prove to businesses that they can be a valuable asset in reaching broader communities and help facilitate relations within these communities.

Another important topic that was brought up was the lack of “skilled” workers in South Florida. A market exists for certain skill-sets that individuals just are not pursuing. For example, one business owner discussed his need for 30 new employees with technical and computer skills. However, during his search, he was only able to find two eligible candidates in South Florida. Although he wanted to hire locally, workers with the required skill-set were simply not available. This led him to outsource these positions to other countries in South America. South Florida is already suffering from a poor job market and in this instance, we lost 30 potential job positions for the simple reason that no qualified workers presented themselves. This scenario highlighted one of the most important lessons to take from this symposium- start training early. Higher education and university degrees are not for everyone. Thousands of South Floridians will not pursue higher education after graduating high school. In order to improve their chances of acquiring a steady job post-graduation they must begin focusing and training in a particular field early on in their high school career. By equipping themselves with the skills needed in a particular field, they become exponentially more appealing to potential employers not just in South Florida, but nationwide.

South Florida is actively trying to attract larger businesses to come here and provide more jobs, but it is up to those seeking employment in South Florida to adapt to the job market in order to meet the needs of these potential employers. It is important to note that although we are in the midst of a poor economy, the need for skilled workers still exists.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Join us for screening of our Eco Alert TV show
& Dinner & Discussion
When:         Thursday November 17th
Where:        Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden,
10901 Old Cutler Road,
Coral Gables, FL 33156. Corbin A
Time:           6 to 8PM
You are invited to preview two editions of our Eco Alert television shows.  Show #1 Tap vs Bottle and Show #2 Community Water.
Statistics for Action and Operation Green Leaves teamed up with local experts on water quality. The newest, yet to be aired Eco Alert shows are meant to inform and empower. Before they are aired, we want  to hear your reactions, your opinions, and your ideas.
Dinner and a stipend of $25 will be mailed to all who attend, complete a brief survey and participate in the discussion. You must be 18 or older to participate. Space is limited. To participate please RSVP at by November 14th, 2011.
This event is made possible with support from the National Science Foundation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Using Social Media to Build Relationships That Make a Difference: 10 Links to Get Your Nonprofit Started

Contributed by Jessica Diaz Creator of  Wideeyed City

A few weeks ago the Miami Herald released an article about a documentary, “Connect with Me” by Scherazade Daruvalla King, which examines how social media affects relationships.  The film, presented by the nonprofit AmplifyMe, explores both the negative and positive changes this popular form of communication has had on our society.  While there are certainly many pros and cons, social media has great potential and many nonprofits are currently making this powerful tool work to their advantage. They are using it to build relationships with current and potential supporters.  
As Daniella Levine, Catalyst Miami’s President/CEO, stated “The net gain is that there is so much more information to share, so many more opportunities to connect with different people and different ideas, and to spark change in a positive way.” Through Facebook, Twitter and blogging, Catalyst Miami is embracing and promoting the use of social media to encourage civic leadership and spark change.
Inspired by the article, I began searching for tips and ideas on how to use social media to build relationships that will make a difference.  There are many articles out there, but here are just a few to get you started. Remember the key is to enhance, not replace relationships. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Not for Profit Profile: City Year

Contributed by Jaime Botero

*Author’s Note: Having completed a term of service with City Year, I will attempt to be as non-biased as possible. 

City Year is a Not for Profit Organization focused on Civic Engagement and ending the high school dropout crisis. City Year employs diverse teams of 17-24 year old aged volunteers to do 10 months of service in high need schools throughout the country. Serving at twenty-one locations nationally, as well as two international sites City Year is one of the more prolific AmeriCorps programs.
Volunteers, formally called Corps Members receive all the benefits entitled to AmeriCorps and extra incentives such as uniform, cellular telephone service, and the opportunity to receive scholarships through the many Give-a-Year partnerships that City Year has developed with higher education centers.
City Year writes,
As tutors, mentors and role models, corps members are uniquely able to help students and schools succeed through:
  • Academic Support: Provide one-on-one or small group tutoring before, during and after school
  • Attendance and Positive Behavior Encouragement: Lead energetic morning greetings, make attendance and positive phone calls home and lead mentor groups
  • Community and School Improvements: Organize and lead activities, celebrations and projects to improve the community and school environment which includes performing physical service such as: painting murals, planting community gardens, renovating schools and refurbishing community centers”
The organization started serving Miami schools in the fall of 2008 and has grown in part to its successful partnership with Miami Dade County Public Schools. Corps Members are serving as far south as Homestead High School and as far north as Carol City High School.
If you are interested in learning more about City Year or becoming a Corps Member please reach them at this web-link:

Catalyst Contributors: Katie Powell

Hello Friends! My name is Katie Powell and I am a Public Ally for the Prosperity Campaign at Catalyst Miami. I will be working on farmer’s market outreach for EBT recipients and getting the word out about double value coupons.  I recently moved here after graduating from Rollins College in May. While there I studied Sociology and Women’s Studies. When I’m not working I enjoy running, vegetarian food, traveling, Indian culture, and spending time with friends. I can’t wait to see how I will grow personally and professionally in the next ten months!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Starving for Fat: a look at the nutritional debate in the US

Contributed by Katie Powell 

While countries such as Denmark are imposing a “fat tax,” which consumers will face with the purchase of foods containing saturated fats, American companies such as Yum! Brand are lobbying to make fast food accessible with SNAP (food stamps). While some believe this is a huge step backwards for current nutrition efforts, others feel it is a necessary step towards food accessibility. Is access to unhealthy food among a population that is already at a statistically higher risk for diet-related diseases truly a liberating force? 

According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “17 Million, nearly one in four children in the U.S., are food insecure." A recent study conducted by the nonprofit Wholesome Wave found that while food insecurity is rampant, obesity is plaguing approximately 2/3 of the US population. While these two facts seem to contradict one another (can a large percentage of our population really be hungry and obese?), this is the current reality in the United States. In order to examine this debate one must ask who benefits from SNAP usage at fast food restaurants. Studies by Wholesome Wave have shown that $5 of SNAP can generate $9.20 in total economic activity when spent in the conventional global food distribution system. It seems Yum! Brand and other companies could considerably benefit from this policy change. Though policy has a profound effect on how all Americans eat, what other factors contribute to food choices among Americans, especially SNAP recipients? Some of these factors include time, culture, and expense.

It has become conventional wisdom that healthy food is more expensive than alternative choices, such as fast food. It seems price, or assumed price, of food has come to be the greatest factor in food choices. Mark Bittman of the New York Times refutes this idea by giving an example of a typical order for a family of four at McDonalds. If a family orders two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas, the cost would be $28. However, this same family of four could serve an at-home meal of a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14. While cost seems to be the first assumption people make about healthy food choices, it is clear that it is practical to eat healthy at home. Therefore, it cannot simply be price that influences food choices. Another factor that must be considered is access. According to the Department of Agriculture, more than two million Americans in low-income rural areas live 10 miles or more from a supermarket. Seeing as many of these households have no access to a car, it becomes difficult if not impossible to purchase healthy food.  

Many of these barriers to healthy eating are beginning to be addressed by initiatives across the United States. The USDA began the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, to help bring access to fresh and healthy foods to communities in food deserts. The Let’s Move Campaign, started by First Lady Michelle Obama, addresses children’s health. Many nonprofits, including Catalyst Miami, have brought "double-value coupon programs" to farmers markets. This means that when a SNAP recipient uses food stamps at a participating farmers markets, their purchase will be doubled. In other words, if they spend $10 worth of SNAP they will receive $10 in coupons for further purchases. The amount you can double varies from market to market, but the goal is the same: to make healthier food more accessible and affordable and increase sales for local farmers. With the launch of the new Catalyst Miami website, we hope to include an interactive map that will provide dates, times and locations of farmers markets in Miami with double-value coupon programs. During my time at Catalyst Miami, I will be working to create other outreach efforts to inform our community about these healthy food opportunities.

Sometimes it Takes a Martyr to Sustain a Movement

Contributed by Amber Walker

"You have a choice. You can either fold up your bags after tomorrow and go home, or you can stand and continue this fight." –Troy Davis

The Troy Davis case touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. Folks rallied around his story, signing petitions, holding demonstrations, and orchestrating campaigns to urge decision makers to re-evaluate sentencing Davis’ to the ultimate punishment. Unfortunately, their efforts were not enough to save Davis’ life. On September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was executed by the Georgia Bureau of Prisons.

The morning before his death, Troy issued a statement to his supporters thanking them for their persistent dedication to his plight and urging them to keep up the work if he was not spared: “There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.”

Although Davis’ execution was thought, by many, to be a tragic misstep by our criminal justice system, his supporters must not forget what his story represents to the overall battle to reform the criminal justice system. Troy constantly reinforced the mantra that this struggle does not end with him. Although his death was a setback, it must be used to strengthen and reenergize the cause and serve as a reminder of what the fight is all about.

The campaign to save Troy Davis spanned nearly two decades. Somewhere in the back of his mind, I imagine Davis knew his appeals might be in vain. Despite it all, he continued to use his story as a means to rally support for an issue that he knew was much bigger than he was. Even though Troy is gone, we must heed his words and remember that there are, indeed, “so many more Troy Davis’”.

Sometimes it takes a martyr to sustain a movement.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ReServe: How to stay connected to community

Contributed by Luke Soto

Hey Everyone!

I work here at Catalyst Miami for a program called ReServe Miami.  ReServe takes 55 and older retirees (ReServists) and connects them with part-time job opportunities at local nonprofits that need the help of an experienced professional.  At the same time, the ReServists get to stay in touch with the needs of Miami and the communities therein. 

 You may be asking yourself why a recently retired professional would not only want to continue to work but do so for part-time pay. We are coming to a new era where what it means to be a retiree is
very different from what it meant before.  Every day there are on average 7,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age. This generation of retirees does not conform to the prior mold of what a retiree is “supposed” to do in society for many reasons. Some are economic concerns but for the most part, this generation has been at the head of some of the most important movements and events in American history (Civil Rights, Wood Stock, Cold War). As such, I highly doubt they would be content to just sit back and ignore the current events happening around them for 20 or so years just because it’s the status quo. These people don’t want to sit back and knit scarves, they don’t want to spend all day golfing, and they most certainly don’t want to be sitting in a retirement community playing bingo.

So what does this mean for the services that we provide for these people in America? Are we adequately prepared for this influx of socially active Boomers? I do not think we are prepared. That being the case, I strongly believe in what ReServe Miami is doing for this Boomer generation and this city. Not being a Boomer myself, I’ll let Vicki tell you her experience with ReServe.

Becoming a ReServist is the best thing I’ve done for myself since I retired from the retail business a few months ago!   Though I had been thrilled to have more time to myself to visit family and just kick back, I was beginning to worry about disconnecting from my community and just getting “stale.”  A friend told me about ReServe and it sounded like a perfect fit.  I’m currently working a few days a week as a ReServist and I love it!  I’m meeting new people, learning new skills and growing more passionate about this program each day.  ReServe is a win-win for the community and it certainly has worked for me, too!
Vicki Simons
ReServe Miami

Catalyst Contributors: Luke Soto

Hi everyone! My name is Luke Soto. I was born and raised here in Miami in Coconut Grove and I must admit that I love this city. I spent four years in New York City for my undergraduate studies at Columbia University. My major was Hispanic Studies with a minor in Anthropology so you could say that people are my passion I guess. Some issues in Miami that I find I really care about are homelessness (especially now that many of the kitchens that would feed these people are being shut down or limited in their capacity) and education (need I say more?). This is why I thoroughly enjoy the placement I have been given in Catalyst Miami.  I am working with ReServe Miami, a program that helps 55+ year old retirees continue to use the skills they have built up throughout their careers with part-time job opportunities that serve people in Miami. Some of these retirees (we call them ReServists) are placed at public schools as College Counselors for students, while others help with adult literacy programs in public libraries all over Miami. I hope to be able to learn a lot about what it takes to get a young program like ReServe up and running, and to continue to use those skills later in life to help those who need it. Maybe one day I’ll be a ReServist.

            However, before then I plan to attend a graduate school for social work and will be doing all the applications and tests that are, as a result, unfortunately required during this year. Either way I hope to give you all a good glimpse of what goes on here at Catalyst on the daily.

Catalyst Contributors: Amber Walker

Hi! My name is Amber C. Walker. I am a recent grad of Oberlin College where I double majored in African American Studies and Gender/Sexuality/Feminist Studies. I am originally from Chicago, IL but moved to Miami in August to start my term as an Americorps  “Volunteer in Service to America” (VISTA) here at Catalyst. My interest in the nonprofit sector stems from my desire to end the disparities that exist between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” I come from a low-income/working-class background and I’ve experienced firsthand the effects that poverty can have on a community. I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to schools and extra-curricular activities that enriched my development, but my experience was the exception rather than the rule. Most of the young people in my neighborhood deal with underperforming schools and a lack of access to safe spaces and other basic needs that so many of us take for granted. Witnessing this disparity, I took it upon myself to do whatever I could to eradicate it. I want to use my education and my privilege to raise awareness about the issues of poverty that millions of Americans live with on a daily basis.

As a VISTA this year at Catalyst Miami I’m co-facilitating our first cohort of “SoundOut,” a program aimed at increasing civic engagement and leadership skills among high school students. I’m excited to interact with students and hear their stories, passions and hopes for the future. I remember during high school how important my mentors were in helping me to achieve my goals and I hope that I can serve the students in a similar way through my participation in “SoundOut.” I also expect to learn some things from them along the way!