Thursday, June 28, 2012

Community catalysts connecting for good

By Kimberly Fong
Dina Weinstein, a Parent Leadership Training Institute graduate, remembers a time during her childhood when majority of kids from her Massachusetts neighborhood walked or biked to school. Fast forward to Miami-Dade County in 2012 where the roads are heavily trafficked with cars and the streets are less pedestrian-friendly. Florida has one of the highest numbers of injuries and fatalities due to children being hit by cars. Most parents cite safety issues as one of the primary reasons they are reluctant to allow their children to walk to school. The desire to change this reality inspired Dina to initiate a Bike and Walk to School Day that advocates alternative transportation for children going to and from school as her final project for PLTI.

"I didn't like the expectation put on parents to drive their kids everywhere," Dina said. The valet style pick up and drop off system at her children's school felt very "isolating" in comparison to her experience interacting with neighbors who were also walking their children to school. Dina started the Bike and Walk to School Day at her children's school, Temple Beth Am Day School. The event had a great turn out and since then Temple Beth Am has hosted three more Bike and Walk to School Days centered on the themes of safety, active lifestyle--inspired by Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" program--and Birthday of the Trees, a Jewish celebration of nature. Although these events have been successful, Dina is eager to transform the Bike and School Days beyond one-day celebrations into an ongoing movement.

Dina has encountered a number of issues in building this movement. Parent advocates are challenged by having to navigate through Miami's multiple levels of power, bouncing back and forth, and not being sure whom they should speak to. In addition, the roads in Miami belong to 35 governments--municipalities, counties, state or federal--which amplifies the obstacles and idiosyncrasies. Bike lanes, pedestrian cross walks, road crossing martials, and reduced speed limits are a few of the incentives needed for families to bike or walk to school.

Navigating systems and networking to create change are two of the skills PLTI participants build throughout the 22-week program. Dina graduated from the program in 2009 and has continued to fight for bike and pedestrian safety. She recently won a grant in collaboration with the Green Mobility Network to implement a safe routes to school program. We are so proud of Dina and know she is well on her way to making serious change happen in Miami!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Interns for Impact: Teachers are vital to our Country’s success

Contributed by St├ęphanie Ma├«tre

My reaction and thoughts on President Obamas video urging Congress to take action and put teachers back to work in classrooms.

Over the past few years the Country's economic status has not reached a stable point where the states and the federal government will not have to make as many cuts as they have been. With the constant need to find money where there is non, cuts are being made, specifically in education. With education as the best predictor of success, it is disheartening to see tens of thousands of teachers that are now unemployed. Laying off teachers increase class sizes, taking personal attention away from students that need it, and the students in turn fall behind. A study found that a good teacher can increase a class income by 250,000 dollars. With such knowledge state and federal governments should put more value in the role that teachers play in the United States. Education is vital to our country's economic growth and development. An increase in the amount of educated individuals will increase the amount of industries in the U.S swell as the amount of middle class Americans who are occupying new jobs in new industries. Our state and federal governments need to realize the important role teacher’s play in our Country's future. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

President Obama Promises Change for Illegal Immigrants

Written by Jennifer Villarroel
Catalyst Miami Summer Intern

"We are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea—the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here…The future is ours to win. But to get there, we cannot stand still." --President Barack Obama

About a week ago, President Barack Obama addressed a hot issue for many living illegally within the United States today. According to his executive order many young people will have an opportunity to apply for a temporary legal status for a two year period with the chance of renewal. According to current information those eligible under the deferred action with be granted a work permit, driver’s license, and a social security card. However, this act is not a pathway for U.S. residency or citizenship status. 

So who qualifies? All applicants must have:
  1. Come to the United States under the age of sixteen;
  2. Continuously resided in the United States for at least five years before June 15, 2012 and still present in the United States on June 15, 2012;
  3. Currently be in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
  4. Not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
  5. Not be above the age of thirty.

The United States Citizenship and Immigrations services  website requests all eligible individuals to wait 60 days (since June 15th) in order to allow a specific application process to be formulated. All applications received before the 60 days will be rejected. Although specific details are yet to be determined the following link can help answer questions on some general concerns.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Florida’s New Voting Law Makes It Harder To Vote

League and Catalyst 

launch voter registration drive, 

"we're back!"
Catalyst Miami has launched the Florida Nonprofit Voter Rights Campaign to create easy access and voter education to support the upcoming election. Under new Florida voting laws, now being appealed and temporarily set aside, organizations are no longer allowed to register eligible voters unless they follow complex and demanding rules with steep penalties. In response, Catalyst Miami has partnered with TurboVote, a new program funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It allows individuals with access to a computer, email address and cellular phone to self-register and receive assistance with voter registration, early voting and absentee voting. Helping to support nonprofit groups registering people to vote is extremely important, since certain groups in American society, according to Census data, register more frequently through voting drives sponsored by such organizations. Unfortunately, one new requirement is that voters present government-issued photo identification before voting, making it harder for them to vote by requiring that they first make a trip to a major government agency. Another requirement is that voter registration papers be submitted to the government within 48 hours (as opposed to the old rule, which required submission with 10 days). In addition, the new law also cuts short the early voting period and makes it more difficult for voters to update their new addresses at the polls. 

Catalyst will prepare materials on voter referenda (pros and cons with background information in user-friendly versions) and voter scorecards on key topics of interest to nonprofits and their constituents (specifically health, education and economic opportunity). CM is looking to bridge the voters' rights campaign with Its Imagine Miami series. Click here for more information.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Interns For Impact: My Experience at an Imagine Miami Event

Hello everyone! My name is Stephanie Maitre and I am a Posse Foundation scholar interning at Catalyst Miami. I am a sophomore at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. As a Catalyst intern I am doing research on best practices in recruitment through social media and other outlets, helping to recruit for Catalyst Miami programs, keeping a constant flow of posts on their social media sites as well as doing some marketing.

im logo.PNG

My time at Catalyst Miami has been exciting and eye opening. Every day I find myself learning more about the Miami community and the people that Catalyst is here to serve. One of the most influential events that I have attended was last months “Imagine a Prosperous Miami” event hosted by Catalyst Miami and The Downtown Bay Forum. The event took place at Temple Israel’s Bimah in Downtown Miami.

The day’s festivities began with a welcome reception where attendees were given the opportunity to network and begin discussions about our vibrant community. The first half of this engaging event was filled with delicious foods and a thought-provoking panel that consisted of influential Community leaders including Catalyst Miami’s very own CEO/ Founder Danielle Levine!

The panel discussed Florida legislation that would have positive and negative impacts on our Miami community. Funding cuts for Non-profits and Programs that benefit people in Miami communities are making it hard for organizations to help those in need.  In addition, during the Q&A portion, questions arose about immigration, education, transportation, the environment, and politics. All of these topics have complex answers but the dialogues that surrounded these issues were insightful and made it evident that the idea of a prosperous Miami, in the future, needs to become a reality.

To conclude the event, there was the creation of a vision board for a prosperous Miami. Participants posted their promises to the Miami community some of which were--  “Engage and challenge systems that are adverse to my existence and my community”, “Get 10,000 more people to vote”, “Remind ourselves that change is possible and we’re bringing it with hard work”. Overall it was a terrific event and I am excited about this month’s upcoming “Imagine an Educated Miami.”

I hope you can join us to "Imagine an Educated Miami"- June 13th at 4p.m at MDC Wolfson Campus!

We're having almost every major South Florida Education Initiative present with over 100 parents, youth and organizations. Whether you are just getting involved or have been building education in Miami for years, this an opportunity to connect, share, build and be inspired.”

Register at:

We hope you can join us!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Preschool Gardens and Healthy Choices

Contributed by Katie Powell

Myself and 23 other young adults are taking part in a program called Public Allies in Miami. Public Allies is a ten month long AmeriCorps program which places young adults in local nonprofits to build capacity and act as leaders in the community. During every Public Allies term, Allies are required to be a part of team service projects. These projects are developed by the allies and carried out by allies outside of their working hours. During my term I chose to be a part of the community garden Team Service Project (TSP). At my placement site I work with local farmers markets and their EBT doubling program. All the markets Catalyst Miami partners with doubles Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamp) dollars up to $10. My involvement with the farmers market sparked my interest to take part in the community gardens project. Our Team Service Project received a grant from the Blue Foundation. For this project we are partnering with two other local nonprofits. First, the Alliance for Early Care and Education to develop healthy life style curriculum for the preschoolers and secondly Roots in the City for their gardening expertise.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

It's Bigger Than "Bath Salts" and "Zombie Apocalypses"

As seen on the Huffington Post
Contributed by

Mention Miami this week and the first thing people will talk about is the "zombie" attack. What they are obviously referring to is the gruesome near-killing of Ronald Poppo by Rudy Eugene, who was shot by the police after virtually devouring 75 percent of Poppo's face. The Police are blaming it on a synthetic drug called "bath salts," while the Twitterverse is blaming it on a looming zombie apocalypse. But once you finish with the jokes, look into the lives of both men and dig deeper into the city they call(ed) home, some stuff just stops being funny and starts being sad. Even the "only in Miami" assumptions about the attack fall flat. As I write this, I just got word of another flesh-eating homicide in Maryland.

But the sensationalism and the sick jokes do make sense. It is easier to stock up on supplies and firearms (which Miamians really don't need any help doing) while preparing for a zombie apocalypse like the ones in the movies (I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, one of those bad M. Night Shyamalan flicks), than it is to really look at what would make a man like Rudy Eugene, who friends have called "funny" and "a really nice guy," do the things he did to Ronald Poppo, a man who has spent the better part of 30 years homeless (in spite of attending an elite New York high school). It is also easier than admitting that there were plenty of warning signs in Eugene's life indicating that he needed help. Unfortunately for him, those warning signs went off in a city where the early warning systems and institutions are constantly crumbling.

But this wasn't the first or last gruesome attack and Miami wasn't the first and won't be the last city a gruesome attack takes place in. Many followers of Hip Hop before it went Pop will remember when up-and-coming Cali-based artist Big Lurch was put in prison for a PCP-induced murder of his 21-year-old roommate in 2002. He tore out her insides and apparently devoured them before being arrested walking down the street naked and screaming into the sky. Just last month, a Shrewsbury, Massachusetts man suffering from dementia was involved in a horrific killing/cannibalization of his wife. If we step away from the gory and sensational and just talk about the disturbing, we can find a weekly story of a domestic violence-related homicide or a foreclosure-induced murder/suicide of an entire family. Similarly, once we step away from the "zombie" meme, look at what caused these other attacks and compare it to Eugene's near-killing of Poppo, we start to see a lot of similarities.

Yes, Eugene's friends and family have very little bad to say about him, but he also allegedly threatened to kill his mother during a 2004 domestic incident in her house. Even though he worked at a carwash and wanted to start his own business, he may have also lost his home to foreclosure in 2011. His girlfriend of six years called him a sweet and well-mannered man with no history of violence and who rarely left home without a bible in his hand, but his ex-wife says she left him because he became increasingly violent toward her. His friends found him funny and religious but claimed that he had recently been "battling a devil." And even though he wasn't known to have a history of serious drug use, he was known to smoke marijuana a lot and was trying to stop. Although the speculative public, police and message boards have yet to see a toxicology report, there are too many similarities between Eugene's flesh eating attack on Poppo and other drug-induced homicides like the one Big Lurch had perpetrated in 2002 to rule out that Eugene my have been on drugs that day.

Nevertheless, it is still hard for almost anyone to believe that Rudy Eugene, a man who told his friends he wanted to get his life right and get "closer to God," woke up last Saturday and made a conscious decision to maim, kill or devour anyone's flesh. Which is why it is easier to blame it on bath salts and zombie apocalypses, until you realize that if you are trying to "get your life right" or "battle devils," Miami has become a hard city to do that in.

On my show on Wednesday, Kamalah Fletcher from Catalyst Miami laid out the declining mental health and substance abuse infrastructure of Miami and Florida as a whole. Just consider that:
-Florida is the second to worst state in the country when it comes to funding mental health services. Of the 325,000 people with persistent and severe mental illness, only 42 percent receive treatment.
-In 2010, the State Legislature cut adult community mental health funding, children's mental health funding and adult substance abuse services by more than $18 million. This year, the state legislature tried to make Florida the worst state in the nation at funding mental health, and almost succeeded.
-Prescription drug overdoses and the prescription drug death rate are up in Florida by 61 percent and 84 percent respectively. That didn't stop state politicians from trying to cut funding for drug treatment by 20 percent, which would have kicked 37,000 people out of services while they were trying to kick a habit.
- First responders across the state say that they are seeing mental health cases that they have never seen before, such as a Palm Beach man that was held in custody 50 times in one year under the state's Baker Act because he was a threat to himself and others.
But it is still easier to demand the death penalty for "bath salt" possession than it is to talk about a real need for services. After all, wanting to detect and address early warning signs of potentially destructive behavior makes you a "bleeding heart" liberal. Cracking jokes about bleeding hearts and eaten flesh while doing nothing just makes you normal.

As a trained social worker and former community organizer, I have no illusions that even the best services will stop every destructive act caused by a mental illness or substance abuse problems. I also have no illusions that every penny spent on service agencies will be used wisely. But in a state that paid tens of millions of dollars in welfare money to sports stadiums like the Miami Heat Arena on the condition that they shelter the homeless on off-nights (something they never did), I have more faith that our community mental health centers will help the mentally ill than I do that the Miami Heat will house the homeless.
I also realize that we still don't have all the details, facts or medical reports to really understand why Rudy Eugene did what he did last Saturday. But if the police can speculate about "bath salts," and bloggers can speculate about a "zombie apocalypse," I don't see why I can't speculate about a real documented apocalyptic public health crisis in our state.
Don't forget to tune into our show every Wednesday.