Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Restoring Service, The Mission Continues

Heroic deeds from veterans commonly describe glorified situations where a soldier is rescued from a fatal incident or sacrifices his life for another on the battlefield. On the other hand, Veterans that return home after completing their service for their country are received bittersweetly. That is they are embraced warmly by family and friends but regarded gravely in some instances because of their previous experiences.  Fortunately, there is a Nonprofit organization called “The Mission Continues” that has started channeling the veterans motivation to help others through service. 

“Just as service members take an oath to adhere to the core values of their branch of service, so do Mission Continues Fellows take an oath of continued service in their community?” This is how the nonprofit describes their volunteers in action. Time magazine published an article that highlighted the way in which this nonprofit saves the lives of war veterans while providing them an avenue to continue to pay forward their good fortune.  Through community service, veterans continue to serve their country.

Research shows that community service provides health and psychological benefits that includes reduced depression and a greater sense of purpose, according to Dr. Nancy Morrow-Howell of Washington University. The Mission Continues has been recognized for doing just that with awards such as its 2012 Torch award and 2011 Innovation award. 

Get involved with the Mission Continues today. Check out their website at www.missioncontinues.org

To read the article in Time Magazine that featured this nonprofit visit the following link: http://nation.time.com/2013/06/20/can-service-save-us/

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why Miami Should Support the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013

Past national legislative efforts to raise the minimum wage have been unsuccessful, even though a great majority of our small business owners and fellow citizens, across all political spectrums, are for a minimum wage increase. A new poll shows that, “67 percent of small-business owners support increasing the federal minimum wage and adjusting it yearly to keep up with the cost of living,” according to a recent Miami Herald article. So why is the momentum for the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 not stronger? 
In 1968, the minimum wage was $21.72 an hour (adjusted to our current level of productivity). When compared to today’s $7.25 an hour, it is clear that we need to take immediate action. The wage gap impacts the wellbeing of our community and our ability to revitalize for a stronger Miami. Recent data places Miami as the most unbanked large U.S. city, one of the worst in upward income mobility, and the least civically engaged. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and bring 6 million workers out of poverty, positively impacting our current placement in the above categories. Don’t you think it is time to take action for a healthier Miami?

Join ROC United, restaurant workers, community advocates and organizers, labor allies, and everyday supporters tomorrow, July 24th at 12:30pm at the IBEW parking lot located at 1657 NW 17th Avenue, Miami, FL 33125. Take a step for change!

Find Catalyst Miami on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Under a False Sense of Normalcy: The Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline

How does one endure a society in which race, attire, and body language make up the criteria for the identification of a threat? Take these examples:

*Two students set off fire alarms in the same school district. One of them, an African-American kindergartner, is suspended for five days; the other, a white ninth-grader, is suspended for one day.
*An African-American high-schooler is suspended for a day for using a cellphone and an iPod in class. In the same school, a white student with a similar disciplinary history gets detention for using headphones.
*Two middle-schoolers push each other; the white student receives a three-day, in-school suspension, while the native American student is arrested and suspended, out of school, for 10 days. (Khadaroo, 2013)

Experiencing fear and discomfort from others based solely on one’s appearances is demoralizing and isolating. To experience that reaction regularly, and in the systemic form of disproportionate disciplinary action from Kindergarten on indicates larger problems at play.
Schools in which Blacks comprise the predominant racial group are more heavily monitored by the police. Furthermore black students typically receive more out of schools suspensions. If we look at data from Miami this trend is verified. Power U Center for Social Change, one of the leading organizations combating the school to prison pipeline in Miami, surveyed 600 students to look into this problem. Their results showed that 22% of respondents had received out of school suspensions and that over 80% of those suspensions were based on minor infractions such as tardiness or dress code violations. In the year 2009-10, 67% of school-based referrals to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) were due to misdemeanors (disorderly conduct, low level assault/battery, trespassing, etc), as opposed to felonies. Blacks students were sent to DJJ three times more often than White students. Aside from the racism implied in this statistic, the intolerance driving this disciplinary action is counterproductive in and of itself. Of all the students that reported having been suspended, 80% said they think the situation is likely to stay the same or worsen after returning from suspension.
So if high school graduation is still regarded as a rite of passage into the workforce, those labelled as “at risk youth” are discarded from the productive and upwardly mobile (however likely this might be) sector of society from the beginning. Disciplinary actions, however seemingly well intended, fail to address the root causes of students’ frustrations. In fact, they tend to backfire and thus uphold a cycle of violence.

Whether explicit or implicit, schools transmit moral values simply by its daily practices. If schools do not intentionally form a holistic moral environment, schools risk unintentionally forming students in a way that is counterproductive to experiencing human flourishing. The criminalization of schools reproduces moral values that emphasize a strict adherence to rules and laws without any critical engagement of those rules. Year after year, students graduate without the socio-moral skills necessary to negotiate moral decision-making, which is at the heart of moral formation. (Farmer, 2010)

During adolescence we form our identity while questioning society’s norms. Perhaps it’s adults’ failure to consider both this stage and their fundamental attribution error, or the tendency to underestimate the level influence situational factors have on one’s behavior, especially others’, that keeps them oblivious to this injustice. These news make it our social media newsfeed regularly, yet the level of support for organizations such as Power U and Empowered Youth, both working towards prevention against the School to Prison Pipeline, is not at the level where we need it to be.

At Catalyst we're convening meetings with local leaders that are combating the School to Prison Pipeline. Stay tuned for our next blog on the issue, in which we'll talk about strategies to address this urgent problem.


Farmer, S. "Criminality of Black youth in inner‐city schools:‘moral panic’, moral imagination, and moral formation." Race, ethnicity and education 13.3 (2010):367.

Khadaroo, Stacy Teicher. "School Suspensions: Does Racial Bias Feed the School-to-Prison Pipeline?" Christian Science Monitor (2013): N.PAG,N.PAG. Print.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Miami Residents face challenges in Health Insurance Marketplace and beyond

By Daniella Levine, JD, MSW

On October 1st, the federal government will open up a new health insurance marketplace where an estimated 1.7 million Floridians will have new health insurance options and financial assistance to help them purchase coverage.

However, many of the uninsured households in our state may face challenges purchasing coverage unless the marketplace adopts alternative payment methods. Many do not have checking or savings accounts and are effectively “unbanked” – 7.3%, according to a report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The problem is that insurance companies often require individuals to pay their monthly premiums via automatic withdrawal from a checking account. No account, no insurance.

Federal officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have proposed requiring insurers to accept a menu of payment options, including cashier’s checks, money orders and prepaid debit cards, so that families without checking accounts won’t lose the opportunity to purchase the insurance required by law.

Those proposed rules should become the law of the land.
But we shouldn’t stop there. In addition to ensuring that unbanked South Floridians get the health coverage they need, we must also find ways to address the larger problems that prevent these households from joining the financial mainstream.

More than one in five households in Miami are considered unbanked, according to data compiled by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). An additional 21.4% of households are “underbanked,” meaning they may have a bank account, but still use alternative financial services like check cashers and payday loans. These numbers place Miami as the most unbanked and underbanked large city in the U.S. This is a problem that, according to a Miami Herald article published last month, has “grown in the wake of the recession.” Families are left with little opportunity to save for the future, build credit, and turn their hard-earned cash into valuable assets.

We have witnessed firsthand the impact of programs and services that help families in our area open bank accounts and achieve long-term financial security. Through the Prosperity Campaign, a flagship initiative of Catalyst Miami that has spread throughout the state, lower wage individuals and families in South Florida connect to quality healthcare programs and services, establish financial security, and improve their quality of life. This past year, 845 individuals received financial literacy training, 2,831 individuals were assisted with benefit enrollment, and over 5,000 residents attended our free tax preparation sessions. These programs have granted many residents the opportunity to better their financial prospects, providing them access to financial literacy and capability.

In all, the efforts made by Catalyst Miami in conjunction with several community partners have been successful in promoting financial security in our communities; however, we can still do more.
These programs reach a mere handful of the households they could potentially help. Our government leaders need to play a stronger role in connecting residents to the financial mainstream by using tools like public awareness campaigns to inform residents about the dangers of high-cost payday loans. Local leaders can also help bring together area banks, credit unions and community organizations to extend their services to the unbanked and underbanked residents of our community. And finally, as the Miami Herald suggests, financial institutions need to gain the trust of these consumers.

We need to do more to prevent unbanked and underbanked families from being shut out of everything from reliable health coverage to a secure financial future. The gap in access to financial services is symptomatic of the widening wealth gap in our nation. If policymakers are to successfully increase access to health insurance, expanding opportunities to join the financial mainstream should be a key part of that effort.

Catalyst Miami is proud that its Prosperity Campaign has assisted many thousands and brought in millions in new revenue to our community. We will be joining efforts to promote use of the Affordable Care Act marketplace, and increasing our financial counseling services to promote greater financial capability for our low and moderate income residents. Contact us to see how we can assist you to increase health and wealth for yourself and for others, including through services in your place of work.

Daniella Levine, Founder and CEO of Catalyst Miami, launched the Prosperity Campaign in 2002 to meet financial and healthcare needs of low and moderate income residents. The Prosperity Campaign has gained national recognition and has been replicated statewide. www.catalystmiami.org 305 576 5001