Lindsey Woods, Assistant Director of the William R. Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development
May 2, 2017
In the summer of 2015, the construction of The Fate Bridge at the University of Miami began. The bridge’s purpose was to connect two parts of campus across Lake Osceola, in the center of campus, and to provide a convenient route for students, staff, faculty and visitors to use when traveling from one place to another.
In that same summer, while construction of the bridge was in full motion, two dedicated Miami-Dade County educators visited the university for a meeting with the Butler Center for Service and Leadership staff. This meeting was to discuss their new nonprofit organization and to begin the process of becoming an established community partner. At the time, we were unaware of the impact that the meeting would have on the organization’s future success.
In many ways, the Butler Center serves as a bridge between our 250+ community partner agencies and our campus community. Through these relationships, we are able to connect students to volunteer and service opportunities, both short and long-term. We are also able to introduce students to civic and community engagement on a local and global scale. All of this would be impossible without the commitment of our community partners as they work to make social issues a thing of the past through improvements within their communities.
We were introduced to the Streamline Miami Foundation and learned that the organization was founded by Miami-Dade County public educators who wanted elementary students living in Earlington Heights, Brownsville and Liberty City to see higher education as a possibility. At the time of the meeting, the teachers, Ms. Ana Rubio and Ms. Geraldine Diaz, had a vision of connecting UM students with their students at Earlington Heights Elementary through mentorship and tutoring. We began mapping out what this could possibly look like, but we were unsure of what would manifest over time. We agreed to keep in touch and to connect if any opportunities to partner presented themselves.
Since the beginning of our relationship, we have realized that the construction of a bridge is similar to the building of a quality relationship with a community partner like Streamline Miami.
Just like a bridge, building strong community partner relationships take time. Our official partnership began with a single event, Streamline Miami Field Day, which took place almost a year after our initial summer meeting. The day was hosted by student representatives from one of the residential colleges and consisted of various sports, games, and activities for 60 students of Earlington Heights. About 40 UM students volunteered for the program and were excited to share how much they enjoyed their experiences. We recognized that it was important to fully understand the needs of our community partner. To them, taking their students to UM for a field trip allows them not only the opportunity to receive mentorship from a current student but to see that achieving a college degree can be their reality.
Building a bridge requires buy-in and investment. For our next project, we decided to take 175 students to Earlington Heights Elementary for Orientation Outreach, the university’s first service day of the academic year. This opportunity exposed our students to the sometimes harsh realities that Earlington Heights’ students experience on a day to day basis. While painting classrooms, constructing a butterfly garden, painting school railings and more, the staff of the school and of Streamline Miami invested their time in sharing stories and their vision for the organization. Our students were hooked. That experience was the catalyst that led to many of our student groups returning to the school to create their own projects to pour into the lives of the Earlington Heights students. Since this event, there have been a number of on-campus field trips and UM students have started regularly volunteering in the classrooms of Earlington Heights.
When building a bridge, it is inevitable that challenges will arise. The same is true for building a relationship with a community partner. One of the challenges that we were not expecting following Orientation Outreach was balancing the interest of all of the student groups who wanted to partner with them. Also, finding appropriate funding has always been a major challenge for many of our community partners, and Streamline Miami is no exception. It is important in the challenging moments to keep the end goal or vision in mind. Doing this has allowed our community partner to refocus their attention, and we have been able to offer recommendations to further their initiatives. For example, Streamline Miami has launched their Project: Higher Education campaign to fund future field trips to the university. In addition to this, we understand that the benefits of our partnership outweigh any challenges that arise. Because of Streamline Miami, our students have been able to introduce elementary students to the importance of careers in STEM as well as the arts. We have also been able to create consistent mentorship programs for young girls to help them discover their value and self-worth.
The inscription on The Fate Bridge now reads, “’I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’ – William Ernest Henley.” We believe that Streamline Miami is an outstanding community partner and that the fate of their organization’s relationship with our university continues to be bright. We know that our partnership is a mutually beneficial experience for all of our students. We look forward to Streamline Miami expanding their services to other local elementary schools within our community and to connecting them to potential partners. There is a great need within the South Florida community, and as we foster our relationships with Streamline Miami and with community partners like them, we will continually strive to provide the solid foundation of a bridge to help them further their goals.
For more information regarding Streamline Miami, please visit - http://www.streamlinemiami.org/.
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