MIM Service Project – Camillus House by Blanca J Alcaraz

Camillus House is a non-profit organization located in downtown Miami and it provides humanitarian aid to poor and indigent people in all of Miami-Dade County in south Florida. Founded more than 50 years ago, in 1960 this organization has grown to become more than an overnight shelter, it now is a safe place that allows people to revindicate themselves and grow past the situations in life that were holding them back. Being able to volunteer with such a wonderful organization opened my eyes to so many things I was oblivious to. This non-profit does not only feed and clothe those who are facing financial hardships, this organization has rehabilitation programs in place that actively work to reintegrate these people back into the society. Driving by this organization almost every week and being oblivious to the work they preform is a disservice to the city as a whole and after this project I will actively work towards raising awareness for such organizations because a little help can go a long way and if others knew just how much was being done, they would not hesitate to lend a helping hand. 

Our service projected started early in the morning and lasted all day long, our activities ranged from loading trucks to setting up a display of art work for their greatest fundraiser of the year and throughout every moment I was humbled by the people who like us were devoted to helping those in need. The community relations manager at Camillus House, Alessandra Laricchia, walked us through the entire process and was in charge of directing us to our position as well as giving us instructions throughout the day. Alessandra and brother Ben were in charge of overseeing our first task which was to help create a hospitable environment for the clients that were coming in during the holiday season. We helped decorate and set up a 12-foot Christmas tree, which I can say started our day off with a kick! 

This was in the main dining hall where clients begin to line up at 5am for doors to open from 6am to 11am, here clients are welcomed to come for breakfast and hang out in the plaza until 11:30 am where they are then sent to go about their day with a bagged lunch. 

The organization has two main campuses and a clinic and the one we were at houses about 400 people alone each night. There are three programs run by case managers at the organization, there is the day program, a housing program for rehabilitation and a program for sex trafficking victims in Miami. 

The day program goes on from 6am – 11:30 am and during this time the clients can have access to warm meals, showers and a change of clothes. The rehabilitation program is managed by case managers who evaluate the current condition of the person and their willingness to rehabilitate, then depending on the county that is funding their stay, they are kept for 30 – 60 day periods. During these time periods the clients undergo rehabilitation activities, such as getting involved with helping out throughout the organization whether that be in the mailroom or cafeteria. The clients also receive vouchers for a change of clothe every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and on Tuesdays and Thursdays they receive t-shirt if the client is a women and vice versa if the client is a man. We were able to walk into the rooms where all the clothes is kept and the ideology behind the experience they provide is heartwarming, they set up the clothes like a store and for 15 minutes the clients can forget about the outside world and simply “shop” for their clothes. Men’s clothing is a lot more scarce than women’s clothing but nonetheless they always welcome donations of anything you may have. 

They like to arrange the clothes by style and size, most of the things needed are of personal hygiene and shoes that are comfortable. Some of the dressier clothing is used for when the clients have job interviews or an important event. 

During this time they also actively help the client find a job and get them affordable housing. Something I found really interesting was that they also have residential buildings for people who are fully rehabilitated but working a job that does not allow them to pay rent in the outside world. What happens with them is they then stay in their residential buildings, which are very independent and they charge them 30% of their earnings for staying there, this way the person if off the streets and making a contribution to society. The programs for the sex trafficking victims also provides housing and it is very similar to the other programs in that they participate in activities and sessions that help them regain their self-worth and the identity of who they once were. 

Now our second task was helping set up their greatest fundraiser of the year which usually takes places in the Hilton hotel across the street. The founders of Camillus House are big on wines and they donate truckloads of wine bottles to be auctioned off at this fundraiser every year. As we unloaded and unpacked the wine bottles we were pleasantly surprised with the prices, which ranged from $250 to $3500 a bottle and this is great because all of this money is going towards a great cause. 

Here we are loading the trucks at Camillus House and unloading them in the Hilton, we got to ride in a service elevator that fit truckloads of stuff. This was definitely a fun experience.

Another item that was being auctioned off was art, art pieces that had been donated and art pieces painted by many of the clients themselves were being auctioned off in this fundraiser and I thought this was amazing. In Camillus House there is an art program where clients can explore their creative side and many of them tap into a gift they didn’t know they had, these pieces are then selected and auctioned at the fundraiser and could go for as much as $500 each, the organization than takes 50% of the earnings of this piece and gives the other 50% to the rightful artist. During this fundraiser Camillus House usually raises around $1.4-1.7 million and the money is much needed and put to a good use. When unpacking the pieces I fell in love with most of them and I actually was shocked by the price of many of them, I held a $15,000 art piece in my hand and I honestly think it’s one of the most expensive things I’ve ever held. The art pieces were beautiful and the experience we had was even better, we got to see the behind the scenes of an event of this magnitude and to be able to say that we were a part of it was even better. When asking the staff members that are volunteers and are not paid, why they keep coming back to help, they said that one of the most rewarding things is to see a person grow from nothing and excel, prosper and succeed and then have them come back and donate and give to the organization that believed in them when society had given up on them. 

This experience was amazing and I thank all those who allowed us to embark on it, thank you to the group to students that went with me and to the staff that was ever so kind. Alessandra’s contact information is below, this is definitely not the last Camillus House will see of FIU Honors students. 

Thank you for letting us be a part of such a wonderful event!

Blanca J Alcaraz

ALESSANDRA LARICCHIA | COMMUNITY RELATIONS MANAGER

1603 NW 7th Avenue, Miami, FL 33136 | camillus.org

Tel 305.374.1065, ext 438 | alessandral@camillus.org

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