MIM: Ashley Diaz Miami Service Project

At the start of my freshman year in high school, I had joined the JROTC program, which stands for Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. It was a military-style class held in my school that had the intention of creating better citizens through the use of US Army values and leadership training. I had been excited for this since the beginning of eighth grade. I talked about the program to other people, and a friend of mine named Mario told me about one called the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps. The Navy League of the United States funds this program, and it utilizes the values of the US Navy to discipline its cadets.  Being a swimmer, this had interested me, and I decided that I would join the program. Through it, I have met many people from different places in the United States and other parts of the world. As well as take part in various trainings that were provided by the Sea Cadet program. And here I am five years later still a part of the program after graduation as a volunteer on the weekends.

It was through this program that the opportunity arose to volunteer at a facility for an organization called Rise Against Hunger. This group had the goal of packing meals and delivering them to different parts of the world to people who need them. Rise Against Hunter wants to end world hunger by 2030. I was intrigued by this as I was sure it had interested many of the other cadets in the Sea Cadet program. Once the cadets in the Sea Cadet program heard the announcer in the room, say that they had to measure and place food within bags and seal them, they grew a bit fearful. Not sure whether they could complete the task asked of them.

Luckily everyone had gotten the hang of the tasks they were doing. People managed to switch jobs and had been able to complete each specific job at least once. After completing the tasks that day, I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief that I was a part of this. We had to measure rice grains and other dried foods to put into packets, then added spice packs to those food bags. After that, we would put them into bins and send them to other tables where they would be sealed and packaged in boxes. Throughout the event, the organizers had music playing, most of which were positive and upbeat music. The music set the tone for the volunteer event. It allowed people to be more receptive and willing to carry on conversations about their purpose for being there.

I ran from table to table, and once stationed at a table, I spoke to the ladies around me, I asked for their reason for coming to this event. Most of them had told me that they had been coming for years and that they come every year. On the other hand of the spectrum, children were volunteering as well, and I watched as they sealed packs of food or dropped dried foods inside of the packets. They were extremely eager to help and seeing the kind of work they were doing benefited people in need. Even though they did not see the people directly, they still managed to stay motivated in completing the objective and also had some fun. Because of the work that the cadets and I had done along with many other people in that room, we managed to pack 23,976 Rise Against Hunger meals. Those meals would be sent out to children and families around the world, and I am proud to have been apart of that.

Students putting up a tree at Camillus House

Less than a month later, a classmate named Blanca Alcaraz had arranged a volunteering opportunity at Camillus House. Volunteering here required us to help prepare for one of the largest fundraisers of the year. Honestly, whenever I thought of Camillus House, my mind would go straight to merely making and handing out food. I did not know the extent of the organization did. I had never looked into their programs, nor have I ever volunteered for them before. It was that day that I had learned everything about Camillus House and precisely what they do.

It was more than just a hot meal that they were providing these people who are homeless. They provided people with housing, clothes, educational opportunities, as well as a way to therapeutically decompress through art. These programs were unbeknownst to me and many others, I suppose. When we got to Camillus House, Alessandra Laricchia instructed us to put up a Christmas tree in the dining facility. Laricchia then got a tour of the campus, where we learned a lot more about the organization and how we could help even more with additional acts of donations or volunteering.

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Group of students at Camillus House

Within the tour, we saw firsthand the housing that Camillus House provides to the homeless people. We also saw the clothes that were being donated by people. These clothes are not sold, but they were given directly to people who need them. Another thing that Laricchia told us was that essentials such as soaps, feminine hygiene products, and men’s and women’s clothes are often required.

The Career Help Program is just one of the programs that Camillus House has for people who need help obtaining employment. The organization paired up with companies who were willing to certify, train, and provide experience to those who have specific skills. They have areas that include culinary, warehouse, and housekeeping/general maintenance. We saw a participant who was going to graduate on that same day for her experience and work in culinary. On that graduation day, people come together, and the graduates prepare food for the celebration.

After the tour, Lariccia escorted us to a room where they had objects, artwork, and numerous wine bottles set to be sold at an auction at the Hilton hotel. This auction was to be their most significant fundraiser of the year. In previous years Camillus House raised at least 1 million dollars. The wines were donated by people who the organization had connections to, and the artworks were made by the people living at Camillus house through the art program that they had. Half of the profit would go directly to the artist and the other half to the art program at Camillus House. Selling these paintings is such a massive opportunity for people as they get a chance not only to express themselves but make a profit from it as well.

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Flora Sweet pictured at Hilton Hotel

After setting up a colossal amount of wine bottles on tables, as well as arranging artworks on canvas holders, the bigger picture came to me. Camillus House is not just a place where people can go for a hot meal. It is more than that, and they can always use all of the help that they can get. They provide showers, food, career development, housing, and so much more than tangible deeds. It’s more about the services that they provide, the support, and the way that they make people feel as if they were at home. Many people who leave Camillus House and get back on their feet often come back and volunteer and want to give back. I feel that many people should want to do the same, even if they are comfortably living their lives. We should always find ways to give back.

Contact Information For Service Confirmation:

LCDR Reynolds Sanchez, USNSCC

US Coast Guard Miami Air Station

14300 NW 41st Avenue

Opa Locka, Florida 33054-2328

ALESSANDRA LARICCHIA |Community Relations Manager

1601 NW 7th Avenue, Miami, FL 33136 | camillus.org

alessandral@camillus.org

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