MIM Spring 2020 Service Project: Gabriela Lastra

Student Bio

Gabriela Lastra in the Coliseum during study abroad (CC by 4.0)

Gabriela Lastra is currently a senior at the Florida International University Honors College, majoring in Criminal Justice and applying to law school. She spent the summer of 2019 traveling in Europe, first on a study abroad trip in Italy with Professor John W Bailly and then on her own in Spain. Having moved to Miami in middle school, she is unfamiliar with much of the local history of both the city and the state and jumped at the opportunity to learn a different facet of it through Professor Bailly’s unique Miami in Miami course. She hopes to continue traveling and never stop learning about all the amazing things that are hidden in all the corners of the world for those who look further than skin deep.

Who

A Day of Service: Lotus House Shelter

The Lotus House is a shelter for homeless women and mothers with their children. The Lotus House Shelter, located in the heart of the historic district of Overtown Miami, opened its doors in 2006. It is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to help women and mothers with small children who are experiencing poverty and homelessness. The facility has grown from house to village in the 14 years since its doors opened, helping countless of women with counseling programs, job training, and even a thrift shop where the guests of the village can work.

How

In Professor John Bailly’s Miami in Miami course, as in the Florida International University’s Honors College, we have learned so much about the world around us and about ourselves that it defies description. We have been encouraged to ask questions, to explore, to become the best versions of ourselves, and most important of all lessons, to be a part of our community. This year I have been privileged to participate in several community service projects through the Miami in Miami class. Amidst the global pandemic that has been paralyzing our planet since last November,we cannot forget that we are not the only ones affected. I arrived at the Lotus House through Professor Bailly’s class as he arranged for the class to have the opportunity to volunteer there for the day.

Where & What

FIU Honors College Students Volunteering at the Lotus House Shelter
(Photos by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

On this particular Wednesday, the last in-person class of my bachelor’s career as I graduate this spring, we met at the Lotus House around 10 am. Here we got to meet some of the incredible women who make this place keep working, themselves former residents of the Lotus House. We received a brief explanation of how the facility runs and some of the different programs they offer to help residents get back on their feet and prepared for life after the Lotus House. We were led down the hall from the main reception area into a loading area. From here we were split into two teams; those who would stay at the loading area and the sanitation team. I volunteered for the second group. My small team of 8 was responsible for sanitizing all the rooms on the first floor of the shelter, including the dining room where all guests of the Lotus House gather for meals, the hair and nail salon, the children’s art and play rooms, and more. Though it seems fairly routine, in a place with so many vulnerable residents who come in and out and all inhabit the same limited space sanitation is vital. Everywhere anyone could conceivably lay their hand, no matter how improbable, must be cleaned for each spot we miss is a chance for anyone in the shelter to get sick. After a busy morning, we also got the chance to meet some of the residents during the lunch rush. The facility is filled with dozens of women of different backgrounds who all come together in one place to try to have a better life. After the lunch rush was over, we cleaned up one last time before saying our goodbyes.

Lotus House Shelter Dining Hall (Photo by Gabriela Lastra CC by 4.0)

Summary

Miami in Miami class after volunteering at Lotus House Shelter.
Photo by Katy Roth (CC by 4.0)

To be a global citizen is more than knowing things and seeing the world, it is also learning to give back. Doing this, spending a day during such difficult times doing something good for someone else, even something small, was an incredible experience. In times of adversity is when most we must reach out to those around us, to help those who need it. Schools and businesses closed as our city prepared for lock-down, but during this time is when the work the Lotus House Shelter does is most vital. During times of strife it is easy to get caught up in our own problems. There is always someone in the world who is fighting a battle tougher than ours and that is something we shouldn’t forget. It was a humbling experience, but it was also an empowering one. Those women are incredible, and they are fighting against incredible odds to have a better life, for themselves and for their children. Meeting the women who dedicate their lives to helping people in the position they were once in was also incredibly humbling. These women made it; they are the proof that the system can work if you take advantage of the chances you are given, and once they made it they came back to extend that same chance to others. To them, and to all the people in the world like them who are selfless and strong and kind I say thank you. We could all stand to learn more from people like them.

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