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Outreach ministry gives low-income families a hand after storm

Outreach ministry gives low-income families a hand after storm

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Outreach ministry gives low-income families a hand after storm

Nov. 15, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0398}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

FLORIDA CITY — Volunteer Stacey Morales tells the story of the Good Samaritan and challenges kids participating in afternoon activities at the Branches outreach ministry to do something good for someone else. Branches offered the kids a place to go and a hot meal for a week after Hurricane Wilma while school was closed. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #05-275.

FLORIDA CITY — About 95 kids sat scattered on the lawn between the Branches building and Florida City United Methodist Church. They were listening to Stacey Morales tell the story of the Good Samaritan.

"Think of something you'd want someone to do for you, then go do it for someone else," she said. "Can you do that?"

Morales was challenging the youth to help someone affected by Hurricane Wilma — to pick up shingles off someone's yard or talk to someone who might be lonely after being without power for days.

It was a timely lesson during a week when people were helping them and their families cope after the storm.

Branches is an outreach and after-school ministry sponsored by the Florida City church and the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) of The United Methodist Church. For a week after Hurricane Wilma barreled through the area the ministry's staff and volunteers offered afternoon activities to kids in the neighborhood so they would have a place to go.

"There's no power. School is closed. We knew we had to do something," said Kim Torres, a Church and Community Worker with GBGM and director of Branches.

That Friday afternoon — day four after Wilma — the kids were from both Florida City and nearby Homestead. Many of the Florida City kids participate in one of Branches' youth, literacy or after-school programs. The kids from Homestead came with Morales, who leads a similar ministry there.

After Morales' lesson the kids played football or cards. Others did arts and crafts. A volunteer taught one group of girls about nail care. Later they all ate a hot meal.

"There are kids who are hungry," Torres said. "They're used to going to school and getting breakfast and lunch and for a lot of them they don't have anything to eat. This is their meal for the day."

FLORIDA CITY — A group of girls participating in afternoon activities offered by the Branches ministry after Hurricane Wilma learns about nail care. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #05-276.

Most of the kids come from families considered working poor. Many are immigrants. Their parents are part of the area's unskilled labor force, working in nearby fields, in the tourist industry or at restaurants along the Florida Keys. Many live in rental properties.

Torres helped start Branches 12 years ago. It grew out of efforts to help families cope after Hurricane Andrew. She said people in the community are "stopping by ... because we've always been able to help after a disaster."

The South Florida community — one of the last ones before heading into the Keys — doesn't have the massive devastation other areas of the country have experienced this hurricane season, but Torres is concerned about the storm's long-term economic effect.

"Lots of people are hourly workers. They've lost work. You can't recover that," she said.

Ten-year-old Lissette was scared her family would become homeless. She said her mom had told her there wasn't enough money to pay the rent. Yamilet, also 10, wasn't as worried because she said her grandmother helps the family.

"They don't quite know what's going on," Torres said. "They are concerned about whatever they hear."

Yamilet has been attending Branches since she was in pre-school. She said getting help with her homework is what she likes best about Branches. On a typical school day about 30 kids participate in Branches' after-school program. Along with homework help, they have some kind of lesson and eat a meal.

A big part of the ministry is tutoring for all age levels, which means kids get continuous help with their schoolwork from grade to grade. Torres said Branches kids are graduating from high school and going to college at a higher rate than the rest of the student population and many are the first in their families to reach those milestones.

Eighteen-year-old Ismael Ferniza is one of them. He attends Miami-Dade College and is majoring in social work. Ferniza began going to Branches when he was in the first grade. Torres said his family was the first one she met when the program was getting started.

Ferniza said the kids "remind me of me." He said most have two or more siblings and live with one parent, usually their mother, and they don't get a lot of guidance because it's hard for that parent to focus on each child.

Without Branches Ferniza said he would probably have followed in his father's footsteps — selling drugs, landing in jail, dying at an early age.

"I'd probably have three kids by now," he said. "They (Branches) taught me a lot about God and Jesus. ... They helped me do something good with my life."

That something includes working part-time with Torres as an intern and a tutor. On that day after Hurricane Wilma, it also included helping take care of the kids while they were out of school.

"They gave me the motivation to help others, like I'm doing today ... and it feels good," he said.

How to help with recovery and cleanup

* Gather supplies, volunteer: Affected areas need a variety of supplies and assistance from work teams. Trucks and truck drivers to deliver supplies are also needed. Because needs change daily, individuals and churches interested in helping should contact the SRC at 800-282-8011, extension 149, or to find out what they can do to help. The center matches individuals/teams with current and emerging needs. Health kits and flood buckets are also needed and can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 or 850-929-4938). Items included in both can be found at

* Give generously: Individuals are encouraged to give to "Florida Storm Recovery" Fund, Conference Special #605, to assist with cleanup and recovery. Checks should include the fund name and number in the memo line. Checks may be given at local United Methodist churches and made payable to the church or mailed to Conference Treasurer, The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3767, Lakeland, FL 33802, and made payable to Florida Conference Treasurer. Individuals may also give to UMCOR Advance No. 982523, "Hurricanes 2005 Global." Contributions can be made online at, at local churches or by phone at 800-554-8583. Checks should include the Advance number and name on the memo line. Checks given at local churches should be made payable to the local church. Checks mailed to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068 should be made payable to UMCOR.

For response updates go to


This article relates to Disaster Response.

* Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.