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Program provides oasis for children of low-income families

Program provides oasis for children of low-income families

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Program provides oasis for children of low-income families

June 4, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0498}

NOTE: This article was produced by United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn., and distributed to its subscribers May 25.

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

FLORIDA CITY — Children participate in outdoor activities during Branches' after-school program. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #06-371.

FLORIDA CITY — Children bolt off the yellow bus after school and run to a small, white structure that stands alone in an open field.

The outside of the building is covered with artwork of trees, symbolic of the work that the Branches ministry does in this poor South Florida community.

“We offer consistent love, no matter where the kids are from, no matter what’s going on in their lives,” says Kim Torres, Branches coordinator. “There are always people here who will love them and care for them.”

Branches is a United Methodist-sponsored program run by South Florida Urban Ministries. Based in Florida City, south of Miami, and on the grounds of Florida City United Methodist Church, it offers after-school tutoring and mentoring to the children of Mexican farm workers and Haitian hospitality employees.

Children in kindergarten through 12th grade find an oasis and acceptance at Branches. Martine Daceus remembers vividly the isolation she felt when she and her mother came to the United States on a boat from Haiti. Her mother works long hours as a hotel maid in the Florida Keys. Daceus found her second home at Branches.

“It gave me a sense of belonging somewhere, a family and a lot of morals,” Daceus says.

Now in college, Daceus still remains involved in Branches by helping children with their spelling and reading homework.

“When I see the little kids, I see myself coming in. Most of the kids are from other countries and have only been living in the United States about a year, two years,” she says.

Giving back

Ismael Ferniza, also a freshman in college, has a similar story of struggle and triumph. His mother is a Mexican field worker who supports the family on her own. His father was killed in a drug-related shooting. Like Daceus, Ferniza is giving back to the program that gave him so much.

“It makes me feel real good because now the kids can come to me,” Ferniza says. “Others might ask them to sell drugs, but instead they can come to me.”

Branches offered Ferniza academic support and a safe place to fall. He’s glad to see other children benefiting from the outreach program.

“It brings them a lot of comfort because we’re friendly here. They might go home and their parents argue all the time,” he says.

Torres believes it’s important for children who have gone through Branches to return and help other kids. “Unfortunately, when people are pegged as poor, people always want to give to them, but they never learn how to serve or give back.”

Many of the students come to Branches not speaking English, but they learn the language — and much more — through the patience and persistence of tutors. Ninety-six percent of those who stay in the program two or more years raise their grade levels by at least one letter grade. All of those who have graduated from high school are either attending college or vocational school.

“I was lucky enough to have people give me the attention so I could excel in school,” Daceus says. “I see myself as them. All they need is a little attention and they’ll excel too.”


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.