The Town of Miami Lakes, incorporated in December 2000, is one of the youngest municipalities in Miami-Dade County. With 30,000 residents and 1,700 businesses, The Town Council’s initiatives are directly focused on encouraging civic engagement, collaboration, and inclusiveness. Beginning in 2001, the Town of Miami Lakes introduced 11 volunteer committees to address the challenges the community faces and to plan future initiatives. Last year, these committees hosted a total of 227 special town events to help achieve their goals of helping Miami Lakes grow beautifully. As the town grows, it continues to strive for innovation and engagement, while remaining true to its original founders’ vision of providing the highest quality of life for its residents and visitors.
Transition Skills Class for Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum
The mission of the Special Needs Advisory Board is to create a model town for inclusion, by identifying specific Miami Lakes families with an interest in matters pertaining to individuals with special needs; connecting them to existing programs, services and events; and, serving the Town Council in an advisory capacity to identify unmet needs and assist with the discovery of possible solutions.
Florida International University created a Special Needs Blueprint which highlighted the need for inclusion, community mindfulness, increased employment opportunities, and awareness of mental health issues that affect the special needs community in Miami Lakes. Based on the needs identified in the blueprint, the advisory board piloted a Transition Skills Class for Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum.
The class, open to young adults over the age of 22, focused on topics such as successfully transitioning to adulthood and life after high school—including health, safety, self-care, and more. The classes met for one hour over a period of 8 weeks. The class, taught by an ESE certified teacher with over 15 years of experience working with students on the Autism Spectrum, was attended by ten students during its inaugural year, with materials and books provided by the advisory board.
At the end of the pilot program, evaluation methods were used to ensure that participants were satisfied with the curriculum. While some constructive criticism was given, the pilot program was an overall success and will continue to be given once a year, considering the feedback from students and families.
Culinary Bike Tour
In an effort to encourage residents to be physically active while promoting local economic growth, the Town of Miami Lakes, its Neighborhood Improvement Committee (NIC), and its Economic Development Committee created the Miami Lakes Culinary Bike Tour.
The 5-mile culinary tour began at the local restaurant, NQC, an abbreviation for “Not Quite Cuban” and then continued through 10 different Hispanic, Italian, and American restaurants. The Town’s Freebee service (electric vehicles) was extended for the event to pick up guests who could not continue cycling.
The Culinary Bike Tour was a successful collaboration between the town’s committees, local businesses, the county’s bike initiative, and over 200 cyclists from in and around the Miami Lakes area.
Miami Lakes, in conjunction with the NIC, BIKE305 and Miami-Dade County, also hosts monthly community bike rides, promoting cycling as a way to connect people to communities and create a more livable, healthy, and sustainable environment. The monthly rides are attended by an average of 150 people and are promoted on all social media channels, the Miami Bike Scene website, and the Miami Laker, the town’s local newspaper. These events are family-friendly and open to all. All cycling events include police escorts to ensure the safety of riders. Town staff, certified to properly fit bicycle helmets, giveaway fitted helmets to riders of all ages at these events.
The Culinary Bike Tour and monthly bike rides will continue to be promoted for years to come, with the hope that the offerings improve residents’ moods, well-being, self-esteem, and sense of community.
Town-Wide Mental Health Initiatives
The Town of Miami Lakes and its Youth Activities Task Force and Veterans Affairs Committee, together with a local college student and resident, hosted the “Out of the Darkness Mental Health Awareness Walk” in honor of a fellow student who struggled with mental illness and committed suicide. The student was the second Miami Lakes adolescent to commit suicide in two years.
The suicide awareness walk included an interactive mural for students to write messages to their late friend or for those still struggling with mental illness. Along the track, several mental wellness resources and organizations were present to distribute information. Licensed therapists and those affected by the recent loss gave testimonies and shared ways to cope and grieve.
In addition to the mental health awareness walk, the town’s annual Health and Fitness Fair featured over twenty companies or organizations specifically related to mental health and wellness.
Continuing the community’s focus on mental health, the Miami Lakes Town Foundation awarded grant funding to a local teacher for her “Throwing Kindness Like Confetti” project. The project transformed the girl’s bathrooms in the school with hand-painted murals with inspirational messages and affirmations.
The foundation also awarded a grant to “The Open Mind, Open Arms: Mental Health Awareness Organization.” A high school student started the mental health awareness club to allow for candid conversations about mental illness.
The Town of Miami Lakes through its committees, charitable foundation and its local schools is approaching this epidemic by encouraging the community to be open, kind and seek resources.