The Town of Miami Lakes, incorporated in December 2000, is one of the youngest municipalities in Miami-Dade County. 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. Volunteer committees ensure that public safety, cultural affairs, elderly affairs, youth activities, neighborhood improvement, special needs, education, economic development, and veterans’ needs are identified and met by the residents these issues impact directly.
Creating Civic Capacity Through Leadership
Through the town’s 11 volunteer committees, over 100 diverse stakeholders contribute civically and provide their unique perspectives to address challenges and improve quality of life. Thanks to the early adoption of live-remote public commenting technology a year before the pandemic began, Miami Lakes was able to have city council and committee meetings live streamed on the town’s website and social media channels, allowing the important work of various committees to continue.
Elderly Affairs Committee (EAC)
For almost twenty years, the EAC has advocated for programs and activities that keep seniors physically and socially active. Efforts include:
Cultural Affairs Committee (CAC)
The diverse group of individuals making up this committee works to establish the town’s cultural identity and developed an annual calendar of culturally diverse events.
When racial injustice demonstrations began across the country in the Summer of 2020, the CAC planned the Miami Lakes Comm[UNITY] Virtual Prayer event featuring representatives from ten different local religious and spiritual denominations. The virtual event sent out a powerful message that regardless of race, national origin, age, ethnicity, or socio-economic status, we all want to be treated equally and fairly.
Pivoting to Help Residents During COVID-19
When the pandemic struck, Miami Lakes residents, organizations, and local businesses shifted course to help one another.
Giving Gators, The Breanna Vergara Foundation, and volunteers came together for the “Groceries for Seniors” program, offering groceries to over 300 individuals weekly for four months.
The Elderly Affairs Committee (EAC) pivoted their “Meet & Eat” events to a COVID-safe, contactless drive-through. The drive-through model allows seniors to have a brief socially distanced conversation with their peers and receive lunch and a Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kit.
Where Symphony of the Americas performed is now the site of ongoing weekly food drives. Since April 2020, Miami Lakes United Methodist Church has served over 28,000 families in need in partnership with Feeding South Florida and Farm Share.
The town’s committees continued to deliver memorable experiences amid COVID-19. Children celebrated Mother’s Day with a take-home painting activity, participated in a virtual fishing tournament for Father’s Day, and had a drive-by visit from the Easter bunny. The town’s 41st Annual Veterans Day Parade expanded from a 3-mile route to almost 10-miles. Over 70 military groups and individuals were honored throughout a town-wide ceremony as residents watched the procession from their yards or online. Additionally, the Youth Activities Task Force organized the first Winterfest Parade, complete with familiar holiday characters.
Mental Health Awareness Task Force
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 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.
Additionally, with the rise of COVID-19 and the restriction of social events, weekly Facebook Live: Mental Health Thursdays were hosted through social media channels to spark open dialogue about breaking the stigma of mental health treatment.
Town council formalized the Mental Health Advisory Task Force to break the stigma and encourage open dialogue associated with mental health treatment and those individuals in recovery. The task force will provide the town with a set of recommendations on how the town could continue to support efforts to address the stigma associated with mental health treatment and identify possible solutions for the community.