It’s Tuesday night, February 21st, 2017, at The Bridge (Central campus) and not unlike any other Tuesday night for the last 8 years. The scene is simple. Alfred Karram Jr sits at the front on the room, on a stool, ready to moderate the evening. Miami Bridge youth and 5 other adult mentors (Ana Sophia Davila-Bavuso, Jason Wood, Leslie Kaplan, Litza Rivera, and Meghan King) are spread out on the living room sofas. There are two to three people per couch and everyone appears at ease and relaxed.
Alfred begins the evening by asking how many people were at his mentoring group last Tuesday. 99% of the room raises their hand. There is one new young man and he doesn’t speak English. Alfred has him sit with someone who can help translate. He then asks who attended the volunteer activity on Saturday, a visit to a dog shelter, which he and Samantha Scalzo had arranged. Many of the youth raised their hands. This became the opening topic of conversation.
Alfred asked the youth to describe the volunteer project, which involved learning about the dog shelter and helping out. The group discussed the conditions of the facility and the nature of the work. They discussed the alternatives to the dog shelter, which include leaving the dogs in the street or sending them to a kill facility. In comparison, it was decided among the youth that the dog shelter was favorable to those options and therefore, this was important work.
This led to a discussion of other volunteer opportunities. The youth thought that feeding the homeless, helping farmers in Homestead, or cleaning debris off the beach would be great alternatives for their next project. Alfred explained, as he usually does, that the adults in the group are all volunteers – which is to say that they have all gone to their jobs and are now at The Bridge on their free time without being paid.
Alfred then asked the youth if they had given any thought to last week’s reflection, which was a plan for when they leave Miami Bridge. One young man said he would spend more time with his family and less time “hanging out”. Another young man said he would “stop smoking weed and focus on his grades and school”.
This led to a very involved conversation on the topic of marijuana and legalization, medical and recreational, pros and cons, and marijuana versus alcohol. Adults and youth alike shared their experiences and opinions in what was a very honest exchange. We heard from a young woman about her experience not wanting to have anything to do with drugs or alcohol since she witnessed her mom on drugs as a child. We heard from a majority of youth who had already experimented with alcohol and marijuana. We heard adult perspectives of childhood regrets and non-regrets. One of the volunteers gave a terrifying account of a stoner friend who accidentally shot his roommate in a freak accident when he was cleaning his Glock while he was extremely high on marijuana. The conversation was eye opening and the youth were fully engaged. It was great to see the youth actively participating and really considering the feedback from the adults. Other volunteers spoke about their current jobs and how drugs and alcohol would be a hindrance, comparing it to the effect that drugs and alcohol would have on our young minds as they work to complete school – their “one job”.
The evening closed with final comments from anyone who wished to state an opinion. When the group was officially over, the youth hung around to continue to chat with the volunteers. This, to me, was a true testament to the impact these amazing volunteers are making for our youth.
Thank you so much to the mentors who volunteer their time every Tuesday evening. It means the world to us to have such positive influences who care about the well-being and futures of our youth and sacrifice their time week after week to make a difference in their lives.
Community Events Coordinator