Amanda Gray / Contributing Writer
FIU’s Day of Service brought 157 Panthers together to serve the community through virtual projects.
These projects, led by the Panther Community Action board (PCA), allowed participants the opportunity to engage in discussions with community leaders about local issues while volunteering.
The virtual event opened up with an introduction led by Amanda McDole and Patricia Lopez-Guerrero, the assistant director and director of FIU’s Center for Leadership and Service.
This introduction explained what participants could expect from the day, and asked attendees to share what they were most excited to experience and learn from the event. Some of the answers included “giving to the community”, “making a difference”, “prioritizing others”, and “finding like-minded people”.
The Day of Service participants were then sent off to four unique virtual break out rooms with different PCA and community leaders. In these rooms, attendees were given the opportunity to hear about different local issues from community leaders.
The five organizations present at this event were We Care Chemo Kits, Ocean Plastics, SurfRider Miami, Lotus House, and Kristi House.
Gisenia Reyes, founder of We Care Chemo Kits, explained that while it was the organization’s first time partnering with FIU’s Day of Service, Reyes herself was more than familiar with FIU. She is an FIU alum who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in 2017 during her time as a Panther.
Reyes explained that, “FIU has been such an integral part of our foundation. The first grant we received was from FIU. I was diagnosed with cancer when I was a student at FIU, so FIU has been an amazing support to us”.
We Care Chemo Kits serves cancer patients by hosting events in the hospitals for the patients, providing them with care packages and educational items, including get well cards and plush toys. These care packages are delivered to the patients by cancer survivors.
Volunteers working with We Care Chemo Kits heard from Reyes on her personal story of survival from AML, and then created digital get-well cards and personal videos to encourage kids experiencing chemotherapy. Participants also took part in fundraising to support the foundation.
Addy White, founder of Ocean Plastics, began picking up microplastics from local beaches and creating jewelry out of the debris in order to aid in conservation efforts.
When engaging in the discussion with some of the volunteers, White shared with volunteers the terrible effects that micro-plastics have on beaches. She also encouraged the attendees to try and live “zero plastic-ish”.
White explained attempting to try and live without plastic is important, but futile without giving yourself the grace to be imperfect in the process.
Volunteers also heard from Mike Gibaldi with SurfRider Miami.
Gibaldi, an FIU graduate, shared Surfrider’s Statement: “The Surfrider Foundation is a community of everyday people who passionately protect our playground- the ocean, waves, and beaches- that provide us so much enjoyment.”
Surfrider gives many volunteer opportunities to FIU students yearly, such as engaging in dune restorations and peaceful protests to demand better conservation laws.
Gibaldi encouraged volunteers to vote and directly contact their elected officials in order to continue to see change and reformations to environmental policies. He also stressed the importance of using less plastic and being sustainable in your daily practices.
After hearing from White and Gibaldi, volunteers were given eco-friendly kits with products supporting the environment, such as trash bags for individual clean-up projects and herbs to grow.
Another room hosted a volunteer effort for Lotus House, a shelter for women, youth, and children which provides meals and resources for the community.
Many of these women and children are either experiencing homelessness or fleeing from domestic abuse situations.
Victoria Varela, the community outreach coordinator at Lotus House, explained that “during the virtual event, students participated in a live webinar where they learned about key social issues affecting the Miami community (food insecurity, domestic violence, and homelessness) from a fellow student, and a representative of Lotus House spoke on how to solve these issues.”
After these discussions, attendees were then given the opportunity to engage in three projects benefiting Lotus House: collecting non-perishable food items to donate to Lotus House during its largest food drive, making DIY masks out of never used FIU t-shirts, and participating in a flash fundraiser.
The final group heard from Deborah Billings, education and outreach program supervisor of Kristi House.
Kristi House, founded 25 years ago, has been serving the city of Miami as a one-stop interagency meeting point for families to get the help and care that they need in the wake of sex trafficking and abuse. Some of the aid offered is trauma-focused therapy, family advocacy (legal, medical, and mental health services), and education.
Kristi House’s mission statement explains they are “dedicated to eradicating child abuse and child sex trafficking – working nationally on solutions, and locally to heal child-victims”.
Billings led the discussion at the Day of Service, “I presented a very short PowerPoint presentation just to delineate the definition of human trafficking and sex trafficking,” she said.
“To clarify a lot of the myths that are out there [about trafficking]. These myths begin to roll and then it does a disservice not only to the agencies that are trying to support and advocate, but it also does a disservice to the victim survivors,” said Billings.
Participants were given the knowledge and tools to be anti-traffickers, learning the importance of getting educated and researching human trafficking. The attendees then created coloring pages for children currently involved in the intake process at Kristi House, donated school supplies, and fundraised for the organization.
The Day of Service saw one of the best turnouts for a virtual event hosted by the FIU Center for Leadership and Service, hosting 154 participants in total. Almost $300 was raised for the different organizations, and each individual project yielded a large amount of goods to be shared with people in need.
Participants were able to connect with each other and community partners in order to give back to the city that supports FIU so well. The service and effort made by Panthers on the Day of Service was felt by community partners.
“I spent the entire time with the [FIU] students and was just so impressed by them; the questions they asked and their enthusiasm,” said Reyes.