Hope for Miami is a coalition of several organizations in Miami-Dade County working to connect youth to effective programs, resources and volunteer opportunities, with the mission of seeing the young people and the community will thrive. For three years, Hope for Miami has delivered the Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) as one of four prevention programs that promote positive youth development and reflect the coalition’s core values.
TOP is in alignment with one of the coalition’s core values that youth work should not patronize. They have observed that allowing teens’ voices to be heard prevents a multitude of destructive behaviors.
“TOP allows our students to explore their thought processes in a safe, non-judgmental environment. Students express their views and think through their choices, allowing them to step back and see the many different possible outcomes that their decisions can bring. Teachers and principals have commented on what a difference the curriculum has made. They have seen the number of in school fights decrease, grades improve, and suspension rates decrease among TOP students,” said Chedena Hayes, Community Program Coordinator. “One of our teens shared that the program helps him to ‘know what to do in a real world setting.’”
This year, Hope for Miami plans to deliver TOP to 1,150 middle and high school youth in Miami-Dade County. Clubs are currently running at Andover Middle School and iMater Academy; however, they have received such positive feedback from the community that requests are coming in from all over Miami-Dade County for TOP to be brought to their schools. “I think that these requests speak to the professionalism of our facilitators and the effectiveness of the TOP Curriculum,” said Hayes.
Hayes attributes a large part of the program’s success to community service learning projects. She stated that the projects give students a chance to identify passions and gives them the opportunity to become involved in creating solutions to issues particular to their community. Most recently, students from Andover Middle did a school campus make-over project.
“Students spent months planning designs for a mural, choosing the garden location, and creating slogans and designs for trash cans. Then they showed up in great numbers to clean and decorate their campus. It was amazing. There was a need, and the students chose to meet it! The youth were actually smiling while picking up trash. As facilitators, we encouraged them by reminding them that Andover was their school, which made it their responsibility to preserve the grounds. We challenged them to leave a legacy for the classes that would come after them, and they did. That campus looks amazing now!”
Through programs like TOP, Hope for Miami would like to see their Miami-Dade County community become a place where everyone – individuals, families, neighborhoods, institutions, organizations, businesses and even the environment – is knit together like threads in a tapestry to create healthy, flourishing neighborhoods.