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My Community Involvement
My broad involvement in the community, both on the local and international level, has impacted its many diverse cultures in a positive manner. When one strives to ameliorate the conditions of race relations, one must target their specific needs, build on their flaws, and improve their character. Migrating to a different nation, culture, community, environment, or continent, is the hardest action a person, especially a family, can undertake in their lives.
Miami, the cultural melting pot, is home to one of the most diverse populations of the world; 17 languages are spoken, clusters of Europeans, Caribbeans, Latin Americans and Asians make it up; 67% speak a language other than English; and about 51% of 2.3 million in the Metropolitan Miami area where born outside of the United States. Now isn't that diverse?
My answer was yes, and when I looked deeper into the picture, I found that at times this culture-clash may be conflictive, segregating and damaging to the young growing minds that will one day run our communities. What I have done I value as a marking step, an example and a great accomplishment in uniting and fusing this youngsters with the rest.
Maccabi Tzair Miami
This is my second year working as a Madrich, Hebrew word for mentor or counselor, for a Jewish movement based in the Jewish Community Center in Miami by the name of Maccabi Tzair. Maccabi Tzair was developed from its grassroot, 25-year-old program- “Olam Hayeled.” When a representative from Maccabi World Union, a recognized Zionist organization, came upon me and presented the idea, morals and goals of its movement, I saw the opportunity the Jewish Community had been waiting for in Miami; to introduce a more Judaic oriented program, which more than entertain would unite religiously the many kids who had been driven from private Jewish schools due to their high financial costs. It would educate them on the many things they had missed out about religion and Jewish tradition.
Most importantly, we bring together hundreds of teens every Saturday into groups and teams of their own ages (In addition to field trips and weekend-long camping experiences). Kids from all over the county, private and public schools, leave behind all their weekly activities and friends, to meet others just like them, that share many of their traits and origins.
It makes me proud to know that on days other than Saturdays, these kids enjoy their friendships; not only has the program brought them together on Saturdays to share memorable experiences, but it has instilled in them values and given them friends that will last a lifetime.
Last year I was honored as the “Best Madrich” for my motivation, leadership and encouragement, for which reason I received the Dr. Gorin Leadership Award.
Shoes4Africa, Inc. / Help4Africa (www.help4africa.com)
As an immigrant I have had the opportunity to view the world through many different lenses. When I lived in Venezuela I was aware that many people suffered and had to struggle to sustain their families without ever being sure that they would see the light of day. This was a very enlightening experience for me. After my arrival in the United States I knew that I would never be able to eradicate these images in my mind.
I had lived for thirteen years in an underdeveloped country, where injustices and societal flaws were covered up by the fraudulent action of a few very powerful men. These same powerful people were the ones who most likely hired the team of criminals who kidnapped my brothers and me, leaving us with agonizing and painful memories. My parents were forced to hire psychologists to help alleviate the trauma that remains with us to this day. After this harrowing experience how could I not be enraged enough to understand that I had to do something to moderate the world in which I live.
In the summer of 2006, reviewing the life experiences that hunted me and the calamitous situation in which many lived where I came from, I moved to change those aspects that were most apparent to me. Thinking big, to start small, I came across an idea that had been passed through me in different stages of my life- world poverty. I did see it with my own eyes in Venezuela, but I read about it and studied it thoroughly having arrived to America. As a student in an AP Human Geography course, I was exposed to the economics and lives of Western Africa: from cocoa production in Ivory Coast to populations under poverty line. Later I took International Relations in Florida International University with Professor Bertin Kouadio, who widened my knowledge about contemporary Africa and made me fall in love with the cause. I looked deep into stereotyping and I found that being barefoot was not that uncommon, nor was it healthy.
After doing some research I realized that shoes would help them in the fight against environmentally caused diseases, cuts, scratches and parasites, as well as progressing in terms of world development. This was my chance to get back at injustice in the world, and bring about a difference, for a change. I founded a nonprofit corporation in the State of Florida in hope of maintaining a respected status and recognized mission, and started collecting shoes in every school and corner I could put a box in. What better place to start than my own closet!
Shoes4Africa, Inc (www.help4africa.com) is a non-for-profit organization that I founded last summer. Initially a county-wide, but recently international campaign, S4A accomplishes its goal through the recollection of shoes in diverse cities of the US and eight countries around the world to be shipped to the République de CÃ´te d'Ivoire, Nigeria and other African nations, where many people walk barefoot and some have never owned a pair of shoes. Wearing shoes would help them in the fight against environmentally caused diseases, cuts, scratches and parasites (such as hookworm larvae), as well as progressing in terms of world development.
Taking the first steps seems to be the most difficult process in founding a corporation or launching a campaign, but to me those were the easiest. At first I launched the website www.shoes4africa.org, which I designed and redacted myself. The project started small, but as people heard what we were doing it grew.
Holding several leadership positions such as President of the French Club, Future Business Leaders of American and Student Government Association at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School, I was able to incorporate the campaign to encourage student participation in the drive. In less than one month, the whole school was involved and hundreds of shoes piled up in boxes and bags. These results gave me an idea that was the turning point of my campaign. I started networking with local organizations, companies and schools. Soon, eight schools in the areas were participating. I partnered with the local Jewish Community Center, where I volunteered on Saturdays as a teen program counselor, and Step by Step Foundation, who provided for the storage of the shoes; local Jaycees, an organization for young businessmen to network, introduced me as their only teen member and aided in the process, a nonprofit corporation in Georgia flew down representatives twice to Miami to meet with me and sign partnership contracts to work together, but I refused because I realized they only wanted to profit from my initiative.
The community and internet exposure I was achieving gave me the motivation to set a structure to my corporation. In Harvard Summer School this summer, other than taking economics, I met with Professors Mugane and Olupona who put me in touch with an African nonprofit, African Embassy, Inc, company with which I’ve been working to send the shoes to Africa. Moreover, I made friends from all over the world, who as motivated and inspired as me took the campaign to their cities and countries. The company’s global structure works as follows: I serve as the Global Director. Then, we have eight Country Directors, twenty-two City Directors and thirty-four School Liaisons. Giving a teen the opportunity to feel like a leader is all the motivation needed to change the world.
With the women’s department at Florida International University, Shoes4Africa undertook the “Walk in My Shoes” campaign/display to promote sexual violence awareness and bring an end to it, while using the campaign as a means of collecting shoes for the needy. Each pair held a story of rape attached to it, and surprisingly, many anonymous volunteers brought their own stories attached to their shoes.
In hope of fundraising some money to pack the shoes that would be shipped free of cost by Ups, with whom we signed a partnership, Shoes4Africa launched “Shoot for a Cause”; Fifteen teams, forty-five players, pizza, snacks and drinks, made up a wonderful Friday afternoon event to fundraise for our cause. Each team player paid a $28 donation fee, and competed in one of the wildest basketball tournaments of the year.
Not only has Shoes4Africa ameliorated the conditions in which many not so fortunate live by providing them with shoes to walk with, but it has avoided the diffusion of the plausible unhealthy conditions and diseases that were brought along with being barefoot in places like Enugu State, Nigeria. Moreover, the project created young leaders in over 20 cities and eight countries that are now in charge of an important campaign in their schools and communities. It made the world ever more aware of the harsh conditions of others, inspired teens like myself to start their own campaigns and most importantly, changed my life!
One Jew, One Story (www.jewishveterans.com)
I founded One Jew One Story and Jewish Veterans, being the first national initiative realized to document first hand, the life experiences of Jewish American Soldiers/Veterans and War Survivors.
O.J.O.S's main purpose does not only lie in providing the world with exquisite stories of spiritual and religious renaissance as well as American pride, but in bringing back some light to the lives of Jewish American Veterans through our "Jewish Veterans" program.
Our mission does not only lie in guarding the life stories of these heroes, but in showing America, that Jews have worked and dedicated their lives for many years in shaping what this nation is today, and what it will still be tomorrow. I am ameliorating race relations in our nation.
My first documentary was titled "Jewish American Soldiers in World War II: The Establishment of a Zionist World", and was based on an interview with World War II veteran, Abraham Silverman. It is a short film about the triumph and tragedies of World War II imposed upon the Jewish society of the world, especially that of the Jewish American Soldiers. Silverman talks of discrimination, feelings and religion. I received the first place award in Miami's National History Day competition- for Miami's Best Documentary in 2007
After that, I made about five more videos, amongst which is "Passion for the Military"- an interview with US Retired LTC Howard Gutin. Mr. Gutin retired from the Army in 1979 after completing 32 years of military service. At the time of his retirement he was in charge of one of the largest motion picture and television production facilities in the Department of Defense. "Greatest job I ever had". His war was Vietnam, where he served as the Chief of Plans and Operations for the 44th Medical Brigade. Their primary mission was treatment, hospitalization, and evacuation of USA personnel wounded in Vietnam. That included Med Evac/Dust Off operations.
Following his retirement from the Army, he worked for PBS, first as a producer and then as the General Manager of the stations in San Antonio