Last week I travelled down to Homestead, Florida which is about 30 miles away from Miami, Florida to volunteer with an organization called Sembrando Flores. According to the organization’s mission statement,
“The mission of Sembrando Flores is to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in the communities of South Dade by addressing substance abuse, mental health, poverty and violence, using a public health, faith-based, compassionate care model, providing free services.”
The focus of our group’s trips was to help with a monthly event called, “Test Miami.” At these events residents in a high-risk area are offered free HIV, STD, glucose and blood pressure screenings. To help encourage residents to attend the event, the first 75 people screened received a free bag of groceries. All who were screened also received for free lunch on-site and clothing.
The day before the event our group canvassed the neighborhood armed with flyers to help promote the event. I was nervous and uncomfortable at first. The high-risk area was impoverished and it is a far cry from the normalcy that I am used to in my north side Chicago neighborhood. I was surprised, relieved, and oddly felt blessed that the residents in the community were so receptive to talk to us and learn about the event. I did not receive a single cold shoulder and everyone I approached could not have been more welcoming. The unease I felt when we began was immediately wiped out by the openness of people within the community. People I met shared their stories, talked about their neighborhood, and thanked us for being there. I was then and I still kind of now, am at a loss for words.
People are in need of help and we do not have to go outside the borders of the US to see it. I don’t intend to get political, but one of the heartbreaking things to me when walking the neighborhood was that at first people thought we were representing political groups and were there to van people over to voting polls. What I find repulsive is that political groups, who are supposed to be “helping people,” only venture into these at risk neighborhoods when they want something from the community à their vote. That is pure exploitation and it sickens me.
For me I do not venture into at risk areas to exploit anyone. For this mission trip, add to that any missions trip I go on, my goal is to help people help themselves. With the testing being offered by Sembrando Flores, the concept is that people in high risk areas become empowered with information about their own personal health, and if diagnosed with anything from high blood pressure to diabetes to aids, within 30 days the organization sees to it that the individual begins treatment for their condition.
It was a moving experience to be a part of this program and see an amazing organization like Sembrando first hand. The day of the event was just as moving as our group saw up close the needs of people in the community. A free bag of groceries and free clothes went a long way for these residents and their gratefulness completely moved my soul. As I continue on my journey on financial peace road, I am certain that volunteering, helping others and giving in a meaningful way for others, will be a core piece of how I want to utilize my time, talents and resources.