Brian attends the Branches South Miami Grow program and was held back in Kindergarten due to acute behavioral issues and academic struggles. When he first enrolled the previous year, Brian’s mother explained that Brian suffered from repeated, sudden angry outbursts. At Branches, Brian would intermittently throw temper tantrums when he became frustrated and showed signs of severe dyslexia. Branches staff worked with Brian to help him acquire skills that have dramatically improved his self-control. A dynamic, former (and very patient) elementary school teacher also works with Brian one-on-one to help him nurture a love for language and learning. Brian is now in the 2nd Grade and is demonstrating greater maturity by allowing a positive attitude to define him. His infectious smile candidly reveals that he is happy and loves to learn. He is also taking more pride in exhibiting the effort needed to overcome any challenge. Although he occasionally succumbs to bouts of frustration, he understands that he has a family at Branches that loves and supports him. As a result, he is beginning to thrive: his first report card this past school year was full of A’s and B’s! Having been shown love, kindness, and encouragement, Brian is blossoming into a bright, well-adjusted child that exercises perseverance and compassion.
The Edwards Family
Donna Edwards first came to Branches in order to purchase a vehicle through Branches’ Ways to Work program. However, it became clear to her Financial Coach that Donna and her family were struggling both financially and emotionally. This single mother of four had a complicated situation full of barriers that prevented her from feeling like she could achieve financial wellness. Therefore Donna’s Coach provided a complete assessment of her income and expenses, and her Coach also saw that she did not have enough income or sufficient credit to purchase a vehicle at that time. Donna recently had her fourth child and was put on bed rest causing her to lose her job. Before she could work with our Coach who specializes in asset-building to purchase a vehicle, she needed to work with one of our workforce development partners to obtain employment. In the meantime, Donna’s Coach began working with her to create a road map and determine what financial wellness would look like for her family.
Donna was motivated but also concerned with making sure her children had everything they needed, so we developed short term goals and evaluated the barriers that needed to be addressed so she could reach her long term goals. Donna’s urgent issues were that she needed employment, transportation, childcare, and support for her elderly father who has Alzheimer’s. As the holidays approached, Donna was also worried that she would not be able to purchase anything for her kids for Thanksgiving or Christmas. She shared with her coach, “My kids are working hard to stay positive, and they help with everything they can. The two older children are straight-A students and take on extra responsibilities, and help with their little sister that struggles in school. I just wish I could do much more for them!”
So Branches reached out to several partners and donors, and the Edwards Family was quickly adopted for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Donna’s family was provided with a full Thanksgiving meal, plus numerous presents. Her children were thrilled, and Donna felt that an emotional weight was lifted and she was filled with a new sense of confidence to attend a job interview. And she was hired!
Last but not least, in an overwhelming surprise from another one of our gracious donors, Donna and her family were gifted a car! This car would help Donna get to her new job and take her children to school and activities. Our coaches also helped Donna understand how to use her father’s Social Security supplement and with guidance from another donor, Donna was able to secure a long-term care facility for him. With a new car, a new job, childcare, and quality care for her father, Donna and her family are starting 2020 with a whole new outlook on life!
Danielle, born to Jamaican parents, was living in Florida City when she was referred to Branches at age 8. Life was challenging but Danielle started attending Summer Shade Camp, as well as the Grow after-school program and began to thrive academically. Danielle’s mother began volunteering at Branches Florida City when she was not in school herself, and has now been employed at Branches for over six years as a Program Assistant. Danielle, who sings like an angel and performs weekly in her church choir, was also carefully selected and hired by Branches to work as a Summer Guide (youth counselor) for Summer Shade Camp. During her first Summer Shade, Danielle was promoted to a leadership role and was placed in charge of planning and executing the morning opening ‘Fiesta’ and closing celebration, which involves engaging over 150 students. Danielle greeted her team members and the children every day with a genuine smile and hugs; a true role model.
In the summer of 2017, Danielle spent 6 weeks in Seoul Korea through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth which she says was simply an unforgettable experience. During the summer of 2018, Danielle was accepted into the highly competitive LEDA Leadership Summer Institute and spent several weeks participating in this wonderful program at Princeton University. Upon her return, Danielle shared with Branches staff that her LEDA summer was one of the most transformative experiences of her life and thanked Branches for getting her to where she is today. Danielle graduated from the IB Magnet Program at Coral Reel High School in 2019 and currently attends Yale University. Go Danielle!
The Branches Ways to Work car loan program provides financial education, credit building and support to working families who are in need of securing reliable transportation. Many Branches families are in need of a car to help them retain or move ahead in their jobs, reduce lateness and absenteeism at work, access education or job training and meet their family’s needs, such as transporting children to childcare and school.
Mrs. Sonia Estrada, a hard working wife and mother of three, was in desperate need of reliable transportation for herself and her family. Mrs. Estrada begins each day very early, preparing breakfast for her children, taking them to school and then continuing on to the non-profit where she works. The family’s oldest child also has cancer and Mrs. Estrada must often take him to doctor appointments, recently even having to go to the emergency room. Mrs. Estrada, a caring mother who wants nothing but the best for her children, also goes out of her way to make sure her other two children attend their daily enrichment activities. Doing all this without a car is almost unimaginable and has caused Mrs. Estrada a lot of added stress, and has even caused her to be late to work quite often or forced her to leave work early to make it on time to appointments for her or for her family.
However, after months of hard work, Mrs. Estrada received approval for a car loan for $6,000 and purchased a 2004 Nissan Altima through one of Branches’ reliable auto dealer partners. Mrs. Estrada has not missed one loan payment and is still happily working for her employer, a local non-profit organization, and is able to much more easily transport her family. She is extremely grateful for this second chance program!
When Martine Marcelin was 5 years old, she and her mother boarded a boat in Haiti to make the uncertain journey to the United States. Fortunately, they arrived safely and settled in Florida City. Martine well remembers attending first grade and how the other children made fun of her poor English and heavy accent. Finally when Martine was in sixth grade, she was referred to Branches Florida City for after school tutoring. Kim Torres, the Director of Branches’ Student Services, had seen too many girls enter their teen years, become pregnant, drop out of school and generally waste their potential.
Martine loved the care and attention she received at Branches and would spend most of her out of school hours at Branches. Kim encouraged Martine to apply to a magnet middle school program that launched her journey through a competitive high school. Martine succeeded in school and had the motivation to attend college. But one of the biggest obstacles Martine faced was how to find the funding to attend college. Through a long process of visiting colleges, researching scholarships, and filling out applications, Kim worked with Martine to find the right fit for her. In May 2009, Martine proudly graduated from Florida Southern College under a full scholarship.
After college, Martine returned to Florida City to serve as a Branches AmeriCorps member from 2009-2010. Not only did she grow as a professional through this full-time position but she also served as a role model to the children who attended Branches. While Martine worked at Branches, she met her husband Gary Marcelin who also served as a Branches AmeriCorps member. Through Gary’s work with the youth in the Climb program, he felt a strong call to ordained urban ministry and enrolled to pursue a master’s degree in Washington, DC, where Martine worked for a local non-profit. Gary graduated seminary in May 2013 and both Martine and Gary decided to return home to South Florida serve.
Martine’s decision to return to Branches as a Program Manager for the new Grow & Climb programs at Branches Lakeview is because the person she has become today is a testament to Branches’ teachings. Her decision to live for the service of others and betterment of the community has been defined, clarified and validated by her experience at Branches. In 2017, Martine was promoted to run Branches’ Climb through College & Career program. Recently, Martine has moved on to another organization but Branches is beyond proud to have had Martine on our staff, and she will always be a part of the Branches Family.
When Martine Marcelin launched the Grow program at Branches Lakeview in August of 2013, she quickly realized that 23 of the 25 students who came to the program were reading below grade level. As a result, the Branches team is focusing on reading and comprehension. One of the children named Dennis, a 2nd Grader, came to the program unable to read. Within the first week of school, Martine saw that Dennis had a weak literacy foundation and could not do any of his homework. Dennis was discouraged and negative, and he was a challenge to work because of his low self-esteem.
Martine decided to speak with Dennis’ father about his inability to read, his father said, “I don’t know how to help him, I’m only a truck driver and I can’t read.” His parents didn’t know how to help him because both his mother and father do not read their native Creole, yet alone English. Martine decided to tackle Dennis’ issue head on. Dennis is not allowed to say anything negative or use words such as “I can’t.” Dennis receives special attention and one-on-one homework help every day after school as well as tutoring focused on basic phonics foundations for reading. Only 3 months after working with Dennis, his confidence has increased tremendously, he has developed a positive attitude and Dennis is able to read well enough to understand the subject matters and complete all his assigned homework. Branches is extremely proud of him!