Fitness For Camillus House Displaced Children

I don’t like the title of this post. I just wanted to make sure you read it, and if you are short on time …. just scroll past the Camillus House logo.

As one door closes, another one opens; life reads as chapters in a book that begin and end. You don’t walk before you crawl, you don’t become a CEO out of college.

After Ironman Florida in 2013, I raced the South Beach triathlon with my severely disabled friend Kerry in what was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. But, as I wrote here, ThumbsUp crossed a threshold. It is something too good and powerful to be kept small. It’s become a nonprofit including other athletes and future projects. I love ThumbsUp: always have, always will. But I won’t be a part of growing it. I have learned I am a compulsive social entrepreneur. There are too many projects out there, and if ThumbsUp is in the capable hands of Kerry and the Board … I am happy to let it go and move on to my next thing.

One of the most awesome challenges I've put myself through.

One of the most awesome challenges I’ve put myself through.

That is where I am now, and I am once again ridiculously excited.

When I first moved to Miami I worked at Camillus House, a homeless advocacy agency providing a continuum of care for persons who are homeless. From a bed, a meal, or shower to medical care and permanent housing, Camillus’ mission is to eradicate homelessness in Miami Dade County.

Unfortunately there are homeless children and families. Homelessness is defined by anyone who is living either in a dwelling not intended for human inhabitance, a public or private temporary shelter, is within 14 days of being without a permanent place to sleep at night, leaving an institution with nowhere to go, or a victim fleeing a domestic violence situation.

Diana and her boys came to Camillus fleeing domestic violence.

Diana and her boys came to Camillus fleeing domestic violence.

In Miami Dade, a homeless count is held twice a year.  This is one night where volunteers scour the streets and count how many individuals are homeless.  In the Summer of 2014, the number of unsheltered individuals decreased by 7% to 792.  However, the number of sheltered individuals (those persons who live in emergency or transitional housing) increased by 8% to 3,349.  These include families with children.  Families generally become homeless because they live paycheck to paycheck and one member became unemployed, ill or is escaping domestic violence.

One of the Camillus House transitional housing facilities is the Mother Seton Village located in Homestead Florida. Here, entire families with children come from shelters, motels or sometimes their car and are able to live for up to two years in the 39 apartments at the complex. Today, 95 children live at Mother Seton and though I hate the label, are considered displaced.

Aaron & Liana found themselves homeless after the death of Liana's mother, the family breadwinner.

Aaron & Liana found themselves homeless after the death of Liana’s mother, the family breadwinner.

These children have lived through trauma and could not form lasting relationships with peers as they constantly moved. They had few, if any, possessions and lived in a very unpredictable world. But at Camillus House, families can stay for up to two years giving them a chance to put their lives back together, find and maintain employment, and build up savings. It gives children safety, stability, and some freedom from the rules of life in a shelter. The idea here is that families can be secure enough to move to permanent housing without being at risk of becoming homeless again. It’s not a free ride, families must pay an adjusted portion of their income in service fees.

Patiana received training, got a job, and is now able to take care of her son Montreal without the risk of becoming homeless next month.

Patiana received training, got a job, and is now able to take care of her son Montreal without the risk of becoming homeless next month.

But that is what I’ve read, not what I know. And if I don’t know, my own children know even less. Unlike their mom who grew up in a developing country, my boys are not exposed daily to poverty. They live in a bubble through no fault of their own. They just aren’t exposed to other children who have a vastly different life story than their own. They think all children go to school, have fun, ride bikes, eat at restaurants and travel.

That is about to change.

camillus house fitness program

I spoke to Lilly and Caryn, two of my triathlon friends who were involved in the Swim For Alligator Lighthouse project. And we developed an idea that has taken a life of its’ own:

The Camillus House Run Club (with a Twist)

I know it’s a terrible name, but the kids will come up with something better.

This summer, fifteen to twenty children between the ages of seven and fourteen, living at Camillus House’s Mother Seton Village, will be selected to attend a running focused one-week summer camp. They will be training together with children from the Tri4Kidz triathlon team who are mostly from affluent and sheltered communities. Together, they must reach certain fitness goals. During camp, they will participate in training and team building activities and everyone will be timed in a one mile run.

triathlon, children's triathlon

Tri4Kidz Coach Lilly (with my boys) is the mastermind of the methodology that will bring these children of completely different backgrounds together to form a team.

Camp will be held both at Camillus House in Homestead and Crandon Park in Key Biscayne. This will give children a taste of the environment the other one lives in. Throughout the rest of the summer, to keep continuity in the program, Tri4Kidz and Camillus House children will be partnered and given fitness assignments to complete. They will have to communicate with each other. When we return in the late summer, we will all meet again and have another evaluation. IF 80% of all children beat their summer camp time, then they have earned a bicycle not just for the children in the team, but for EVERY CHILD AT MOTHER SETON.  Remember, there are 95 of them!

The Camillus House Run Team will train around here ...

The Camillus House Run Team will train around here …

This way, the entire community rallies behind the team and help them reach their goals as they too have a vested interest. And those children participating will feel incredibly empowered by having done something so extraordinary for their entire community. Finally, because all children will have bicycles, active play will become a part of life at Mother Seton.

Bike Safe will help organize a bike rodeo to teach children how to ride and ride safely, and we are coordinating a maintenance program for spare parts and pieces since a bike with a flat tire is of no use to anyone.

Bike Safe staffer teaching children signaling skills

Bike Safe staffer teaching children signaling skills

I know, it’s hard. But we can do it and here is how you can help:

If you are in the Miami(ish) area:

  • Donate running shoes for the 15-20 Camillus children so they have proper footwear. We are also creating a goodie bag … so if you have 15 new water bottles, tshirts, socks, towels, whatever …. We’ll take it. Remember, these children rarely have NEW items that are just theirs.
  • Donate a bicycle that your child has outgrown. We can pick it up. If you feel inclined to have it fixed up before we get it even better but we’ll take it if in decent condition.
  • Hold a bicycle collection at your school, office or building. Many home buildings have bike racks overflowing with old bikes no one uses. We will take them!
  • Donate your time to repair bicycles.
  • Put us in touch with your favorite bike store. They could hold a collection and repair the bicycles they receive to be ready to donate. We will gladly promote them!
  • Helmets! We need new helmets.
  • Introduce us to potential corporate sponsors
  • Donate financial resources to purchase spare and replacement parts.
Some of building bike racks might look like this, help get some of those unused bikes into the hands of those who have none!

Some of building bike racks might look like this, help get some of those unused bikes into the hands of those who have none!

If you are not in South Florida but would like to help, we set up this page to receive financial contributions. At this time, contributions are NOT tax deductible. Contributions received here would go mostly for bike repairs, spare parts, and any helmets we weren’t able to secure. We are outfitting over eighty children and we want them to ride bicycles long after the program finishes so this is a significant cost.

Sports unify. Children are the same regardless of their skin color and economic background. We are using running as the tool to get these children to not just meet each other, but really work together towards a goal and be empowered. Who knows what seed we will be planting on any of those children, on the community who will be more active with their bicycles, and on adults like us who watch the team develop.

Things won’t all be perfect, but this sure is a program I can get excited about and I hope you will too.

If you have additional questions, comments or concerns please feel free to email me at triathlonmami@gmail.com.

Thank you in advance for your support in yet another adventure.

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