Iandrick Brown, 17, wants to be a firefighter, and after that become a cardiologist. The entering senior at Coral Gables High School may be one step closer to achieving that ambition thanks to his staying power in a pilot program with Miami police this summer.
Brown and his aunt, Karen Smith, 18, who originally signed as an office assistant, were the only two graduates Wednesday of Coconut Grove’s first Youth Empowerment Program, a male-only initiative that started out in June with 15 high school students but let Smith join, once all of the boys but her nephew were tossed or dropped out.
For their dedication, they got 18 to 25 hours a week minimum wage ($8.05) pay from the city parks department, a glass trophy and a certificate of achievement to take on job or school interviews.
Undaunted by the dismal results, Miami Police Commander Manny Morales of the Coconut Grove Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET), said he planned to offer the program again next summer. He called this summer’s pilot program “a journey,” from which “we learned a lot of lessons.”
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“We lost a lot of kids,” he said of the program. “But we discovered two exceptionally gifted individuals along the way.”
He also invoked the words of Mother Teresa to underpin his devotion to the nascent program: “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
Neighborhood Resource Officers pioneered the program in June, signing up students at Coral Gables High. But the first batch of dropouts came when the youths realized the program included a week of free sailing lessons at the Coconut Grove Yacht Club. Some couldn’t swim, or were afraid of the water. So the police lined up a park swimming instructor to work with them. But by then a bunch had left.
Others were dumped from the program for self-discipline issues such as poor attendance or disappearing after the program’s lunch, provided in a park.
“It came to one day that they just stopped coming,” said Officer Shane Maguffey, one of two neighborhood resource officers who ran the program. “I think it was peer pressure. We have some work to do.”
Some of the young men didn’t seem much interested in a program that offered a hospitality course through the Mayfair at one point, etiquette and life skills lessons at another and gave them a taste of first-responder work, with cardiopulmonary resuscitation lessons.
Not Brown. He said in a brief interview that working out with the Miami cops, particularly weight lifting, was his favorite part, because it takes him that much closer to realizing his goal of becoming an EMT, going to the firefighters academy, and then studying medicine to become a cardiologist.
“To be a firefighter, you gotta be able to lift,’ he explained.
Smith, his grandmother’s daughter, joined the program “as just a summer job, really,” she said, shyly. “It was a guy’s program” so she was taken on as an office aide.
Once the boys started dropping out, the police started including the Brito Miami Private School graduate in the program. So she got a certificate of attendance, just like her nephew. “We went to workshops and stuff,” she recalled, adding that she aspires to become a social worker so instruction on “how to be in interviews, how to get a job,” could come in handy.
She also worked out with the police in their gym at times but said, a bit wistfully, her nephew got the chance of helping a cop write a ticket — to a motorist for causing an accident.
Former schoolteacher Linda Smith, Iandrick’s grandmother and Karen’s mom, credited Maguffey and his partner in the venture, Officer Matthew Vasquez, a former Marine, who tried to impose a certain discipline on the program participants. “We need a lot of that in the Grove,” she said. “I’d like to see this program continue. Our children need it.”
Vasquez said that the police need to “just tweak the program a little bit” next year, for example by including a female cop so they can include girls. This year they had open enrollment — all 15 who signed up were accepted. Next year, he said, they’d likely do interviews first.
Morales, for his part, said he was committed to making the program a success because the police have learned “we can’t arrest our way out of the issues we have today.” Besides, he said, “out of the smallest things, the greatest miracles can grow.”
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