More than 20 professionals donated their time Wednesday night to help at-risk youths participating in Drive the Dream, an interactive jobs expo held at SLAM! Academy near Marlins Park.
The free inaugural event, which gave the young people an opportunity to learn more about their dream jobs, was arranged by Urban Promise Miami, a faith-based afterschool and summer mentorship nonprofit.
Between 6 and 10 p.m., more than 35 kids had access to professionals including a scuba instructor, radio personality, lawyer, sound engineer, chef and several bankers, doctors and firefighters. Approximately 125 parents, professional associates and nonparticipating children were also in attendance to show their support.
“It’s wonderful that we have all these kids exposed to all of these professionals — all kinds of careers,” said Dr. Ana Ojeda, clinical psychologist and Urban Promise Miami co-founder. “Our goal is to show that no dream is impossible to reach. This is our first event, and I think it’s going to be even better next year.”
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Drive the Dream is the brainchild of Ryan Carter, Urban Promise Miami director of development. The idea came to him while speaking about dream jobs with one of the more than 70 kids currently enrolled in programs at the organization’s headquarters in Little Havana. Eventually, he asked each of them what their greatest ambitions were and did his best to find willing local professionals working those jobs to appear at the event.
“With Drive the Dream, we wanted to give back to our kids in a unique way something they can hold onto and have as a source of inspiration,” he said. “Kids are always looking for role models, and sometimes the ones they find aren’t positive. If we can provide a standout event that connects kids with great leaders of the community who push and inspire them, that’s something I want to champion.”
After introductory speeches and a group demonstration led by Urban Promise Miami Team Leader Mike Rodriguez, a 45-minute discussion was held featuring five panelists who fielded questions from the stage: BB&T banker Jay Hall, Miami-Dade police officer Nick Perez, EcoTech Visions Chief Lab Engineer Kenyona Pierre, NASA Communication and Public Engagement Deputy Director Hortense Diggs and producer and songwriter Rico Love.
A 25-minute halftime show followed, featuring a performance from the SLAM! cheerleading squad and a three-point competition for Miami Heat tickets. Sixteen professionals then broke off to host individual question-and-answer sessions until the event ended.
“For our next event, we hope to have twice as many children and twice as many professionals involved,” said Kristy Nuñez, assistant state attorney and Urban Promise Miami co-founder.
Best friends since middle school, Nuñez and Ojeda founded Urban Promise Miami after witnessing through their professions the difficulties inner-city children encounter. They modeled their organization after UrbanPromise, created in 1998 in New Jersey by Bruce Main, with whom they raised $60,000 to launch their own program in 2010.
Children may join at age 5 to participate in free programs including summer camp, tutoring, afterschool activities and family counseling. The kids assume more responsibilities as they progress. As teens, some become Street Leaders — counselors who are paid stipends and credited with community service hours. A few, like Rodriguez, are promoted to Team Leader and manage entire classes.
“They help with homework, run classes and activities — it’s essentially a job training program,” said Scott Impola, Urban Promise Miami executive director. “For three days a week after high school, they work with kids in the program and also receive résumé training, communication workshops and other life skills they might not otherwise pick up in their traditional academic pursuits.”
Now in its seventh year, Urban Promise Miami still maintains an impressive 100 percent high school graduation rate. With Drive the Dream, the organization now has a way to provide guidance to their kids beyond graduation and into adulthood.
“Children, particularly from the inner cities and low-income areas, aren’t necessarily exposed to as many opportunities,” Nuñez said. “I think this inspires them and gives them the opportunity to reach out and have someone they can ask questions of, whose career is something they may not have thought possible before.”
Urban Promise Miami is located at 677 SW First St. For more information, visit www.UPMiami.org, email email@example.com or call 786-334-5858.