After his election in 2016, the mayor of Miami Lakes pledged to bridge the gap between residents and the town’s special needs community.
In late August, that promise has turned into a collaboration between the town and Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center, which looks for ways communities to improve their economies and help residents become more self-sufficient.
The center’s researchers will talk to both groups to determine what type of services they would like the town to offer for its special needs residents, including those on the autism spectrum and others with disabilities.
The center has signed a $10,000 agreement with the town, which will cover all research and staff expenses. The money is coming from the town budget, with funds raised, in part, through the annual Mayor’s Charity Gala. Last year, the gala raised about $20,000.
“There is a moral obligation in communities, not only as a leader but as a resident, to be inclusive and assist brothers and sisters who need a little extra help.” said Mayor Manny Cid, 36, who is serving his first term as mayor.
The partnership, which began nine weeks ago, consists of a two-part project conducted over 13 weeks by the FIU researchers.
In the first stage, the researchers will study what the town and other municipalities have done regarding accommodating people with special needs.
The second stage will consist of direct interviews with two to five stakeholders such as council members, educators, caregivers, high- functioning individuals with disabilities and their parents. They also will conduct focus groups with nine to 12 Miami Lakes residents.
One of the main challenges will be to get people to talk about the issues honestly. A family member may be hesitant to talk about an issue openly in a focus group.
“This is one of the very reasons why we try to reach out to trustworthy individuals and stakeholders in the town,” said Helen Roldan, the center’s research and outreach coordinator. “It’s to guide us in who should be involved.
“We reach out to council members, town staff, and the special needs advisory board to get their recommendation on who is part of the community and who can really tell us what the needs are within the town.”
The center has worked with Miami-Dade County on something similar.
The center studied the services provided to adult individuals with autism and developmental disabilities in Miami-Dade County. The researchers conducted interviews to identify service gaps.
Cid wants to take some of the money raised from the gala, after the $10,000 contract, and use it to fund projects such as braille business cards, job workshops for special needs adults and transportation services for disabled individuals.
“My hope is that our work will truly inform the town on the ways we can be more inclusive so that every resident feels like they belong and are considered,” Roldan said.