Firewall strives to help students achieve academic success and build character, but another priority is meeting the needs of their families. It is hard for families to adapt to life during COVID-19 when they are unable to put food on their tables. We are thrilled to partner again with Harvest Drive to change that reality.
Harvest Drive partners with Publix to provide the food that we give our families. Volunteers from Harvest Drive come equipped with supplies as they pack the meals and help our staff pass them out to many of the families we serve at Firewall.
The need is great, and thanks to Firewall’s partnership with Harvest Drive, we are able to meet the needs of the Davie community. When we tell families that we have food for them, they come without hesitation. We have received countless texts from grateful parents that remind us why what we do is so essential. “Thank you for always thinking of us. You guys really care,” said one of our parents.
From day one of COVID-19 shutting down daily activities, events, and socializing, we’ve been hard at work helping our community. Whether we have been packing and handing out groceries to families in need or tutoring students over video chat services, we have continued to serve Broward County. We want to share how this is happening through “A Day in the Life of an AmeriCorps Firewall Mentor”.
“I wake up pretty early so that I can have some breakfast before logging on to tutor my students. While I’m eating breakfast, I take a few minutes to look through all of our social media platforms to make sure that we are staying in close contact with our followers. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, when I sit down to tutor on my computer I always make sure that I have a trusty stylus by my side so I am able to write on the screen. I think that being able to write on the screen gives more of a personal touch to tutoring. After I finish the tutoring session for that hour, I give that student advice and links to additional resources so they can continue practicing the topic we went over. Every hour, I log on to help any student that logs on for tutoring. Once in a while, I also text their parents to remind them of our tutoring sessions and the topics we are working on. With all of that work, my day usually finishes around 4 pm.”
Many of our mentors’ days look like this as they continue to build those relationships with the students that we serve. This is just a glimpse of how we are combating COVID-19.
COVID-19 has impacted us all. The world has been essentially shut down, but Firewall Centers wanted to create a sense of normalcy for the students that we no longer get to see in person. Our primary concern is for the health and well-being of the students and communities we serve, so we started virtual tutoring sessions. Even though the school buildings are closed, students still have work and need assistance.
Throughout the week, our mentors go online and help students in any way that they can. Our mentors are continuing to contact parents, check grades, and are there to listen to the students during this difficult time. Marcela, a mentor who serves at Plantation High School, has loved the opportunity to talk to the students and help them from afar. Marcela said, “I know the students are happy to see a familiar face. We chat for a bit, catch up on how they are doing, then jump into the homework.”
Even though we won’t be with our students as they finish up the school year, we are happy we have the opportunity to see them online and look forward to seeing many of them next year.
Transforming students into servant leaders is at the core of what we do here at Firewall Centers. A perfect way for the students to see how a servant leader should act is by looking to our AmeriCorps Firewall mentors. This year, we have seen several former Firewall students become part of our mentor teams. They are some of our best mentors, as they are able to connect with the students on a deeper level.
Sebastian Requena, a former Firewall student, is serving at our Flamingo Elementary center as a mentor to his own group of students. Sebastian was a part of our program starting when he was in sixth grade. He is currently a senior at Western High School and walks to his center daily after school.
We have watched Sebastian grow into a young man who truly exemplifies the characteristics and life lessons that we teach our students. He works hard in school and then works hard after school to invest in some of our elementary students.
Next year, Sebastian plans on going to school for Bio Medical Engineering to work with prosthetics. We are so happy that current Firewall students have someone like Sebastian to look up to.
On March 5th, Firewall Centers hosted an amazing breakfast at Community Christian Church where pastors and leaders from churches across Broward County gathered together. This breakfast was to inform the church community of what Firewall does to impact students’ lives and how they can be a part of it.
Having partners in the community is vital for growth. We currently partner with businesses, other non-profits, and churches all across the county. By reaching out to more churches, we hope to increase in volunteers, mentors, and even join together to do projects and outreaches to help the community.
Pastors from Greenhouse, Calvary Chapel Plantation, and Vertical Church spoke about their experiences partnering with Firewall. Church leaders were able to hear about the impact Firewall has on not only their students, but the student’s families and community as a whole. Pastor Greg from Greenhouse spoke about how he was a previous intern with Firewall. He was blown away with how real the relationships between the mentors and the students were. Pastor Greg loved how the mentors had the opportunity to display the love of Christ every day. “Volunteering with this program is one of the best decisions I have ever made,” Greg Grzesiak said. Pastor Virg from Vertical Church spoke about the outreach opportunities and church projects that they have worked on with us. Pastor Chris from Calvary Chapel Plantation spoke about the importance of churches joining together in schools where God is already at work. Pastor Chris mentioned the multiple outreaches that we have done together including a Thanksgiving outreach and packing backpacks full of supplies for needy families. We have been able to greatly impact the families of our students and there are even more ways to love on them when the church is joining in.
People who want to get involved have the chance to volunteer with us and to help students improve their reading skills and complete their homework. Volunteers are also welcome during Serve-A-Thon month, which is taking place in April. College and post-college students can apply to become AmeriCorps Firewall mentors for the 2020-2021 school year where they will receive a stipend and education award towards tuition and loans. We are excited for the churches to use their creativity to come up with other opportunities for us to work together.
Thank you to Community Christian Church for letting us use their campus to hold this event and to Chick Fil A for the delicious meal.
The AmeriCorps Firewall mentors who serve at our centers are so important and play a huge role in the lives of the students that they invest in daily. We are happy that so many college and post college students want to be a part of what we’re doing to help transform students into servant leaders. With that being said, we want our AmeriCorps mentors to be prepared to enter the schools that they will be serving.
In January, we had an AmeriCorps training with a special guest from the United Way of Broward, Aisha McDonald. She spoke on mental health and the importance of truly understanding what that means. Due to the fact that our mentors spend every day in schools working with students, it is necessary to be aware of mental health. The mentors were given tips on how to handle situations that may arise while at the schools. This training was a great opportunity for mentors to be educated on a topic that is so prevalent in today’s society.
During this training, we also acknowledged the Firewall centers that are doing an extra awesome job working as a team. The three centers that were recognized for their performance were Lauderhill 6-12, Flamingo Elementary, and Crystal Lake Middle.
We can’t wait for our next training!
This year, Firewall Centers aims to focus and expand its already prevalent service footprint in Broward County. Students who are a part of Firewall had their first opportunity of the new year to serve our local senior community by visiting Artis Senior Living of Davie. Many of us would like to imagine that the seniors of our community are enjoying their years reminiscing on all of their life memories. However, many are not experiencing that because they have been placed in nursing homes where they have limited contact with family and friends. An estimated 60% of residents in nursing homes never have a single visitor and spend weekends, birthdays, and even holidays by themselves.
How can Firewall make a positive impact on changing this reality? Students from both Plantation High School and Western High School were brought to Artis Senior Living of Davie, where all of the residents are experiencing symptoms of dementia. This gave our students the opportunity to model the servant leadership lifestyle that is a part of everything that Firewall instills.
Daily, our students are being taught the importance of having good character and serving the people around them. When the idea was presented to the students they were excited for the opportunity to be the first visitor for many of the residents. At Artis Senior Living of Davie we spent time with the residents by doing crafts, listening to music, and playing games. The students also talked with the residents and heard about their different life experiences. Two juniors from Plantation High School expressed that they are excited to go back and talk to one of the women that they spent time with.
This month for Valentine’s Day, our students will be making handmade cards for residents living in different elderly care centers. This is their third year doing this. We love seeing our students serve others!
All around the world different months of the year are given “month-long observances.” April is Autism Awareness month, February is Black History month, and July is even known as National Ice Cream month. One observance that is close to our heart is National Mentor month which takes place this month. Firewall Centers wouldn’t be what it is today without the faithful mentors who show up day after day to serve our students. Our AmeriCorps Firewall mentors put their heart and soul into helping students achieve academic success, build character, and transform into servant leaders.
The mentors at Firewall are college and post-college students who are AmeriCorps members and amazing role models to the students of Broward County. They make such an impact on the students that we serve, but the students are also impacting the mentors every day. It is so rewarding and encouraging to the mentors when students that they have been investing in show improvement in their grades and character.
One of our previous Firewall mentors, John, enjoyed playing a role in helping high school students realize their full potential. “I was ecstatic about the opportunity to work with young people. High school students should be filled with hopefulness and optimism about the future. Unfortunately, many at-risk youth are shackled by low expectations and have a low opinion of their abilities. At Firewall, I saw firsthand the life-changing power of mentoring. We help students visualize themselves as the next doctors, lawyers, police officers, and mechanics by working with students to develop a concrete plan that make their dreams a realistic achievement,” said John.
We currently have 60+ mentors serving at our different centers and will need even more for next year. Recruitment for mentors will begin in the next few months. If you have ever had an interest in becoming a Firewall mentor, consider applying this year.
To all of our mentors, thank you for your service.
When thinking about Christmas time, everyone pictures their own special traditions and the ways that make it feel like Christmas to them. The holiday season looks different for everyone. Some enjoy the season by receiving gifts and spending time with their loved ones, while others enjoy it by giving. We love seeing our students smile, especially when it’s caused by people who through their actions, are applying our principle of “Keep Giving Back”.
This year, one of our board members, Aaron McKee, and his wife Toni, purchased board games for every one of our student’s at Walker Elementary School for Christmas. Walker Elementary School is located within Fort Lauderdale’s 33311 zip code where the per capita income is $15,490 and the average household income is only $43,220. The need is great in the neighborhoods surrounding the school which is why Firewall chose to serve Walker and it’s students. In fact, the school is located in an area that has a higher rate of childhood poverty than almost 97% of U.S. neighborhoods, and many of these children attend Walker. The smiles on the student’s faces are enough to show how much this meant to them.
It is our mission to help the students who are a part of Firewall Centers achieve academic success, build character, and transform into servant leaders. It was such a great opportunity for the students to see one of our board members and his wife serving and blessing them this holiday season.
Firewall Centers strives to deepen its impact on families by working collaboratively with other organizations. Firewall and Harvest Drive have worked together over the last 7 years, gathering food for the families of many of our students. Harvest Drive strives to educate students on the issue of hunger in our community and empower them to take leadership roles in lessening hunger’s devastating impact. During the month of December, we sat down with them to discuss how we can grow our partnership in 2020.
One way that we will be collaborating is by bringing our students and mentors together to one location to pack 144 boxes of nonperishable items provided by Harvest Drive. This will take place during our 7th annual Serve-A-Thon in the spring, and these boxes will then be distributed to the families that we serve who are most in need.
During this new year, we are planning to have many opportunities to impact Broward County. Through our annual Serve-A-Thon, we will be collaborating with multiple non-profits and serving the community with about 20 different projects. It is important that the students at Firewall learn how to serve others while being a part of our program. Through Serve-A-Thon, Firewall students will learn the importance of serving by making cards for senior citizens, bags with supplies for the homeless, collecting canned food items for Harvest Drive, and more.
Everyone is eager to see what will unfold as these organizations work together to bring change to our community.