Day of service in the rain

Students participating in CGIU spent the morning coloring with children at the Community Partnership for the Homeless center, in Homestead, FL. Brittney Bomnin//Photo Editor

On the last day of the Clinton Global Initiative at the University of Miami, conference attendees traded their business casual attire for T-shirts, jeans and sneakers.

On Sunday, more than 1,000 students and staff participated in a day of service for the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust in Homestead.

From mulching to painting to constructing art installations, participants split into 30 separate projects that were meant to prepare the former Homestead Air Reserve for its upcoming renovation.

“This is a once in a lifetime event,” said Ruth Cardona, assistant center coordinator for the Community Partnership for the Homeless (CPHI). “We’ve had big projects before but never this big or this magnitude. We’re so blessed.”

Volunteers ranged from renowned basketball player Alonzo Mourning and football player Nnamdi Asomugha, to community leaders Carlos Alvarez and college students from the University of Miami and around the world.

“It was really cool to see you were able to make a difference. Individual contributions might mean little to us, but they mean the world to the people we’re helping,” said Christina Farmer, student government president. “Even though it was raining, people were cheering and still willing to help no matter what.”

From 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., conference participants took over the complex and took on the task to beautify the location and make it feel more like home for its residents. Some participants, Sophie Zumout from University of the Pacific in California, felt that it put the entire weekend into perspective.

“It’s one thing is to sit around and talk about service and another thing is to actually get out there and do it,” Zumout said. “I never realized how much college students wanted to help and how much they were already doing.”

Participant Warkha Lalchand from the American University in Dubai said that the service project was a nice change of pace before heading home.

“We keep hearing all this ‘get your hands dirty,’” Lalchand said. “Before heading home we thought we’d start making a difference right now.”

The Homestead complex currently houses around 500 formerly homeless individuals and families. It is a full-service homeless assistant center complete with on-site health care, dental care, a Head Start school program, case management, housing for U.S. veterans and dog kennel. Their mission is to “offer dignity and hope to all so that no person sleeps on the streets of our community.”

“You know, they said that this [renovation] couldn’t be accomplished,” said participant Mariajose Ortega, from Miami-Dade College. “It feels good to know we’re helping get something done that people said wouldn’t work.”

The complex, which currently consists of 300 beds and 55 units of traditional housing, will be expanded to include 145 permanent housing units, an organic nursery and a farmer’s market.

For staff members and participants, this service event is a sign of the times to come.

“If the future lies in our shoulders and the shoulders of those younger than us,” Zumout said. “I think we stand in really good shape.”

Lila Albizu may be contacted at