Follow CBSMIAMI.COM: Facebook | Twitter

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — On this week’s Mentoring Matters, we meet a woman who started a one-time only program for kids in Florida City 25 years ago. Today, she leads 440 kids; one of them offered a full scholarship to Yale University.

“When I was born I was about the size of my dad’s hand,” said Danielle Neil, a senior at Coral Reef Senior High School.

Born two months premature, Neil, was a “miracle baby”.

She continued to overcome obstacles over the years, never giving up.

She left Florida for Jamaica with her parents for a while before moving back to Florida City with just her mom for better opportunities.

“There were a lot of things to get used to, to adjust to, but, I made it,” said Neil.

Neil ended up at Branches where the goal is to help children grow deeper and climb higher.

“Branches is very distinct in the way that it sparks the light in children from many different backgrounds.  No matter where you’re from or what you do,” said Neil. “The adults at Branches, the guides at Branches, the people who are there to support you will always do so and will always be confident in your potential.”

Branches is the creation and legacy of Kim Torres.

As a graduate student, Kim came to Miami in 1993 to help with Hurricane Andrew relief.

“My plan at that time was to be here for a year. And it’s been 25 years,” said Torres.

She held a one-time, one-day only program for children in hard-hit Florida City, hooking a little boy who asked for her phone number.

“He called me every day after that,” said Torres. “He’d say ‘Kim, when are you coming back?’  And I’d say, ‘I’m not coming back.  It was a one day program.’  So he’d call me the next day and say, ‘when are you coming back?'”

However, she did go back to Florida City, putting on the program once a week, which evolved into Branches a year later.

“When I think about what Branches was like when I first started and what it’s like now, it’s really two amazing different places,” said Torres. “At that time it was just one small room.  I was a staff of one for 10 years.  But we’ve always had an incredible group of people who’ve worked with us.  In the beginning, it was volunteers.  And they would come daily to work with kids.”

Neil met Torres in 2010 as Neil was about to enter third grade.

“I remember her being there and just smiling.  And I feel like that’s the epitome of Miss Kim’s energy and her amazing ability to give support and advice whenever you need it,” said Neil. “Even if I have the oddest questions or the most out of the blue requests, or things to talk about, she’ll always be there to laugh.  She’ll always be there to smile.”

“It’s fun to hear her tell her story about that.  She had just come from Jamaica and it was difficult to be part of the culture here in Florida City.  She talks about how her hair was done and the kids made fun of it,” said Torres. “But when she came to summer shade the guides and high schoolers just loved her and accepted her.  It really gave her a vision when she was young that she really wanted to do that when she was older.”

Since then, as Torres and Branches helped bring out Neil’s self-confidence and self-esteem, the teen has taken on several leadership roles.  She even spent six weeks in Seoul, South Korea as part of a youth initiative.

“It’s been so much fun for me to see her do that, to live into her potential,” said Torres. “To see her be a part of Branches and give back to others and be an inspiration to other kids.”

Neil recently learned Yale University was offering her a free ride to the Ivy League school.

Branches is looking for more mentors to help students submit their college applications and forms, and to prepare for entrance exams.

Click here to get more information on volunteering.

If you are a mentor and would like to share your story with us, please email us at mentoringmatters@cbs.com.

Click here for more Mentoring Matters.

 

 

 

Comments