In the small town of Miami, Ariz. young people are taking over. They are growing, changing, maturing, and finally understanding that they matter. This is a story of triumph over adversity, of challenging ideals with a focus on service –– this is Miami Kids Machine.
It was last summer when the town of Miami was in crisis. There were too many kids roaming the streets with nothing to do. An increase in vandalism and burglaries called for quick thinking and action. The Miami Police Department found that the perpetrators behind the summer crime spree were children, so they implemented a summer youth group to try and get a handle on the situation. The result: 32 kids attending, participating, and communicating with authority figures. According to Christine Duarte of the Miami PD, they had planned on ending the program after school started but parents and guardians begged them to keep the program going. “We received such a positive response and we’ve seen a real change in the kids, how could we end the program?” asked Duarte. That’s when Miami’s ‘Beat the Heat’ became Miami Kids Machine, which is now comprised of 58 members and eight to 10 volunteers.
In reality, some of the kids that make up the Miami Kids Machine are being raised in single parent homes or by their grandparents. Some of their parents are incarcerated and some are on drugs, and often the only attention they receive has negative connotations. Shelley Dalley Perry, a certified teacher and Miami Kids Machine volunteer noted that these kids have real traumas and behaviors due to the absence of a mother or father figure. “Often we see these kids being mean to their Nanas,” said Dalley Perry. “We strive to teach them about helping others and we see the wheels turning in their heads and they are starting to realize that they need to treat their Nanas better.”
Thanks to the dedication of Duarte, Dalley Perry, and Stephanie Borunda, the group continues to grow and change. “We normally have talk time,” said Duarte. “We try to always have a topic.” The group keeps a running point system for each member. If the child is caught misbehaving or bullying they lose points. “Because the PD sponsors the group, we often get calls from community members or teachers if the kids are caught bullying others or causing trouble,” said Dalley Perry.
The point system was decided by the whole group and every child started with 100 points. The Miami Kids Machine meets every Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. If bad things are reported on Thursday, those members that are losing points face consequences on Friday and Saturday. Often they come in early and do community service to make up for missing points. If members are having trouble in school, the group commits to homework help on Fridays as well.
David Stidham, 11, is at the top of the leader board this week. David, sees himself as a role model for the younger kids and strives to do the best he can. David, his two sisters and a brother, live with his grandmother. Just last summer, David got in trouble for going into a house that he thought was abandoned but it wasn’t. With the help of Miami Kids Machine, in a matter of weeks David changed his point of view on making smart choices. “I’m interested in law and maybe being a lawyer,” said David.
The Miami Kids Machine takes part in fun events like kickball games and crafts. They have been busy over the last few weeks helping the town get ready for Miami’s Small Town Christmas.
“We are just trying to do the best we can for these kids,” said Duarte. A lot of times, that means volunteers are paying for things out of their own pockets. While the group is looking to apply for possible grants to help fund snacks and out of town field trips, they find themselves with a definite need this holiday season.
“Our goal is to provide 200 presents for children attending Miami’s Small Town Christmas,” said Duarte.
Those interested in donating a new toy or make a donation to the Miami Kids Machine please go to the Miami Police Department.