In what part of town do you live?
How long have you lived in the area?
Around 10 years.
How did you pick Miami Springs?
My grandparents grew up in Miami Springs. My grandfather worked for Eastern Airlines and my mom and my uncle grew up around here. When my wife and I got married and started doing the domestic thing, we wanted to pick an area that would be good for a family. So, we settled in the Springs.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Miami Lakes.
Did you always think you’d stay in South Florida?
No. I went to school down here at University of Miami and grad school and then started working and got a job here and my wife got a good job. So we stayed. My family’s down here and my brother and my uncle and everybody. We love it down here.
What keeps you busy during the week?
I’m a professor at FIU and I run a not-for-profit drug and mental health treatment center, that’s in Allapattah, by Jackson Memorial hospital.
What do you teach at FIU?
I teach graduate level classes in the school of social work on addiction and treatment.
How did you decide on that specialty?
It’s a long story. When I was in undergrad at UM, I joined a student activist group called STAND (Students Towards a New Democracy) I always liked psychology. So I got into social work as a way of melding those two worlds, psychology and social advocacy and social justice.
Would you share about the social justice work you’re doing now?
At the treatment center, that I’ve been with for just around 10 years, we primarily serve homeless individuals in South Florida. Unfortunately these are people with severe mental illness and problems with addiction and are the most under served population. I definitely feel like these individuals need the assistance more than anybody and representation for them is hard to come by. It’s very rewarding. It’s great work.
Tell us a little bit about the rewarding part.
When you see somebody who’s homeless on the streets and has nothing and they’re suffering from addiction and no job, no nothing. And then to see them a couple years later, doing well clean and sober with a job and, an apartment, and rekindled with their family and their children. There’s nothing greater.
Do your students get involved with the center?
I supervise graduate students in social work who are doing their practicum. For their master’s, they have to do around 900 hours of direct service. Every semester, I supervise around 40 grad students who are in all the different not for profit organizations in South Florida. So, it’s not only with my center, but with all the different agencies in South Florida that serve the people – everything from child welfare to domestic violence shelters to disability resource centers, everything.
What helps people? What does effective treatment look like?
There’s no objective answer to that question, but it’s a very good question. Everybody’s so different. Right? So everybody comes with their own story. I think the amazing thing about social work, and psychotherapy in general, is that you truly have to get into the person’s world in order to understand their challenges and strengths. You give them coping skills to deal with their challenges. Then you play on their strengths. What are the things that you enjoy that you’re good at and use those things to help them obtain whatever it is that they want to obtain and do with their life. You really get to know each person individually and it’s a different approach towards treatment for every single person.
What is the name of your center?
Better Way of Miami. We’ve been around since 1984. We’re one of the oldest treatment centers in South Florida.
What does you responsibility at the center entail?
Everything. I’m the assistant CEO or like the chief operating officer. I’m in charge of getting new funding grants, acting as the liaison with the different agencies in South Florida, overseeing all the clinical services, overseeing all of the day to day services from finance to our housing programs, everything. It’s great. I enjoy working and understanding systems and how those things work so that everything works together in homeostasis. I don’t do much direct practice anymore. The direct practice I do now is my work with students.
What do you guys need most from the community?
We’re grant funded completely, so we don’t charge anything for anybody that comes into the program and we don’t even charge insurance. We’re not relying on donations, but we do accept donations because things like capital improvements on the building, or cookouts for the team, or things like new gym equipment can’t come from grant funding.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I am a fisherman. And, I collect vinyl records. I am an avid gardener as you always see me with some plants in the back of my car, every time I stop by. Then, I just like hanging and playing with my kids.
Share with us a little about the experience coming to our drive through?
Oh, man. It’s been awesome. I started going to you guys at the farmer’s market a long time ago. The mandate of the day from my kids was always a Rainbow Smoothie. Then we started coming to you guys when the pandemic happened. When things got a little crazy, we were looking for nice things to do and we were there during the pandemic pretty much every weekend. It was a nice remembrance of normalcy.
What do you get when you come by?
Always four rainbow smoothies. That’s the standard. Sometimes we grab ice cream. When you guys have the guacamole, we always get it.
What other places do you and your family like going to that you might recommend?
When we come down and visit you guys, we usually always go to the Little River Cooperative farm. It’s an awesome farm for any local gardeners. They have very good plants and they are very helpful people. They also have classes and different things that they offer. We also go to Jack Lyon nursery.
What about favorite restaurants or places to eat?
We like hole in the walls. My favorite restaurant poke in Miami is Ono Poke in Wynwood. In Miami Springs, there’s a couple of good restaurants. There’s Crackers and there’s My Little Greek Deli, which is amazing. They have a Mykonos salad which is awesome. Their gyros are amazing and they have braised lamb shank which is really good.
What is Miami’s best kept secret?
I would say you guys would definitely be on that list. Fairchild is amazing, exploring the natural parks too like the Gumbo Limbo trail in Everglades National Park, Shark Valley, going down to the keys, Bill Bags State Park, Virginia Key… I’m an outdoorsy person, so those are my favorite places to go.
What for you is a worthy splurge?
What do you have your eye on that you’d like to get?
As you know, I am a big Grateful Dead guy. So, anything that comes across my purview like boot legs from old live 70’s shows. I have close to 230 dead albums. I have a bootleg from the Warlocks. I bought a collection of taped shows from this guy who passed away’s son. I have like 200 shows that this guy recorded himself.
Where else do you find records? Do you trade for them?
Some by trading, some off eBay. There are some hidden spots in Miami. Mikey, over at Technique Records on 79th street is amazing and he can usually find really cool stuff. Yesterday and Today on Bird Road. The most hidden record spot for new stuff is the Museo Del Disco. It is a true record store that’s been there for a long time.
What community groups might you like to promote or share?
I have a million different groups. There’s Feeding South Florida, I think they are important in relation to what you guys do. There’s the Homeless Trust which is important. If anybody knows somebody who’s at risk of homelessness or needs assistance, they can always contact the Homeless Trust. Miami’s amazing. There’s organizations that work on behalf of every single specific subpopulation. With the LGBTQ community, there’s the YES Institute and the Pride Center, Latino Salude. There’s a lot.
What question would you like to ask us?
(RR) What are your plans for the future?
(A+W) We are finally planning some summer events on the farm! That’s probably the most exciting plan coming up.
What question, challenge, or words of advice would you like to pose to the community?
Do something that you love because even if it’s challenging, it’s not going to be considered work. And don’t worry about money, because the money will come as long as you work hard, it’ll figure itself out.