Helping Hands in Miami Lakes: The Special Needs Advisory Board

Community By Alexandra Herrera, Reporter Wednesday, August 31, 2022

     The new Helping Hands column will focus on the town’s 12 volunteer committees and boards that promote various causes in Miami Lakes and help the town government serve the community. 

     Committee activities are funded by the town budget and by ticket sales from some events. 

     “All the events that you see in the town are because of the committees [and] the volunteers that make that happen,” Councilwoman Marilyn Ruano said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do half the things that we do.”

Committee: Special Needs Advisory Board 

Founded: April 12, 2011 

Chair: John Rogger 

Vice Chair: Vivian Levy. Members: Jesenia Orellana, Madelin Santana, Alexandra Socorro, Francisco Tollinche and Clarimar Zeledon. 

Purpose: To create a “model town for inclusion,” by identifying residents with special needs and connecting them to programs, services and events, the town website says. It also identifies unmet needs and works to find solutions. During monthly meetings, the board organizes events and plans its participation at town-wide events to promote inclusion. Residents on the board say their volunteering is about helping their neighbors with a cause that’s important to them. Newly-appointed recording secretary Alexandra Socorro is a lifelong Miami Laker who has always worked with children, which is how she learned firsthand what autism was.

     “Once I found out we had a board, it’s when I decided to take action,” Socorro said. Socorro is general manager at Jumpstart Child Enrichment Center. She says she’s able to balance work and committee responsibilities because the board meets one night per month, while she works mornings. She said she feels she is making a difference being on the committee. 

      Board member Franciso Tollinche, who is the site director for GiGi’s Playhouse in Miami Lakes which serves individuals with Down syndrome, said after moving to town he realized the board was a way to create change and also support the community. 

     “I wanted to be a part of this,” Tollinche said. “I knew there was a good way to make changes.” 

     Proceeds from the Mayor’s Charity Gala on Sept. 24 will be donated to the board. 

     It has also held events at Painting with a Twist to raise funds. 

     It created the Special Needs Registry Program, which identifies residents with special needs so that they remain safe while interacting with police and other authorities during an emergency. The board also supports Spectrum Dance Therapy for kids with Autism and other disabilities to have a safe and inclusive space to learn dance. 

To Join:  File a form with Miami Lakes Town Clerk Gina Inguanzo and attend two committee meetings. Applicants must live or work in town. 

     Some committees require a background check.  For more information go to: https://bit.ly/3pDNZm9

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