If ever there was a time for our youth to be fixated on their own problems and put aside any suffering in other parts of the world, this would likely be it. The United States is leading the world in terms of cases and deaths from COVID-19. Closer to home, Miami-Dade County has the highest concentration of positive tests in all of Florida, as well as the most deaths.
But that’s not how Nichole Ruiz see things. In fact, the sophomore who attends TERRA Environmental Research Institute in Kendall, has put any individual struggles to the side during the coronavirus pandemic and put her focus squarely on helping others far away from Miami-Dade County.
Ruiz helped found The Five Dollar Project, an international teen-led initiative focusing on securing essential projects and opening opportunities for families in marginalized communities. As director of the project, she has set up a Go Fund Me page to help raise money to buy food for students attending the Maria Troncatti school in Ecuador.
Thank you for all the support and donations in our first week launching our GoFundMe. We will be posting updates on how our project is being developed to further serve the needs of the Maria Troncatti community. Gracias por todo el apoyo y las donaciones en nuestra primera semana de lanzamiento de nuestro GoFundMe. Publicaremos actualizaciones sobre cómo se está desarrollando nuestro proyecto para satisfacer aún más las necesidades de la comunidad de Maria Troncatti.
The project has lofty goals – trying to raise a minimum of $1,500 per week to help feed all the 110 families of that school, which is supported by the Caminito de Luz Foundation. The project is based in Miami but has members in France and Ecuador and apparently the charitable efforts are working as more than $4,500 have been raised so far through 122 donations.
Ruiz said that true to its name, the project is only asking for $5 donations, which she says provides a typical family of four with children at the Maria Troncatti school with 3 day’s worth of food supplies. “$20 will provide a week’s worth of food,” she adds.
As well as the Go Fund Me page, the project also has an Instagram page and has created videos and graphics to help people spread its message.
“In this time of crisis it is most important for us to come together as a community and empower those who have been hardest hit by COVID-19 crisis,” she said. “If you are not able to donate for this initiative, please help us spread awareness by sharing our Go Fund Me page with your friends and following our Instagram (page).”
Ruiz’s dedication, commitment and empathy may not be common, but considering her background and current extracurricular activities, it is also not unexpected. Ruiz is just one of a multitude of youth in Miami-Dade County who are not allowing the difficulties of their current situation keep their benevolent spirit down. She is part of the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) West Branch and her sister and mentor, Michelle, is a YAC alumni who took many lessons from her experience with her to her professional life.
“My favorite part of YAC was being surrounded by an ambitious group of young leaders that helped propel each other’s ideas and passion forward. Working with teens from different walks of life was an excellent way to develop empathy and understanding of the changes that others wanted to see in their communities,” Michelle said. “My experience in YAC was vital to the development of my emotional intelligence and ambition, which I use to bust barriers at my job every day!
Michelle currently works as a chemical engineer at an ExxonMobil Refinery but spends a good amount of time volunteering as a translator at a free community clinic that predominantly serves underprivileged Hispanic families among other things.
The work of the Ruiz sisters is good representation of how YAC members, both current and alumni, dedicate themselves to public service. Committee members typically focus mostly on issues affecting Miami and the local community and through regular meetings, advocacy trainings and firsthand service-learning experiences, YAC-ers spend the academic year in an exploration of leadership and advocacy.
There are about 60 members in six branches: YAC North, YAC South, YAC Far South, YAC West, YAC West Kendall and YAC Central. Membership meets requirements for high school community service hours.