A program funded by the city of Miami employs members of the community to maintain and landscape the historic Overtown area, improving both the lives of those involved and the neighborhood as a whole, say officials.
Also known as “Blue Shirts,” members of the Beatification Team can be seen around the Northwest Third Avenue business corridor and its surrounding areas. They provide the neighborhood with property maintenance, landscape services and street cleaning services.
The program is part of the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency. It employs a total of 11 people, including the two full-time supervisors. The nine “Blue Shirts” are hired for a year and make between $11-15 an hour.
According to Marcia Carty, the program is aimed toward low-income individuals who haven’t been in the workforce for extended periods of time either because of homelessness, drug abuse or imprisonment.
Carty proposed the Beautification Team program to the CRA seven years ago. An accountant and pastor, she also became director of the program following its approval.
“The beautification team is about improving Overtown from the inside while enhancing the outside. The environment and the community in Overtown cannot change until the individuals change,” she said. “The CRA has been the instrument that has allowed miracles to occur in these residents’ lives.”
Carty added that the program has employed more than 350 people and between 85 and 95 percent of team members have received a permanent job after their one-year term.
Shaneetha Omoaka, the crew manager for this team, noted the dual mission of the initiative.
“Overtown’s Beautification Team is where you get a second chance. We are here to help members of the community get their lives together while cleaning up their own neighborhood,” she said.
The program offers training courses in carpentry, construction, landscaping, and hospitality, among others. Members of the team also receive personal counseling and soft-skills training.
“We make sure that everyone receives regular counseling,” Omoaka said. “It helps them adjust to regular day-to-day life. We also provide them with financial management, and assistance with transitioning into permanent employment.”
Nora Green said she is grateful to be part of the Beautification Team.
“I met Ms. Omoaka about five years ago. At the time I was homeless, on drugs. I knew that she wouldn’t hire me in the state I was in. I fixed myself up, did better for myself, and worked to become a Blue Shirt,” she said. “I love my community. I love working in my community and cleaning my community. I’m grateful for this opportunity.”