Community Partnership Helps Spruce up the Debbie Institute

Wearing bright yellow t-shirts, and inspired by a desire to help, more than three dozen volunteers fanned out through the University of Miami’s Debbie Institute on the Miller School of Medicine campus to give parts of the school a facelift.

The volunteers, employees of Ernst & Young’s (EY) Miami branch, spent several hours landscaping, painting, and building. Others helped the school’s 150 students dress and enjoy their own specially created Build-a-Bear stuffed animals.

Kathleen Vergara, M.A., Director of the Debbie Institute at UM Mailman Center for Child Development, said it was a wonderful opportunity for her students.

“Many of the families that we serve come from lower socio-economic areas, so this is really a very special thing for them,” said Vergara. “Ernst & Young purchased bears for each child, which is an opportunity a lot of our children might never have.”

The volunteer effort on September 25 was part of EY’s Connect Day, an annual day of community service started in 2010 that encourages employees to make a difference in their communities. It is held in more than 60 locations, with an estimated 12,000 EY employee volunteers donating more than 80,000 hours.

EY’s Miami office selected the Debbie Institute for its volunteer effort, in coordinaton with the United Way of Miami-Dade.

“United Way is a convener and we take great pride in connecting our corporate partners, like EY, with local agencies and schools that need a little extra help,” said Natasha D’Souza, development officer at United Way of Miami-Dade. “Our corporate partners continue to do great work by giving of their time, talent, and treasure to make our community the best it can be.”

The day included a Build-a-Bear workshop, where volunteers helped students dress the bears in back-to-school gear, create birth certificates, color the bear’s house, and read a storybook. Other volunteers worked outside creating butterfly garden boxes, revitalizing herb gardens, and helping artist Gerry Stecca paint a colorful manatee mural on a playground wall.

Inside, volunteers worked in the teacher planning room, building new shelving and adding some decorative elements.

EY also purchased an interactive, sensory wall for the students.

“At EY, our purpose is to build a better working world and one of the ways we do that is through our corporate responsibility efforts,” said Hector Tundidor, Jr., Office Managing Partner and Florida Transaction Advisory Services Leader. “We strive to find the sweet spot where societal needs, our Vision 2020 strategy and our business competencies intersect. We believe EY can do the most good in the world when we leverage what we do best as an organization, and specifically our corporate responsibility efforts focus on growing the positive effects of entrepreneurs, developing future generations of talent and building a more diverse and inclusive society.”

The Debbie Institute, a division of the Mailman Center for Child Development, is a center for early intervention research, training and service. For more than 30 years, the Institute has conducted research on problems impacting children with special needs, provided early intervention services for children and their families and provided training for university students interested in careers in special education, speech-language pathology, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.

Vergara said she and her staff appreciate the new community partnership formed among the Debbie Institute, EY, and the United Way.

“It is incredible,” said Vergara. “This event has been a wonderful opportunity to meet all of these fabulous people and tell them about our mission and our programs for young children with disabilities. This is a perfect way to educate the community about the work that goes on at the Debbie Institute and the Mailman Center.”

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