Recently called “the great equalizer” by the media (and Madonna) because regardless of our backgrounds, the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped all of our lives and caused us to reexamine how we do the most basic tasks. Zoom meetings, virtual yoga and nightly takeout or delivery have become part of our daily schedules which are now centered around our living rooms.
This month, INDULGE casts a hopeful eye on our community with Mosaic, a compelling special-edition digital editorial series featuring some of Miami’s top movers at home. Inspired by the strength and resiliency of our residents, these thoughtful, weekly pieces will highlight sincere messages from 20 select influential figures, accompanied by photos taken by themselves or by loved ones on smartphones or personal cameras.
Today, we inaugurate the series by presenting exclusive one-on-one Q & A interviews with Maria C. Alonso, president and CEO of United-Way of Miami-Dade; Miguel B. “Mike” Fernandez, chairman and founder of MBF Healthcare Partners, L.P.; Michael A. Finney, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council; Scott Harris, founder and CEO of DeliverLean, and Gabriella Smith, founder and chief executive officer of The Upcycle Project.
The project is an ode to the diversity of South Florida and the influential locals that are lending a helping hand in a time of need. While we are accustomed to seeing many of these names in our glossy pages, this digital-only project aims for a more personal look at their relatable experiences during the “stay-at-home” mandates – proving that it is Miami’s inimitable mosaic of personalities that is the driving force behind the city’s spirit, ultimately helping the community to move forward in a positive way.
Maria C. Alonso, president and CEO of United Way of Miami-Dade.
Tell us why United Way of Miami-Dade is so essential to our community, especially in times like these?
Through our work in education, financial stability and health, which are the foundation for good quality of life, United Way is helping create a stronger community for all…a community where our youth can realize their full potential, where working families are financially secure and have access to quality care. We know that our community cannot thrive if working families cannot survive. This is ‘the why’ behind our work. Additionally, in times of natural disasters or crisis, our United Way is part of the County’s Emergency Management Operations with responsibility for recruiting volunteers and raising funds for short to medium term recovery efforts.
How have you been coping with the stay-at-home measures we are living through?
Dog lickies makes everything better! During a Zoom meeting or call, it is not unusual for any one of my puppies to jump up to say hello and remind me of their unconditional love. That makes even the toughest moments better.
What is a lesson you have learned during this time?
I deeply believe that challenging times bring out the best in people and this pandemic has certainly illustrated that. We have seen an outpouring of support from individuals, family foundations and corporate donors – as well as come together as philanthropic leaders to address our community’s needs.
What would you like to see happen once stay-at-home restrictions are lifted?
Personally, I would like to see some of our new attitude of gratitude, of kindness, be our new normal as a community. Also, we need to embrace the heightened awareness that so many people, our neighbors, are suffering and need our help. We have to find ways to help upskill our workforce to qualify for higher paying, livable wage jobs; further diversify our industries to be able to withstand economic impacts in the future; mentor and inspire our youth to complete their education and pursue a higher ed degree or a certification program; and fight for a more equitable community that wins when and if only the most disenfranchised feel like there is a place and an opportunity available to them. Here’s to that!
What is your favorite thing about Miami?I love our entrepreneurial, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” spirit. We’re a young city which means earning the seat at the table is not predicated on your family name or history, but rather on your hard work and ideas. I love that we never give up…even when we fall, we get back up and try again. We don’t quit. This is my Miami, my home.
Miguel B. “Mike” Fernandez, chairman and founder of MBF Healthcare Partners, L.P.
Tell us about the kind of work that inspires you.
Besides my profession in the healthcare services world, I also like to get my hands dirty by raising organic cattle and beautiful horses. But the most satisfying work in my life has been spent focusing on the needs of others. I believe in giving back, as others gave to me during my journey. It’s a part of life, that cycle of giving. At home, the work I’ve done is herding five children. But my wife Constance has the most difficult job…herding me.
How is your industry influencing the South Florida community at this time?
Like just about every other business, healthcare services will forever be changed. There is an oversupply of products and waste, while the industry is lacking in efficiency. The business of healthcare is broken. Nationally, we have the highest infection rate of Covid-19 and greatest loss of life due to the virus. My industry now has the opportunity to re-adjust, hopefully lowering costs for patients and improving outcomes.
What is a realization that you have made during this time?
It’s okay to plan and think about tomorrow, but not at the expense of missing out on today.
What do you think the ‘new normal’ will look like in the near future?
As a lifelong optimist, I have a feeling that the ‘new normal’ is an opportunity to re-examine our lives and priorities. The world is waking up to the value of working from home — without the need to commute. I believe those of us in this country will see a revolutionary change to the educational system in this capacity and will utilize alternatives to the “desk in the classroom” methodology. These changes will be game-changing.
Who or what has been your greatest source of joy during this time?
I have been inspired by how my children have conducted themselves while facing this challenge and by my parents’ love for our family. Dad is 92 and Mami is 87. We can learn so much from them.
Is there a mantra that you find helpful? If so, what is it and why do you find it inspiring?
In the words of Winston Churchill, ”Never, never, never give up”.
Michael A. Finney, president and CEO of Miami-Dade Beacon Council.
Has your schedule become less or more intense in the last two months?
My schedule has ramped up during the crisis. Due to urgency of the response, most weeks are 7-days of meeting and follow up activities. Beacon Council has been heavily engaged in support of businesses in Miami-Dade. In partnership with the Greater Miami Chamber, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Miami Dade Chamber and the South Florida Hispanic Chamber, we have hosted a series of Zoom webinars to inform the business community about the C.A.R.E.S. Act – Payroll Protection Program (PPP), and various other federal and state resources available to businesses during the crisis. We also collaborated with Slalom Consulting, AWS, and Miami-Dade County to launch BizHelp.Miami, a comprehensive portal designed to assist small businesses in applying for the PPP program and accessing other key resources.
How else has the Beacon Council influenced the community in the past 9 weeks?
In partnership with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, we are playing a supporting role to Mayor Gimenez and Miami-Dade County in the development of the re-opening plans. We are focused on ensuring that businesses will have access to key talent and funding, while also continuing our marketing efforts…communicating the business case for Miami-Dade County. Additionally, we have begun looking at what Miami-Dade County’s economy will look like long-term.
What do you think the ‘new normal’ will look like?
During the COVID-19 crisis our staff worked remotely using “Teams” and “Zoom” to host meeting with clients and community partners. We plan to incorporate remote business engagement techniques as a “new normal” post Covid-19 crisis. The global pandemic has also been an opportunity to make sure that as we recover, we make sure that all parts of Miami-Dade County benefit from new economic activities.
What has been the most unforgettable or impactful part of this experience?
The sacrifices being made by our healthcare professionals, scientist, first responders, and the families of those impacted by COVID-19. On a personal level, we have several friends and who have contracted COVID-19, and three (3) deaths.
Is there a mantra that you find helpful?
Proverbs 24:16. We will trip and fall many times, but our ability to rise up again will always allow us to recover from disasters.
Scott Harris, CEO and Founder of DeliverLean.
What positive changes would you like to see happen after this pandemic?
I would like to see more businesses and corporations coming together to help our communities in need.
How is DeliverLean contributing to the community at this time?
DeliverLean is considered an essential business and our volume has dramatically increased as a result of the pandemic. We have formed several strategic partnerships throughout South Florida to ensure hundreds of thousands of people have access to food. Through DeliverLean Cares, we launched a non-perishable food drive where anyone in the tri-county area can help the community from the comfort of their home. If you have non-perishable items you would like to donate, all you have to do is go to www.deliverleancares.com, fill out the form with your name, address and items you have and we will dispatch our fleet of 400 drivers to pick up the items at your doorstep within 24 hours.
On March 25, we formed a strategic partnership with Alonzo Mourning and the Overtown Youth Center to provide meals to underserved inner city families in downtown Miami. Since we started the partnership with Alonzo, we have distributed over 17,500 meals and 35,000 non-perishable items and will continue to do so until this pandemic is over. Most recently we have partnered with Major League Soccer Team, Inter Miami CF to distribute non-perishable items and fresh meals every Wednesday at the Fort Lauderdale Stadium and we also have a food distribution hub every Tuesday with the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park.
How have you been coping with the stay-at-home measures?
I haven’t been at home much – as I’ve been at our facility every day managing the operation to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Who or what has been your greatest source of inspiration during this time?
My team is my greatest inspiration. Each and every person is working tirelessly to make sure our strict safety measures are met, food is balanced, delicious and healthy and our operation runs smoothly at such a high capacity. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Gabriella Smith, co-founder and business development director of The UpCycle Project.
Tell us about the mission behind The Upcycle Project.
The Upcycle Project is a registered nonprofit 501(c)(3) that focuses on creative circular solutions to transform textile waste into valuable raw materials for a more resourceful world. We are committed to raising awareness of the waste that the fashion industry creates by inviting consumers, brands, and students to experience sustainability with style through educational workshops, exhibitions, fashion shows, competitions, and events.
How do find balance between work-related demands and and keeping your home life flowing?
Driven by the purpose of staying healthy and secure, we have developed our own at home rhythm, where everyone in the family has responsibilities to keep life flowing harmoniously. On a personal note, I also make sure to take at least 30 minutes for daily exercise via Instagram, zoom, or running outside to help me keep my cool!
How has the Upcycle Project revamped initiatives in an effort to help keep our community safe?
As a result of COVID-19, the Upcycle Project pivoted our efforts to use our textile resources to make masks. At the beginning of March 2020, the UpCycle Foundation received a donation of more than 7,000 new 100% heavy cotton t-shirts that were incorrectly printed for a Florida school. Due to COVID-19 quarantine, the t-shirts could not be shipped to the recycling facility and remained in storage. After extensive research, and in response to the CDC call to make house-made masks, we decided to take charge and make masks out of the t-shirts – helping with the global shortage of PPE. As a result, we have created jobs for a team of professional seamstresses that have been furloughed due to the pandemic and have contributed to keeping Miami residents safe.
What is a lesson you have learned or the realization that you have made during this time?
The quarantine has helped solidify my commitment to sustainability and my everlasting breakup with fast fashion. As a consumer, I have realized that more is not better, that new is not always shiny, and that pricey doesn’t equal value. For me, fashion needs to have a purpose that extends beyond the garment, it needs to tell the story of the people who made them, and prioritize having a positive impact on people and the planet.
Describe your ideal post-Covid world?
After three weeks in quarantine, I wrote a poem of the world I want to see post-pandemic.
It is time.
It is time to lead with purpose
instead of greed.
It is time to lead with kindness
instead of judgment.
It is time to lead with love
instead of fear.
For more of INDULGE’s Mosaic series, please view our website on Friday mornings and follow us on Instagram at @indulgemiami.