Freeze Frame

Mission to Employ the Full Spectrum is an ‘Upstander’

By Deserae del Campo
UM News


Starbucks ‘Upstanders’ series includes a film about a South Florida family, who with UM’s help, founded a car wash company that employs people with autism.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 23, 2016)—What does it mean to be an “upstander?” According to Starbucks, upstanders make the kind of difference in their communities that the D’Eri family, who opened a car wash company that employs people with autism, is making in South Florida.

Debuting this month, Starbucks “Upstanders” series, a collection of 10 video stories about people from across the country who are engaging “in acts of compassion, citizenship, and civility,” includes the short film, “Employing the Full Spectrum.” The video, which explains  how and why John and Donna D’Eri founded Rising Tide Car Wash to give people like their son, Andrew, opportunities for employment and independence, includes an appearance by the autism expert they collaborated with: Michael Alessandri, clinical professor of psychology and executive director of the UM-NSU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD).

“CARD has been working with the D’Eri family since they came to Florida and were eager to open a business and employ adults with autism,” said Alessandri, who is opening a new CARD office in Broward County today. “Starbucks contacted the family and said they wanted to feature them and how they are changing the conversation about employing people with disabilities. The D’Eri family then reached out to me asking if I would be interested in sharing my thoughts about their journey with Starbucks, and of course, I was happy to.”

Written and produced by Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman and CEO, and Starbucks executive producer Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Upstanders series includes other inspiring stories that range from a former football player who helps wounded athletes heal to a community in Michigan collecting enough money to provide high-school students with college scholarships. The 10 videos, plus articles and audio podcasts, can be accessed on the Upstanders site.

Alessandri’s connection with the D’Eri family began five years ago when they arrived in South Florida from New York with a dream of opening a business where the majority of employees have autism. They joined Alessandri’s team in submitting a grant proposal designed to disseminate best practices in creating sustainable employment opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum. Their initiative, “Awakening Autism Entrepreneurs,” promotes the competitive advantages of autism in the workplace, and they are hopeful it will contribute to changing the conversation about the capabilities of people with autism.

The grant, funded by a private foundation, is allowing UM and Rising Tide to bring this critical message, along with the autism expertise of Alessandri and the business expertise of the D’Eris, to families and entrepreneurs around the country.

For Alessandri the goal is not to provide charity for people with autism, but opportunities for them to be independent. “I really believe in what Rising Tide is doing and their commitment to creating a positive movement about people with autism and their employability,” he said.

Currently, 80 to 90 percent of people with autism are either unemployed or underemployed in the workplace. Clinical research has shown that many people with autism function well in highly regimental systems with clear expectations and systematic processes and procedures. Where the average person becomes bored with repetition, people with autism may be more comfortable with the predictable nature of such work.

Along with the new grant, CARD is expanding its services in Broward County by opening a new branch office at Nova Southeastern University’s campus in Miramar, which will house CARD’s Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Transition and Adult Programs. Currently, CARD has two main offices, one on UM’s Coral Gables campus and one at NSU in the Broward city of Davie. This Miramar branch brings CARD’s total branch offices to three, with additional sites in Homestead and Miami Lakes.

“It’s really important that we open this new office because it is situated in a location that will allow us to serve a more densely populated area where many of our families live,” said Alessandri. “The office will provide job training, social groups for adults and teenagers, and job clubs. It will also allow us to see more clients and expand our longstanding collaboration with NSU.”







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Photographer Chases His Dream to Sevilla’s Holy Week

By Jessica M. Castillo
UM News

holyweekCORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 18, 2016)—For a visual artist who has photographed religious rituals and processions across the globe from Mexico to Jerusalem, capturing Semana Santa, or Holy Week, in Sevilla, Spain, has been J. Tomas (Tom) Lopez’s holy grail. Pun intended.

Lopez, professor of art and art history in the University of Miami’s College of Arts and Sciences, fulfilled a 20-year-old dream of photographing what is world renowned as one of the most baroque, elaborate, and solemn Holy Week festivals. He spent 10 days in late March capturing the unique celebration in Sevilla.

Lopez’s grandparents left Spain in the 1930s to settle in Cuba, only to have his parents emigrate once again to New Orleans in 1954 and eventually to Long Island, New York, in 1960. Lopez, who still has family in Oviedo, Spain, was educated in parochial schools through college and has always had an interest in the participation and communality that are created by religious orthodoxy.

That sense of communal belonging is potently clear during Sevilla’s Semana Santa. Hundreds of thousands flock to the city for this ritual of six to seven processions a day, and the entire city is closed off to traffic during Holy Week. Pilgrims, party-goers, and everyone in between fill the crowded streets of the capital of the autonomous region of Andalusia. The main churches in Sevilla send out large hermanadas, or brotherhoods, in processions with routes throughout the city, ranging from three hours to nine or 10 hours long. The processions can last all night, from late afternoon to very early morning.

The order of those in the procession may differ slightly, but the same groups are always represented: Nazarenos, priests, Costaleros, or the carriers of the altars, and Penitentes, who are almost always carrying heavy crosses and the Virgin Mary. In the past few years, breaking with a long tradition, women and girls have been allowed full participation in the Semana Santa processions as either Nazarenas or Penitentes.

The culmination and greatest celebration is at midnight on Good Friday at the Basilica of La Macarena, patron saint of matadors and gypsies. The 1990’s song by the same name, by an Andalusian pop band, draws reference to Mary Magdalene’s reportedly sensuous past.

There were 5,000 Nazarenos and 5,000 Penitentes during the procession of La Macarena’s 12-hour route. Nazarenos don colorful robes and pointy, hooded caps and Penitentes are also hooded, but, says Lopez, these groups shouldn’t be confused with the Klu Klux Klan, which they pre-date by centuries and have no ties to.

“The original intent [of the dressage] is not related to racism at all but actually for the pious churchgoers to pray in private and only God would know who was actually praying.”

The processions have different altars or depictions of Jesus, from his time of entering Jerusalem on a mule to his crucifixion and death. The bigger altars require more than 20 Costaleros to carry the float and these carriers often have to alternate because the altar is so heavy, some weighing thousands of pounds.

Topping off the celebratory procession is usually a large marching band with anywhere from 20 to 100 musicians. Somewhere along the procession there is an emotional song to the Virgin Mary known as a saeta. A saeta is an acapella homage, usually sung by a gitana, or gypsy, and is very powerful and soulful. The singing is in reverence for the Virgin Mary and her biblical plight.

The processions were halting and impressive, recounts Lopez, especially before the depiction of Jesus.

“Even though there may be hundreds of thousands of people, for some it’s a pilgrimage, for others it’s just a big party,” he says. “When the altar of Jesus comes by, everyone goes silent and some even fall to their knees. It was very moving.”

Over the 10 days in Sevilla, Lopez shot more than 5,000 photos of the famous annual rituals and processions. The work was done under the prestigious Cooper Fellowship.

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’Cane Talk: Combating Terrorism with Data

Fifteen years after the twin towers fell, Physics Professor Neil Johnson is changing the way the world looks at how future attacks could be prevented.

By Jennifer Palma
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 9, 2016) – Not one seat remained open during Neil Johnson’s ’Cane Talk last week, as the University of Miami physics professor shared how he and his research team are harnessing big data to uncover, monitor, and perhaps stop future terrorist attacks.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Johnson said during his presentation, referring to the large amount of terrorist activity that occurs online and in social media groups.

For a study published in the journal Science in June, Johnson and his research team monitored pro-ISIS groups on VKontakte, the largest online social networking service in Europe, which, based in Russia, has more than 350 million users from multiple cultures who speak multiple languages.

Applying a mathematical formula to measure social media activity, the research revealed complexities and patterns within the formation of terrorist groups that could be used to predict real-world attacks—findings that have captivated audiences around the world. Johnson’s research has been recognized by defense and securities agencies worldwide.

Before welcoming Johnson to the ’Cane Talks stage at the Shalala Student Center, UM President Julio Frenk invited the audience to continue transcending boundaries and taking an interdisciplinary approach to research.

“The University of Miami is truly a magnet for talent,” Frenk said. “We are home to scholars who are world-class—and whose research is crucial to understand and transform our world.”

Following Johnson’s presentation, Gregory J. Shepherd, dean of the School of Communication, fielded questions from engaged audience members who echoed the need to continue such impactful research.

Johnson’s ’Cane Talk is the first of the 2016-2017 academic year. The inaugural 10 ’Cane Talks are available for viewing at canetalks.miami.edu.


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Home Is Where the ’Canes Are—and Where They Teach Pilates

How a Herbert Wellness Center Pilates instructor became part of the UM family

Leslie Leonard

Leslie Leonard

By Myranda Tarr
Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (Aug. 31, 2016) – When Leslie Leonard, B.A. ‘82, M.A. 85, first arrived at the University of Miami as a bright-eyed undergraduate student in 1978, she never imagined that UM and the not-yet-built Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center would one day become her home away from home.

Originally from Connecticut, Leonard traded in her winter coat and snow boots for a lifetime of flip-flops and sunglasses to pursue her education. Leonard is now a Pilates Instructor at the Herbert Wellness Center. She credits Pilates for helping her to succeed in her full-time UM position of executive assistant for student life.

“Pilates shapes my day, whether I am teaching, taking a class or taking a ten minute break away from my desk,” says Leonard. “It starts with managing my breath, which inspires me to become more open and accepting of the day.”

After receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication, Leonard left the U to enter the workforce as a sourcing manager for a local marine fuel supplier. It was during this time that she discovered her undeniable passion for Pilates.

“I started Pilates in 2000 for the same reasons many people turned to Pilates: I knew I was fit, but I also knew I wasn’t strong,” says Leonard. “I saw a sign for Pilates, and after the first few classes, I knew this would be a life-long commitment.”

Leonard started training to become a Pilates instructor herself in 2007. As fate would have it, her first Pilates instructor in Miami was none other than Brent Anderson, a UM alumnus who earned his Ph.D. in 2005 and is now adjunct professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at the Miller School of Medicine.

But simply becoming a Pilates instructor was not enough for Leonard. She augmented her Pilates training by becoming a certified personal trainer and went back to school to get a degree in exercise science.

“I want to teach people that a successful movement experience can establish a greater sense of well-being,” explains the instructor. “My goal as an instructor is that each participant will use this growing self-awareness of balanced movements to enhance their life and their participation in other activities.”

Though never far from the ’Canes family, it wasn’t until 2008 that she returned to UM to teach at the Herbert Wellness Center. Three mornings a week, Leonard supervised morning workouts for the senior community participating in the LIFE program.

Leonard and her family moved back to Connecticut in 2009, but a lengthy separation from Miami was not in the cards for her. As Leonard says, it was a happy cascade of events that brought her back to UM. In 2010, her son, Stephen, continued the legacy by enrolling at UM. The rest of the family soon returned to South Florida and the mother of four picked up right where she left off at the Herbert Wellness Center, but this time as a Pilates instructor. Working at the Herbert Wellness Center turned into a family affair when Stephen became an operations assistant and later facilities supervisor. It wasn’t until 2015 that Leonard became a full-time employee at UM after reaching out to her ‘Cane network.

Leonard loves teaching at the Herbert Wellness Center because of its welcoming and comfortable environment and also because of the diverse members she encounters.

“Though no two ‘Canes are identical, when we work out together, we are all on the same page with the same goals: personal health, wellness and well-being,” adds the instructor.

Leonard praises the Pilates program at the Herbert Wellness Center, calling it one of the best in the community. With just five machines in the room, the intimate arrangement allows for one-on-one interactions and the ability to see participants from different angles to ensure safety and good form.

“Pilates is perfect for those who want to build strength from the inside out,” says Leonard. “A one-hour session is an efficient full body work out and you will see results quickly!”

Registration for fall 2016 session 1 Pilates classes closes Wednesday, September 7. Classes are open to members and non-members, and session 1 classes run from September 12 through October 23. Register by visiting the Herbert Wellness Center’s sales office Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. or online here.

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Health Researcher by Day, UM Grad Spreads Joy at Night by Teaching Salsa

John Salerno_Salsa

John Salerno, left, who has taught and professionally competed for multiple schools of salsa, competed in the 2015 Orlando Salsa Congress with his partner.

Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 24, 2016)—By day, John Salerno works to improve health equity among minority populations as a research coordinator at the University of Miami’s School of Nursing and Health Studies. By night, Salerno teaches the fundamentals of LA-Style salsa dancing at the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center.

When Salerno was just 2 years old, his family took a leap of faith and emigrated from Panama during a time of political turmoil and moved to Miami. In 2009 Salerno became an undergraduate student at UM, where he first fell in love with salsa dancing. After learning the basics from friends, Salerno was hooked. He quickly pursued his passion, becoming a professional salsa performer and instructor.

“Dancing salsa has brought so much joy to my life,” says Salerno. “But teaching others to experience the same joy is even more fulfilling.”

Salerno extended his stay at UM to continue his graduate studies, and now the salsa dancer is a full-time research staff member at the UM SONHS Center of Excellence for Health Disparities Research: El Centro, managing projects, programs, and events.

Not only does Salerno believe salsa improves his physical well-being, he also attributes his overall happiness and productivity at work to his favorite pastime. Salsa dancing helps the researcher stay active while having a positive impact in his work and personal life.

“When you dance salsa, endorphins are released in your brain, giving you a greater sense of well-being,” explains Salerno. “You are also burning fat while you dance, and when you look good, you feel good.”

Salerno has been an active member of the Herbert Wellness Center for more than seven years and is glad he can give back in the form of salsa dance instruction.

“We always welcome skilled and certified University employees as our class instructors,” says Michelle Kasparian, assistant director of group exercise and community classes. “As employees, these instructors help us to connect with the University community, and they contribute to a sense of shared values and University pride that is unique to our programs.”

Salerno, who has been teaching salsa for five years, encourages the UM community to try salsa dancing as a fun way to work out and a great way to express and release yourself through the art of dancing with a partner. His Beginner LA-Style salsa class teaches the basics and fundamentals of LA-Style salsa that is sure to get you on the dance floor in Miami and abroad. His class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. in the Herbert Wellness Center.

Adds Salerno, “This class is perfect for someone who wants to learn to dance and likes to have fun!”

In addition to Beginner LA-Style Salsa, the Herbert Wellness Center offers dance, youth and adult aquatics, martial arts, and tennis classes open to both members and non-members. Registration for these classes begins Monday, August 29 and closes Monday, September 12. Classes begin the week of September 6, and a free trial for each class (first meeting only) is available through September 12, excluding youth aquatics. Registration is not required to attend the free class. Class registration is available online or by visiting the sales office Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.


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