The new non-profit organization Hearts of Miami Engaged (H.O.M.E.) is a dedicated group of citizens with a common purpose. Pictured: Standing (l-r) Phil Stewart, Noreen Valdez-Prater, Sylvia Casillas. Seated (l-r) Britta Crone, Melinda Baeza, Evelyn Vargas. Courtesy photo
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Hearts of Miami Engaged

“Miami needs a lot of sprucing up, but you have to start somewhere,” says Evelyn Vargas, leader of the new non-profit organization Hearts of Miami Engaged (H.O.M.E.). H.O.M.E. is a dedicated group of citizens with a common purpose.  

That purpose? “Economic development,” says Phil Stewart, a local business owner and the group’s treasurer. “We want to help enhance public spaces and preserve the historic and cultural significance of our town.”

When the small group learned that Arizona Highways was going to shoot an episode in Miami, they got to work right away, cleaning up around the businesses that would be on camera. Beginning in late July, all the way up to shoot day in early October, the “night crew” pulled out weeds and cleared trash to spruce things up. It was a good way to begin, the team agrees. It let them see who would show up to put in the time and labor. 

“We’re a hands-on group,” says Britta Crone. “We all met with our shovels, and it was a lot of fun.”

Building H.O.M.E. 

“It happened organically,” says Melinda Baeza, a Miami native, “by walking and talking and working together.”

The legal organization emerged from Cobre Valley Regional Aquatic Center, the non-profit organization  formed to raise funds for a new aquatic center in the tri-city area. When the eight-year effort ended as CVRMC shifted their matching funds of $1.5 million to the Globe Community Center Pool, donors were offered three options: get a full refund, split their donation between Globe and Miami water activities, or leave it in the aquatic center’s 501c(3) to be repurposed. 

“Most took the third option,” Vargas says. 

H.O.M.E. is now receiving new donations. In turn, they’ve donated $250 in candy to the town’s Halloween celebration and $500 toward a small-town Christmas. The group recently applied for a T*mobile grant to kick off their first big project, the Historic Keystone Stairs.

Historic Keystone Stairs Project

“It’s not an artistic endeavor. This is to honor our copper miners,” Vargas says. “We want people to feel what the miners felt climbing those stairs, to see what they saw.” 

Maps located along the stairs – at a lookout that dates from 1910 and at the very top, where a larger deck will be constructed – will point out the Freeport smelter and the Van Dyke mine shaft.

“The view is phenomenal,” remarks Phil Stewart, local business owner and one of two Miami transplants on the H.O.M.E. team so far.

The Keystone Stairs has always been a topic of the town in Miami. For years people have said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if…?”

“We just figured we have the energy, we have a grant opportunity, let’s jump in – let’s dive in and let’s get it done,” Vargas explains.

The Historic Keystone Stairs Project is scoped in four phases. The first phase, intended to be done by March, includes an engineering study, scope of work, and permitting from the town of Miami. Phase 2 includes utilities, drainage, maintenance of the stairs and handrails, and construction of a retaining wall. Phase 3 involves the installation of silhouettes of miners, photographs from the era, benches, lookout points, mining equipment, and memorial plaques. Phase 4 will involve the installation of lighting that matches the historic period.

The goal is for the Keystone Stairs to receive historic recognition. Miami truly was the copper center of the world in the early 1900s, Evelyn emphasizes, and copper is still essential today, lighting the world and connecting people across the planet. 

On January 17, the members of H.O.M.E. met with representatives from other Miami non-profits to share their vision of economic development and the details of the Historic Keystone Stairs Project. 

“We want to work in concert to see what we can really do as a collective,” Stewart says.

Noreen Valdez-Prater, born and raised in Miami, wants to revive the fiestas and events that used to fill the streets of Miami. She was drawn to the group by its leadership.

“I really love the work Evelyn has done,” Noreen says. “She’s gone above and beyond for this community.”

For Vargas, it’s all about more funds for the town and more amenities for the kids of Miami. 

One thing hasn’t changed: “We still want our pool,” she says with a smile.

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