Acts of kindness are few and far between today. But there are those who selflessly devote their time and energy into making their communities a better place through causes they are passionate about.
The Miami Herald Silver Knight Awards is one of the most elite awards programs in South Florida.
The program works to recognize outstanding students who have not only maintained academic excellence, but who have also applied themselves to service within their respective communities and schools.
This year Social Studies teacher Kevin Mullin has nominated 12 seniors: Michael Adams, Guy Fernandes, Ayis Papageorgiou, Daniela Garcia, Ashley Waiters, Elizabeth Levy, Maya Wilson-Fernandez, Christopher Penelas, Enid Sosa, Carlos Fernandez, Madison Richards and Natalia Gonzalez.
Nominees are interviewed by a panel of independent judges who select one Silver Knight recipient and three Honorable Mentions in each particular category. Silver Knight winners receive $2,000, a Silver Knight statue, and a medallion presented by American Airlines. The three Honorable Mentions are each presented with $500 and an engraved plaque.
Adams is nominated in New Media for his extensive work with the non-profit organization Flying High for Haiti.
He and his family founded the organization and have since built three classrooms and a library for the school they sponsor in Île-à-Vache. Their organization, has been able to expand the school from 50 to 150 students.
Adams has extended the work of Flying High for Haiti to MAST Academy through the Interact club.
“I hope the project continues and that I get the opportunity to take more students from MAST to help in Haiti. I think these trips have really changed my perspective on life. I’m very grateful for everything I have,” Adams said.
Along with Adams, Fernandes worked with the non-profit organization Flying High for Haiti under the sports department earning him the Athletics nomination for Silver Knight.
His work mainly revolved around collecting athletics supplies for the students in the school the organization sponsors, L’ecole du Village. The school was undersupplied, especially in the athletics department, but due to the efforts of Fernandes, the kids were able to start up their own soccer teams and matches.
Inspired, Fernandes visited the school four more times and contributed his time and efforts to the organization ensuring that the kids have more opportunities to develop their skills and have fun.
“Seeing them live their lives even though they don’t have much and still are super happy makes me appreciate my life a lot more,” Fernandes said.
Fellow nominee Papageorgiou is nominated in General Scholarship for his high test scores and class rank. Along with his academic achievements, he has also started his own volunteer program with the American Red Cross.
“Every summer I go to Cyprus, since the economic crisis conditions have been bad,” Papageorgiou said.
Papageorgiou helped organize the storage units, deliver food and donated furniture at the American Red Cross chapter in Cyprus, Greece.
“Every Monday and Wednesday I would put a bunch of food, drinks, clothes, and toys in a large bag and the Red Cross Society would distribute it to the surrounding people,” Papageorgiou said.
Daniela Garcia is nominated for Mathematics for her work with Breakthrough Miami.
Garcia volunteered at Breakthrough Miami as a math teacher for fifth-grade students who came from lower-income families.
“I wanted to teach in my own way and style and I ended up achieving that through Breakthrough Miami. The kids in my class used to dread math, but the way I introduced the class made it much more hands-on. I tried to make them feel like I was one of them too,” Garcia said.
Her math classes, held through Breakthrough Miami, helped make math more interactive for the young kids.
In the same way that Garcia impacted her students’ lives, they have also inspired her.
“The fact that they’ve had such a hard life and they’re trying to become someone, something more than their parents were able to become, especially because of their socioeconomic backgrounds, is really inspiring,” Garcia said.
Waiters is nominated for English and Literature through her work with Relay for Life, an organization that works to fight against cancer.
She was first inspired to participate in Relay for Life after her childhood friend was diagnosed with cancer. Through MAST’s Interact club, Waiters started to get involved in events with the Relay for Life organization.
She later moved up to an internship position that enabled her to be the driving force behind many endeavors with the organization, including the recent Relay for Life run in Key Biscayne.
Levy is nominated for Drama for her participation in the community service club called Symphonettes whose goal is to spread music within the community.
They accomplish this through different activities like fashion shows and garage sales. At the end of the year, the group takes the proceeds and gives it to different organizations like choruses and orchestras. Levy is currently treasurer of the organization.
The Symphonettes has given over $100,000 in donations since Levy has been a part of the group. Some of the donations went towards tuition for those students who are exceptionally talented in the arts and cannot afford to go to school to further their passion.
Wilson-Fernandez is nominated for the Music and Dance category through her self-started program, The Gift of Pawsibilities. This program is primarily a food drive for the Miami Dade Animal Services. Over the past two years, Wilson-Fernandez was able to collect over 1300 items for the animal shelter, such as blankets, toys, and other used items for the animals.
Wilson-Fernandez had previously worked at the animal shelter as a volunteer and noticed the poor conditions the animals were living in.
“It would get cold [in the animal shelter] at certain points during the winter, and the animals had nowhere to lie down. The lady at the animal shelter always needed more supplies so during junior year I finally decided to do something about it, and started the donation drive with a few friends,” Wilson-Fernandez said.
Inspired by the plights of sheltered animals, Wilson-Fernandez started this donation drive to help out the lives of these animals.
Penelas is nominated for Speech for his efforts in Junior State of America. His main activity with JSA started in his junior year with the goal of fighting apathy in the school and community.
“I saw that there were high levels of apathy in our community, especially in the youth, and being a politically-motivated young man, I thought the youth should be more involved in politics because I think we should all have a fair share in Congress and local government,” Penelas said.
Later on in his junior year, he was elected the governor of the Southeast region of JSA, where he continued to work towards his goal of raising awareness among the youth, getting them more educated and involved in politics.
Sosa is nominated for Business with her experiences through the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). In 2011, when she was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, she started working with the organization by starting a team for their Walk to Cure Diabetes with her brother’s Boy Scout Troop, family, and friends.
This inspired her to start her own support group, The Sugar Rush Kids, for kids ages 13-18 to share their experiences.
“I helped a lot of kids who were suffering with Diabetes management and were in denial about their diabetes or ignoring it. Especially in the youth group meetings, kids could open up about their struggles to a group of people that know exactly what they’re going through,” Sosa said.
Talking to different diabetic people motivated her throughout experiences with the JDRF and even helped her in her life as well.
“Once I got involved in the JDRF I was been able to break out of my shell and be more comfortable in front of people and am very confident about my diabetes which is something that a lot of people with diabetes don’t have,” Sosa said.
Fernandez’s work with the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station has gotten him a Science nomination in this year’s awards. The organization is a rehabilitative center that nurses injured animals back to health.
“For a few weeks I’d been noticing a lot of injured animals trapped in nets, and I found a pelican and took it to the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station. Afterwards, I got really involved and started volunteering there,” Fernandez said.
With this experience Fernandez realized his career ambitions of becoming a veterinarian. “I realized that’s what I wanted to do. It made me want to get into pre-veterinary science and go to a school that specializes in that,” Fernandez said.
Richards is nominated for Art with her volunteer work at Shake-A-Leg.
“I started volunteering in freshmen year and little by little I started bonding with a lot of the kids. Nicholas, a child who has Down syndrome, really touched me and broadened my eyes on life,” Richards said.
Her time with Nicholas made Richards want to give back to Shake-A-Leg by creating an oceanic mosaic mural in honor of the organization.
“There was this wall that I saw some potential in so I cleared it and for five hours every weekend for eight months I would work on the mosaic, crushing the tiles individually and pasting them on by hand tile-by-tile, configuring them into different patterns like a puzzle,” Richards said.
Gonzalez is nominated for Social Science for her work in the Juvenile Services Department office and her efforts with the Youth Commission. There she helped plan and host the first annual Women’s Leadership Conference.
Serving as the moderator for the conference, Gonzalez was in charge of the event’s budget and planning.
She made sure all of the participants felt as though they had achieved their full potential, and also made a point of encouraging men and boys to respect the current diversity of women.
“I believe the community was able to honor and learn about the extraordinary and often unrecognized determination and tenacity of women,” Gonzalez said.
With Gonzalez’s involvement in the Youth Commission, she hopes to have the Women’s Leadership Conference continue on in Miami Dade for years to come.
Good things come to those who have the drive and passion to achieve great change.
This year’s Silver Knight nominees all possess the dedication to bring about change and, because of this, were all able to transform their school and their communities.