Six months after the earthquake, Palmetto High School senior Daniel Brooks went to Haiti with a plan to help provide clean water to Haitians. Using money from events he had planned and grant money he had won, Brooks was able to purchase 1,000 Life Straws, a portable water purification system.
That work, along with other community projects and a stellar academic record, earned Brooks the 2011 Silver Knight in science for Miami-Dade County. The prize came with a $2,000 award and a round-trip ticket provided by American Airlines.
Two weeks ago, Brooks used that money and the airline ticket to return to Haiti. Working with Howglobal.org, he helped drill two water wells in Lascahobas — one at an orphanage and another at a school.
“I felt like I had made a promise to help these people when I distributed the Life Straws and I had to finish it,” said Brooks, 19. While he could have used that airline ticket to go anywhere in the United States or Mexico or the Caribbean, he chose Haiti. “I think it’s more important than lying on the beach during spring break.”
His story embodies the spirit of The Miami Herald’s 54-year-old Silver Knights program. The awards recognize students who combine stellar academic achievement with selfless community service that often endures years after they graduate from high school.
Brooks said he was inspired at Palmetto by a now well-known Silver Knight winner — Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. The long list of notables includes former ambassador Frances Cook, 1963 winner in social sciences, and attorney and former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jimmy Morales, 1980 winner in general scholarship.
If the past is any indication, there is a future entrepreneur or breakthrough scientist in the class of 2012 Silver Knight winners announced last week. The Silver Knights were selected from an elite group, the best of the best from 59 public and private schools in Miami-Dade and 39 in Broward — 701 students, each making a difference. A winner and three honorable mentions are chosen in each of the 15 categories for each county — a difficult task for the panel of independent judges that makes the final selections.
“They were nominated because they are great kids,” said Jacqueline Kleis, research and development manager at Pollo Tropical and a judge in the World Languages category. “Most of them are motivated by a personal experience, often a bad experience in their life that they turned into a positive one.
“All these kids are a golden gem to the South Florida community.”