For Sara, Saturdays were once reserved for picking up trash on the Dinner Key spoil islands serving Shake-A-Leg, a nonprofit that makes water sports accessible to children with disabilities. But she and a few classmates wanted to do something more meaningful. So three years ago, they founded We Can Sail, a free Saturday mentorship program providing arts and sports to children and bonding time for families at the Coconut Grove center. Today the program has about 30 mentors and 30 children who attend. Sara runs the arts and crafts room, and with a paint brush, palm fronds and driftwood converted a rusty storage container into an underwater-themed boat rental office. She also plays the bass, double tenor and ukulele. Her paintings have been shown and sold at B West Studio in New York and Urban Garden in Miami.
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Honorable mentions: Katiuscia Gregoire, Design and Architecture Senior High School; Jasmine Johnson, Gulliver Preparatory School; Cindy Becerra, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.
Ransom Everglades School
After suffering his third concussion in four years in a head-to-head collision on a soccer field, David endured months of agonizing headaches that forced him to sleep through part of the school day in the school nurse’s office. When he recovered, he launched a public safety campaign that helped change state law to require that high school athletes suspected of suffering a head injury be removed from play until they are cleared by a medical professional. He started Countywide Concussion Care to reduce the dangers of concussions in Miami-Dade County, raised $35,000 to provide concussion testing at dozens of high schools, and became a spokesman for the Florida Brain Injury Association. He was named an AP Scholar with Distinction, was a National Merit semi-finalist and has been admitted to Princeton University in the fall. He still plays soccer, with the aid of a rugby helmet.
Honorable mentions: Valery Gue, Booker T. Washington Senior High School; Betty Poler, Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School; David Butter, Miami Country Day School.
Coral Reef Senior High School
With a basketball and a background in business ethics, Cedric established a weekly basketball clinic that honed the skills of some of southwest Miami-Dade’s young athletes. Many of his students had the desire and drive to make their high school teams or the jump to college ball, as Cedric will do this fall. But they lacked the funds to sharpen their skills. So, inspired by his basketball coach father, Charles Hankerson, Cedric volunteered his Saturday mornings and worked on his students’ passing, dribbling and shooting. Named an AP Scholar with Honor, he spent hundreds of hours tutoring students in geometry, algebra and chemistry. He was part of a team that won the University of Pennsylvania’s Entrepreneurship Competition last year, and will be attending Boston University on a full athletic scholarship.
Honorable mentions: Jhasir Bermudez, Miami Southridge Senior High School; Emily Anne Vargas, John A. Ferguson Senior High School; Ivan Levy-Hara, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.
Abigail Frances George
Miami Southridge Senior High School
As a sophomore, Abigail found escape from death, family tragedy and addiction in acting and improvisation. And then she shared her positive outlet with others. In 2011, she volunteered during the summer with Knowledge Builders of Florida, a nonprofit that helps elementary school age children overcome learning disabilities and behavior disorders. She created a new drama class in which she taught groups of 10 to 15 students. When she wasn’t teaching, she was chaperoning field trips and sharing meals. Last year, she became president of her school’s drama troupe. She is a peer mediator, a member of the National Honor Society and part of student government and the 300 Club. Her time with the Knowledge Builders of Florida inspired her to seek a career in social work.
Honorable mentions: Alexa Halvorssen, Miami Country Day School; Rosa Acosta, South Dade Senior High School; Lauren Perez-Maiy, Florida Christian School.
English & Literature
Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School
Born in Capetown as the daughter of a political refugee, Gabi moved to Miami with her family at age 5 and found comfort in literature. That passion motivated her to help students who struggled with reading and to engage others in the classics. She led a weekly FCAT tutoring program through her role as president of the English Honor Society and hosted a book club. Her poetry about her immigration from South Africa won her a Scholastic Art and Writing Competition gold award, and her belief in the power of words has driven her toward politics and law. Last year, she was awarded a Best Position Paper for her work on human rights in the Miami Model United Nations Conference. She is an AP Scholar of Distinction and a National Merit semi-finalist and hopes to pursue a law degree.
Honorable mentions: Karen Azevedo Fernandez, Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School; Kelsey Parker, Westminster Christian School; Sandy Rodriguez, Miami Lakes Educational Center.
Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School
Watching his grandfather return from serving in the Navy and then undergo a series of minor amputations at a VA hospital led Stephen to research prosthetics and push a support drive for homeless veterans. He volunteered in labs at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, where he conducted tests on soft tissue specimens and co-authored a paper on the biomechanics of muscle, fat and skin. He also spearheaded the Help Our Veterans collection drive to collect and distribute care packages to South Florida’s homeless veterans, and created a program to foster relationships between students and nursing home residents. He is president of his school’s National Honor Society, Science Honor Society and speech and debate team. Stephen is an AP Scholar with Distinction.
Honorable mentions: Alice Serfati, Ben Lipson Hillel Community High School; Lucia Baca, Coral Reef Senior High School; Brenda Abreu Molnar, Terra Environmental Research Institute.
Juliana Margarite Lopez
Coral Reef Senior High School
Juliana was tutoring Fairlawn Elementary students for whom English is a second language when she realized the after-school sessions, taught in Spanish, were fostering expression and raising awareness in the community about Hispanic culture. So last year, she and two classmates collaborated on an annual Spanish literary and art magazine for their school, called Humánitas. The publication is an affiliate of her school’s Spanish Honor Society devoted to raising awareness about Hispanic heritage and promoting interest in literature and the arts. Juliana is the consulting literary/art editor. She has volunteered at Sunset Elementary, the unique Adult Day Care Center, and at Mercy Hospital, and is an active member of the Coral Reef chapter of Best Buddies. She is an AP Scholar with Distinction.
Honorable mentions: Megan Ely, MAST Academy; Sabrina Rodriguez, Hialeah High School; Briana Boone, Northwest Christian Academy.
Miami Palmetto Senior High School
A trip to the Chinese countryside when she was 10 changed Alexandra’s life. At every stop, beggars in rags asked for help, which she was unable to give. Vowing to empower others by first empowering herself, Alexandra co-founded SANUZA Charity Group. Through the organization, she raised thousands for the Miami food bank La Casita and Centers of Hope, a school and services hub in Guatemala. She provided Thanksgiving meals, clothes, books and toys to the needy, and school supplies to Haitian students. In 2011, received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for her service at Miami Children’s Hospital. She is president of her schools chapter of Amnesty International and vice president of the Key Club. Alexandra is a National AP Scholar and winner of the Brown University Book Award.
Honorable mentions: Gabriela Ines Gonzalez, Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart; Sabrina Gadala-Maria, Westminster Christian School; Michael Leon, Miami Beach Senior High School.
Music & Dance
Westminster Christian School
Emily found the perfect Girl Scout “Take Action Project” when she learned there was no library at the Community Habilitation Center, where her uncle Buddy, who has Down syndrome, is a client. The Kendall center provides training and education to adults with developmental disabilities. She collected books, magazines and CD players, found a shoulder-high cabinet on wheels and self-recorded audio texts to create a “Rolling Book Nook.” Emily also volunteered at church vacation Bible schools and on Eagle Scout projects. She helped organize a blood drive and volunteered on a Relay for Life team. She is first violin in her school’s orchestra and is sometimes allowed to take over as conductor and concert master when her director is out.
Honorable mentions: Bethany Claunch, School for Advanced Studies; Jenniffer Elaine Dorcinvil, Northwest Christian Academy; Giovanni Rodriguez, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School.
Miami Palmetto Senior High School
Andres spent his summer days lugging $2,000 of borrowed video equipment to interviews and his early mornings in front of a computer editing program. The end result was Project Initiative, a 90-minute documentary on the importance of pursuing a post-secondary education. He produced, filmed and edited the video, which features interview with local education chiefs like Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Miami Dade College’s associate dean of academic affairs liked the video so much he suggested Andres pitch it to the college’s Student Services department to use in high school outreach. Andres has produced commercials for green initiatives and his school. He also tutored students in math, and volunteered on anti-bullying campaigns, and was named an AP Scholar with Honor.
Honorable mentions: Benjamin Englard, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School; Franchesca de la Torre, Terra Environmental Research Institute; Crystal Serrano, Miami Lakes Educational Center.
Renuka Meenu Ramchandran
John A. Ferguson Senior High School
After her grandfather died of brain cancer, Renuka decided to kick her volunteerism at Miami Children’s Hospital up a notch. She founded One Step Closer, a program that spreads cancer awareness and provides support for the hospital’s pediatric cancer patients. Over the past two years, the program has created more than 70 care packages for children in the oncology unit, where Renuka has volunteered and interned since she was a freshman. During that time, she has conducted research on pancreatic cancer cells. She has also volunteered with the Chinmaya Mission Balavihar in South Miami, and placed in medicine and science competitions and fairs. She was named an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Merit semi-finalist.
Honorable mentions: Zoe Cosner, Miami Palmetto Senior High School; Jack Erdozain, Westminster Christian School; Jialin Zhang, Coral Reef Senior High School.
Miami Palmetto Senior High School
As an intern with the Miami marketing firm Think Factory, Christopher took on the Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda project and focused it on his generation. Believing that students have been programmed to think a certain way to get specific results, he thought a book, speaker and social media series could change their decision-making process. Christopher has represented the U.S. in the Busan World High School Judo Championships, served as a student representative on the Children’s Trust Board of Directors, and been named the CLEO Institute Youth Task Force member of the year. He has volunteered for years at the Children’s Bereavement Center. He plays tenor saxophone in the jazz ensemble and was named an AP Scholar with Honor.
Honorable mentions: Juan Castano, Coral Reef Senior High School; Aaliyah Danae Thomas, Miami Carol City Senior High School; Samantha Meister, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School.
Elan Holden Radick
Miami Beach Senior High School
Elan’s book-recycling program, A Novel Idea, began seven years ago when as a Bay Harbor Elementary student he would ride around town on a bike picking up books from porches. Those books were then distributed to libraries operated by the Florida Department of Corrections, Title 1 schools and Miami-Dade County. His program holds four book drives a year and has garnered more than 25,000 books, CDs and DVDs. He has accumulated so many that his family garage no longer has space for cars. As a Boy Scout, he completed his Eagle Scout project by building an outdoor reading area at Biscayne Elementary. He is the president of his school’s debate team and received proclamations from the Town of Bay Harbor Islands and the Miami-Dade School Board.
Honorable mentions: Werner Glass, Coral Reef Senior High School; Shoniece Bennett, Miami Carol City Senior High School; Zachariah Cosner, Miami Palmetto Senior High School.
Roldyne Laure Elizabeth Dolce
William H. Turner Technical Arts
After discovering a UNICEF report that stated some Sub-Saharan girls in Africa miss substantial schooling or drop out entirely because of their menstrual cycle, Roldyne began collecting sanitary napkins and hygiene products to distribute internationally. Through the organization she founded — Love, Period — she held hygiene drives at her school and then churches and the University of Florida. The organization partners with International Relief and Development to send care packages to places like Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Roldyne has also volunteered at Montessori preschools and at the Sinai Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She has taken first place in regional and state competitions for the Health Occupations Students of America.
Honorable mentions: Raquel Sacal, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School; Ana Victoria Alfonso, Coral Gables Senior High School; Fatima Ramis, Felix Varela Senior High School.
Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School
It took Sheyla some time to find comfort in South Florida after moving from Cuba to Israel and then Miami. So she wanted other teenagers to have a friendly space. She accomplished that by creating an under-20 subgroup to the Jewish organization K-Space, which helped her become acclimated to her new surroundings. Her group, K-Space SubTwenty, seeks to reattach young Jews to their roots while celebrating their religion. She has invited local politicians, a retired NFL athlete and other figures to visit the group. Sheyla has tutored members of the organization in multiple languages. She speaks Spanish, Hebrew, Portuguese, English and French and has received a George Washington University Book Award.
Honorable mentions: Joany Lamur, Coral Reef Senior High School; Lola Argiro, Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School; Christopher Mendoza, Terra Environmental Research Institute.