Miami-Dade County

Student left after Haiti’s earthquake and is making the most of her new life

Amanita Pierre, 18, speaks on how she’s worked through familial and personal struggles before becoming a Bank of America Student Leader during an interview on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017.
Amanita Pierre, 18, speaks on how she’s worked through familial and personal struggles before becoming a Bank of America Student Leader during an interview on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. sballestas@miamiherald.com

Just after she turned 11 seven years ago, Amanita Pierre’s family was torn apart by the 35-second earthquake that devastated Haiti.

Pierre lost three family members in the disaster and was then homeless for a year with her mom.

“We had a pretty decent life, but after the earthquake we basically had nothing,” she said. “School wasn’t available at that time, neither were hospitals or help. Everything was rubble. We just had to survive, however you knew how to.”

Deciding it was safer to move away, the mother and daughter have lived in Miami since 2012.

Now a Miami Edison Senior High graduate, Pierre is enrolled at Miami Dade College — tuition free with full scholarships, awards and grants — to pursue a career in criminal justice.

This summer, she worked a paid eight-week internship with the Boys & Girls Club, which preceded a week-long, all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., for a leadership summit.

Both the internship and summit resulted from Pierre’s work ethic and community involvement — qualities that led her to be selected as one of five young women in Miami-Dade to be a Bank of America Student Leader.

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From left to right, Bank of America Student Leaders Mya Wallace, Gabriela Arredondo, Amanita Pierre, Annie Farrell and Stephanie Chang at a wrap-up celebration of this year's student leaders program on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. SEBASTIAN BALLESTAS sballestas@miamiherald.com

Open only to high school juniors and seniors, the national Student Leader program has partnered with local nonprofits and sponsored summit trips since 2004.

“It’s really about students who are civically engaged and want to make an impact in their community, but they do that while also maintaining excellence in school,” said Erin Sutherland, Bank of America’s Market Manager of Miami.

This year, the program received over 170 applications.

Pierre — who withstood a reviewing process by the bank and community partners, described the experience as “a great opportunity for students to advance themselves.”

“[You] learn about the government, how it works and push yourself out of your comfort zone,” she said. “Life is about new things, you can’t just stay in one lane.”

As an only child, Pierre admitted to being a bit of an introvert.

Given that Pierre spoke French and Creole but no English when she first came to the U.S., being adventuresome wasn’t a priority.

In fact, the language barrier was one of the hardest aspects of living here, she said.

To listen to a teacher “and not understand what they’re saying” made transitioning and succeeding academically a hurdle. But, once she grew comfortable with English, things began to turn around.

For example, she was able to form a friend group in middle school, a group she still keeps.

The Student Leader program changed her professionally and socially. She’s now more outgoing.

“With the Bank of America Student Leader program, I had no choice. I had to talk to people, and make friends and just learn about each other,” she said.

Sutherland said that Pierre’s “really special” change is common among Student Leaders.

“At the end of the summer, you see them blossom into this incredible individual who has more life experience,” Sutherland said. “[They have] more insight into what their community has to offer and how to help their communities.”

Now with a bolstered dedication to community work and a heightened awareness of networking, Pierre’s looking forward to capitalizing on this upcoming fall quarter.

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Bank of America Student Leader Annie Farrell, 18, talks about her experience as a Leader, and what she gained the most from the program during an interview on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. SEBASTIAN BALLESTAS sballestas@miamiherald.com

So is Annie Farrell, fellow Student Leader and Coral Gables Senior High graduate. She’s heading to Duke University, tentatively as a global health major.

Farrell has always held an interest in science, but now wants her future career to intermix politics, too.

“It was a summer of kids and politicians,” Farrell said. “I would say they both have trouble listening, but I think they intersect really well.”

Finding the program’s focus on legislation impactful, Farrell found working at the Boys & Girls Club and walking around Capitol Hill equally memorable.

The same values were internalized by those heading into their senior years of high school, too.

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Bank of America Student Leader Gabriela Arredondo, 17, talks about her experience as a Leader, and what she gained the most from the program during an interview on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. SEBASTIAN BALLESTAS sballestas@miamiherald.com

Gabriela Arredondo of José Martí MAST Academy, Stephanie Chang of Archimedean Upper Conservatory, and Mya Wallace of Miami Norland High each appreciated the internship, summit and free field trips.

Making friends and professional relationships across the country, the program made them realize how much a 17 or 18-year-old can do for their community.

Emboldened to do more in their respective communities, many lessons were gained from the program, according to the Student Leaders.

“I think for all of us the biggest takeaway was just: be active and speak out,” Arredondo said. “Networking is so important and being open-minded. Just communicate and listen. Don’t just shout. Hear other people’s opinions.”

For those interested in the program, 2018 applications open starting Oct. 27.

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Bank of America Student Leader Stephanie Chang, 17, talks about her experience of being a Leader, and what she gained the most from the program during an interview on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. SEBASTIAN BALLESTAS sballestas@miamiherald.com

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