LEARNED MY GIVING-BACK LESSON



Jeff Bezos, a graduate from Miami Palmetto high school, remembers feeling larger than life when he was called to the Dade County Auditorium stage to receive his Silver Knight Award for science in 1982. That was the first recognition of his extraordinary accomplishments. Now 56, Bezos is one of the world's youngest self-made billionaires. He still proudly displays his Silver Knight trophy.


For over 60 years, the Silver Knight program has been honoring high school seniors who are standouts in their academics and extracurriculars. This year the ceremony was held virtually.30 winners received the awards for their project designed,created and implemented to improve the millions of lives of Miami-Dade and Broward County residents. IMPACT.EDITION chose several high-impactful projects and spoke with their young leaders. Their answers speak for themselves.

OWEN REYNOLDS | PALMER TRINITY SCHOOL

Owen designed a full-sized solar-powered race car, The Chariot, as part of his Apollo Project, which promotes sustainable energy. Owen also helped organize the first Miami March for Science, which has since evolved into a nonprofit for science literacy. After learning other cities had implemented laws requiring solar panels to be installed on new homes, he worked with South Miami officials to pass a similar law in his hometown in 2017, the first of its kind in Florida.


One of my hopes is that as other students learn that a child and some of his friends designed and built a full-sized solar-powered race car, that it will inspire them to follow their own passions and make a difference in their community. You see, ultimately The Apollo Project is not just about sustainability or the benefits of solar-power but rather what people can accomplish for a better world.

My parent have taught me that no matter what you are doing, make sure that you give 100% effort in all of your endeavors so that when you look back after a game, a project, competition or what-not you can tell yourself that you did your absolute very best and gave it your maximum effort.


MONICA LAGRANGE | DORAL ACADEMY PREPARATORY SCHOOL

Monica and her team helped create more than 20 sleeping mats for the homeless made from about 3,000 plastic bags crocheted into “plarn balls,’’ equivalent to 600-800 supermarket bags. The Bags for Mats project also has sent more 400 mats to Haiti, working with Holy Family Episcopal Church in Miami Gardens.


I am an immigrant. My mom, sister, and I moved to the US from Venezuela almost six years ago. During the moving process, my mom took challenges head-on in order to give us a smooth transition into a whole new culture and language. Her resilience has taught me to always make the best out of every opportunity, trying my hardest to spark a bright future for myself and others around me.


This is not only about the mats, but also about creating a community and inspiring change through our artistic mats. Making a plastic sleeping mat is easy to master with practice. There are tutorial videos online that teach how to crochet chain knots and single crochet, as well as how to cut plastic bags into “plarn” (our nickname for the plastic yarn). Have fun with it! Make something you would like to have--play with colors and patterns to make each sleeping mat unique.



KEVIN AMÉZAGA, MIAMI RIDERS ALLIANCE

Kevin became interested in transit in his freshman year, after experiencing the struggles of taking public transportation from the Pérez Art Museum Miami to Bayside. He created the nonprofit Miami Riders Alliance, which serves as an information hub for all transit-related projects and works with leaders to improve transit options.

To be honest, I never wanted to pursue the Silver Knight Award. My principal encouraged me to submit an application (which I wrote in its entirety on the 288 bus on my way to the Metrorail, and at the Transit Reimagined Summit in Downtown Miami). I didn’t expect the support I would receive in the coming months from my community, political officials, and other transit advocates, not to mention the Silver Knight committee. I believe improving transit has a positive impact on every aspect of our lives. 


The Miami Riders Alliance would be little more than a Twitter and a soapbox in an echo chamber if we didn’t capture the attention of Miami-Dade residents itching for positive change in our often-neglected communities. The community can support this project by listening to what we have to say and informing themselves on local government in our community. The community can also become a member of the Alliance on our website, and engage in our Slack channel to learn more about the issues.

ALEXANDRA O'DOWD | SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS HIGH SCHOOL

Alexandra O’Dowd leads The Greenhouse Project, the school’s first hydroponic tower garden, named Fresh STArt Garden. The self-irrigating, sustainable garden educates middle and high school students about climate change and eco-farming. They donate the garden’s vegetables and herbs to local food pantries and church parishes.



The science board at St. Thomas Aquinas wanted to develop a school wide project to further STEM education. I volunteered that the project should be centered on climate change and sustainability by creating a greenhouse where students can learn the benefits of hydroponic technology, eco-farming and renewable energy. The science board discussed and approved the idea. I feel fortunate they trusted me with this amazing opportunity.

I believe the best way to drive the Greenhouse Project is to inspire others to join us and start their own hydroponic greenhouses at their schools and in their communities! This would help feed those in their communities with fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs and teach students the benefits of learning invaluable skills to grow something themselves while giving back to others.