Austin Gray has participated in a couple of mission trips to Puerto Rico. The Palmetto High school senior Gray made the mission trips with church members from First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables and they went to the town of Ponce.
“Both of the times that we went there, we worked with a local church,” he says. “It was during the summer and we helped them clean up debris from storm damage, and also helped them renovate a school classroom.
“There was a lot of debris, so we cleared that out and we found mostly water damage,” he says. “We were there for a week. When we got there, the room was stacked with stuff. It was full of these old and rotted school desks. They had been damaged in the storm and they put other ones in that room that already had leaks.”
They repaired the classroom and painted the outside walls of the school, as well as the church sanctuary. When the group returned the following year, they planted a garden and removed overgrown plants. “We painted a couple of murals for them,” Gray says. “The first mural went on the front of the school. It was a big lion.” They painted a second mural in the dining area of the school.
“We painted fish in the mural and it came out nice,” he says. “We took a basic template of a fish body and fins and painted it with a pattern of colors,” Gray says. “They had stripes and a stylized design. Each member of the mission trip made their own. I painted mine gray, then painted over the gray with blue and gray lines, the blue fading to red.”
Gray continues to volunteer with the youth group at his church. He has helped make meals on Thanksgiving Day and then helped distribute the meals to needy families in the area.
“We have a big assembly line — probably a couple of hundred people — for constructing the meals, and then to drive out and deliver them for
Thanksgiving,” he says. “A couple of times, in addition to making them, I’ve gone out with the delivery team to take the food to the families.”
He says that participating in the deliveries made an impact on him.
“It gives you perspective; now when I sit down to have my own Thanksgiving meal, I understand how luck I am to have it. And it does make you feel good to help people enjoy a Thanksgiving meal,” he says. “It’s like they have a place to live, so it never occurred to me that they wouldn’t have something as basic as a Thanksgiving meal if it wasn’t for the program bringing them.”
At Palmetto High, Gray is involved in many school activities, but he spends the majority of his time getting ready for History Bowl competitions.
“I’m on the B team this year and I was on Varsity C last year,” he says. “We went to the first tournament at Ransom and we didn’t do well at all.
We were kind of disorganized.”
He became captain and began scheduling practices. They scored far better at the state tournament and qualified for the national tournament.
However Palmetto takes only one team to the nationals, and they took Team A.
“We feel proud that we qualified,” he says.
Gray has applied for admission to several colleges, including FSU, UF and UM. His list also includes Emory University and Davidson College.
He is undecided about a major, but says English is the subject that is most appealing to him.
He enjoys creative writing, especially in the form of playwriting for drama. He is a drama student and acted in Charley’s Aunt. It was his first time to work as an actor; in the past, he worked in production with the tech crew.
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld