Compassion for children who are less fortunate is behind Palmetto High School senior Taylor West’s involvement with Achieve Miami.
The program sends volunteers to low achieving elementary schools to tutor the children in order to improve their literacy.
There are four schools in the Achieve Miami program but West volunteers at Goulds Elementary.
“Their budget got cut and they have no one to come out on Saturdays,” she says. “Teens come to help them read and write and help them improve their literacy. Especially for things like standardized tests.”
West participated in the summer program for two weeks.
“That’s when I got to admire the program,” she says.
Now she is involved in the Saturday program. Through November she’s gone to Goulds on at least six Saturdays to work with the children.
“This is something I’ll never forget and is close to my heart,” West says.
In the summer she started as a helper in the Art enrichment program, helping the counselors with the class. Her responsibilities included sitting with a group of girls at lunch. At first, the girls wouldn’t talk to her but by the end of the two weeks, they were all chattering away.
She found that change rewarding.
“The Little Buddies, they would tell all the Big Buddies, that seeing us up there made them want to be like us,” West says.
West’s involvement came at the behest of a friend.
“I started doing it because he wanted me to go, but it ended up being special to me,” she says.
Volunteering at Goulds is particular impactful after a spring trip to South Africa.
“Seeing so many kids there and they don’t have the opportunity to learn,” she says. “These kids (at Goulds) were so excited to go to school on Saturday. Everyone (here) takes school, for granted, especially in high school. Kids out there (in Africa) walk three hours to go to school.”
West says the two weeks in South Africa were life changing.
“I honestly don’t think I’ll be the same,” she says. “It’s such a culture shock. It was absolutely amazing.”
At one point, they walked through a small village on their way to Kruger National Park. The village was primitive, with no electricity, homes made of bricks and clay with thatched roofs.
“We got to talk to the little kids,” she says. “They were so excited and they asked so many questions. They talked more than we did.”
Her sophomore year she traveled to Europe through the same Palmetto based program.
In tenth grade, she was a member of the South Dade YMCA Teen Leadership Council. She says she learned a lot about leadership from being on the council.
At school, West’s an officer in the English Honor Society. As historian she takes notes and picture of the club’s events.
She joined the lacrosse team in tenth grade.
“It was probably the best decision I’ve made in high school,” she says.
Being on the lacrosse team led to volunteering at Relay for Life the past two years.
“My tenth-grade year I practically helped run the booth,” she says. “I was there all day. It was so much fun it didn’t even feel like a community service event.”
For West, picking a college major has been an easy decision. She has wanted to be a neonatal nurse since she was in eighth grade because she loves babies.
Her dream school is the University of Florida. She’s also applying to Florida State University and maybe Tulane.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld