Miami Palmetto High School senior Julia Damski is president of her Beth Am youth group, BAFTY. In that role, she leads the planning and execution of a 5K run to raise money for Camp Jenny, a Memorial Day sleep away camp for underprivileged children in Atlanta.
“Last year we raised around $7,000,” she says.
She’s organized the 5K for two years.
“We have it on the first weekend in March,” she says. “To send one kid to camp, it costs $500. We try to send around 150 kids.”
The teens involved in Camp Jenny raise the money for the kids to attend the camp.
“The camp is an incentive to work hard at school,” she says. “The kids are motivated to get good grades and have good behavior all year.”
They also organize the activities at the camp and then they serve as camp counselors.
“I’m one of the senior counselors. I help contribute ideas to programming,” she says. “I am responsible for the other counselors who are with me and the kids in my cabin.”
She usually works with kids in kindergarten and first grade.
Damski pays for her own flights to and from Georgia to work at the camp. The room and board are paid for by the fundraisers but the teens pay for their transportation costs.
At Palmetto, Damski is on the board of the community service organization, Interact.
“I led the group Trick or Treat Food to Eat,” she says.
The Palmetto students went around to different neighborhoods and instead of trick or treating, they collected cans of food. Those cans were donated to Feeding South Florida.
Damski took over the project from a friend who was previously president of Interact.
“I’ve been doing it since tenth grade,” she says.
She’s a member of the History Bowl team.
“We practice and compete against other schools in the region,” she says.
The team attends several competitions a year.
“I’ve been on the team with a friend. We try to have a general idea of history,” she says. “We specialize in special topics. I’m usually good with US history questions.”
Damski is also in the National Honor Society, the Social Science Honor Society, the Science National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta.
Her college list includes Georgetown, Columbia, and the University of Florida. She plans to major in International Relations.
She’s interested in languages so she applied for and won a scholarship to study Hindi in India from the National Security Language Initiative run by the State Department.
“They send high school students from the U.S. to different countries to learn what they call critical languages,” Damski says.
“Languages that they don’t offer in the U.S. for high school.
My top choice was Hindi because I’m interested in Indian culture.”
She moved in with a host family and became immersed in the language and culture. She loved the experience.
“I had to start from scratch,” she says. “I had to take a proficiency test when I returned.”
She has sent in another application to the State Department, this time for a Gap Year in order to learn critical languages.
“I actually would like to learn Arabic,” she says. “I’ll hear back by December if I’m a finalist.”
So far, she speaks English, Spanish and Hindi.
“But I hope to learn more,” she says.
While Damski was not old enough to vote in November, she worked with other young people trying to get the word out about getting more youth participation. They used the social media and word of mouth as a platform.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld