At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, Miami Palmetto High School incoming senior Matthew Lewis won the PTSA Service Award for Exemplary Service for his volunteer work inside and outside of school.
Lewis already has more than a thousand community service hours. His two major areas of service are Achieve Miami and JServe, a part of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. He’s the JServe chair and has been volunteering since freshman year.
As chair, he organized a day of service on Martin Luther King Day.
“We went into Overtown and set up a community garden,” he says. “We set up a garden because they are in the center of a food desert there.”
The garden makes it possible for people to come in and take organic vegetables for free.
“Every once in a while, JServe volunteers will go in and maintain it,” he says. “I really wanted to make a long-term difference. We’ve done short term food distribution events, but I thought that would make a lasting difference.”
While most Achieve Miami volunteers begin their service in high school, Lewis started in seventh grade helping kids at a variety of schools achieve greater literacy. He worked at the programs at Goulds Elementary, Frederick Douglass Elementary, and now Caribbean Elementary.
Lewis is not only a Big Buddy, he’s also on the Junior Advisory Board.
“I was working with them for a while, so I was able to get on the board as a freshman,” he says. “I’m in the outreach and communications part, so I’m trying to recruit volunteers. I try to publicize more events, too.”
The junior board has input into the summer Achieve programing, which includes classes on STEM, music and art.
“It’s more of a class than a reading session,” he says. “One of the biggest things I like about Achieve, we give them free lunch. That’s two meals a day they don’t have to worry about. That takes some of the stress off parents too.”
He’s worked with Achieve Miami every summer, including the summer of 2020 when it was a virtual program.
“I took calls in Utah and Colorado last summer for an hour to two hours,” he says.
This summer, the program went back to in-person. He planned on working for three weeks.
Lewis also attended the Summer Media Institute at the University of Florida earlier this summer.
“I’m an avid sports photographer and run the Instagram account for Palmetto Athletics,” he says.
Attending the program helped him improve his craft and enabled him to explore the campus.
Lewis has been taking pictures since he was 13.
“My dad does sports photography as a side hobby,” he says, “I saw him using cameras and decided to give it a try.”
Now he not only volunteers his sports photo skills for Palmetto, he also works with local universities taking sports photos.
In college, Lewis expects to major in communications and to go on to law school. He’ll continue to take pictures as a hobby.
His college list includes Georgetown, University of Florida, the University of Pennsylvania, Florida State, and Duke.
At Palmetto he manages the social media accounts for Student Council as the Chief Communications Officer. He’s a member of the National Honor Society, Membership VP of the Social Sciences Honor Society. He competes in the History Bowl. He’s also the treasurer of the Thespian Honor Society.
At the thespian competition, he entered a one-act play that earned him an Excellent. He also participated in Palmetto’s entry in the Large Group Acting category, which earned a Superior.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld