Seniors Sophie Simon and Yana Danzig earn Silver Knights Awards for their dedication to community service

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Last month, seniors Sophie Simon and Yana Danzig were honored with the Silver Knights Award in the Drama and Art categories, respectively. Their projects, Harmonies for Healing and Brushstrokes for History, show how dedication and hard work can transform community service into impactful initiatives. Barbra Bomfin, Jacob Feldman, Kayla Giset, Ellaheh Gohari and Romir Mohan also won Honorable Mentions for their work.

Sophie Simon, the Silver Knight winner in Drama, founded Harmonies for Healing to bring the healing power of music to children at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. This initiative stemmed from her long-standing involvement with the hospital, which began in middle school. Sophie had been volunteering by playing with kids and creating gift bags. Recognizing the profound impact of music, Sophie decided to extend the reach of the Thespians’ annual benefit concert into a more regular event.

As President of the Thespians International Honors Society at American Heritage, Simon coordinated with the hospital to organize mini cabaret-style concerts. These performances, held in the ChildLife Zone, are tailored to the children’s preferences and scheduled around school hours. One memorable concert had a Taylor Swift theme, showcasing the group’s flexibility and dedication.

“Since freshman year, Thespians has done an annual benefit concert to raise money and perform for the kids at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, yet the majority of doctors and kids’ responses were surrounding the fact that this came so rarely, and the kids wanted to see more,” Simon said. “After becoming Thespians President, I decided to create Harmonies for Healing, in which a rotating group of members of the Thespians International Honors Society at American Heritage could go to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and perform in mini cabaret-style concerts for the kids, giving them the chance to be exposed to the power of expression on a more regular basis.”

Getting Harmonies for Healing off the ground required significant effort. Sophie spent over 40 hours organizing concerts and more than 100 hours on related projects, such as AHS Sings for Hope. Despite the challenges, her initiative has become a cherished tradition, bringing joy and comfort to the children at Joe DiMaggio.

“Being announced as the winner of the 2024 Silver Knight Award in Drama was completely surreal,” Sophie said. “I started Harmonies for Healing with the sole purpose to benefit children who do not normally get to experience the privilege of expression through theater, that many students take for granted. Winning the Silver Knight Award was never a thought in my mind until the moment when they called my name and I felt as though my organization reached a larger audience than was ever intended, which is incredible.”

Now, Simon hopes the award will help expand her initiative, allowing more children to experience the healing power of music. She plans to continue this work while attending Northwestern University, where she will study Theatre and Film and collaborate with the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Yana Danzig, the Silver Knight winner in Art, created Brushstrokes for History to bring visibility to local history through art. Inspired by the historical significance of boarded-up buildings, Danzig began painting murals on plywood, transforming vacant structures into vibrant canvases that honor the past.

Starting Brushstrokes for History was a challenge, primarily due to the need for consistent communication and scheduling. However, Danzig’s perseverance paid off. She partnered with organizations like 4-H, the YMCA and HANDY, implementing summer programs and hosting painting events. Collaborations with the NFL and the Fort Lauderdale Rotary Club, as well as partnerships with Broward College and the Old Dillard Museum, expanded the project’s reach.

“I’ve partnered with many different organizations over the past year,” Danzig said. “At 4-H, the YMCA and HANDY, I implemented summer programming for students. I’ve hosted combined painting events with Action for Literacy and have received donations from them as well. I also partnered with the NFL and HANDY to host an inspirational painting event for youth and families.”

Yana contributed approximately 400 hours to the project, with over 200 local students collectively contributing more than 3,500 hours. The purpose of Brushstrokes for History is to engage the community with its local history, fostering a sense of identity and self-confidence. Currently focused on the Sistrunk area of South Florida, the project highlights the often-overlooked significance of this region to Fort Lauderdale and South Florida.

“Brushstrokes for History encourages engagement with and appreciation of local history,” Danzig explained. “Local history is something that is so important to place and therefore to identity; the history of where you grew up and your relationship with that history, can greatly impact self-image and self-confidence.”

Winning the Silver Knight Award was a surreal experience for Danzig. “I got to know some of the other nominees in the waiting room before the awards and everyone was doing such amazing projects. When I heard my name called, I was just so excited for Brushstrokes to get that recognition.”

As she prepares to study linguistics in college, Danzig plans to take on a managerial role in the project, aiming to create a guide for other cities to establish their own chapters of Brushstrokes for History.

The Silver Knight winners pose with their awards. (Photo/Kayla Giset)

Senior Sophie Simon receives her Silver Knight Award for the Drama category. “The award was never a thought in my mind until the moment when they called my name and I felt as though my organization reached a larger audience than was ever intended, which is incredible,” Simon said. (Photo/Sophie Simon) 

Senior Yana Danzig volunteers for Brushstrokes for History and leads a painting session. “The hardest part [about setting up Brushstrokes for History] was staying consistent with emails and meetings and making time for events,” Danzig said. (Photo/Yana Danzig)

Kayra is a rising junior who is passionate about art and journalism. She loves expressing herself and the issues she cares about through her writing and artworks. She holds officer positions in Newspaper, Quill&Scroll, and the National Art Honor Society. When not studying, Kayra loves to read nonfiction books, hangout with her friends, cook healthy meals, listen to music while creating art, and spend time with her cat and family. She is looking forward to her junior year as she prepares for AP Art and new articles to write.

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