That’s how 16-year-old Miranda Fuentes describes the day she found out that she received an award from Nickelodeon. Sitting on her bed months later, the teen can’t contain her excitement when she flashes back to the event where she was honored for her involvement with Boca-based non-profit Surfers for Autism.
With a “Pretty Little Liars” surfboard situated in the corner in her room, Fuentes appears to be a typical teenager. But the Surfers for Autism (SFA) banner proudly displayed on the wall sets her apart – she is a walking billboard for this organization. She sits cross-legged in her jeans and SFA shirt, clutching a pillow in her lap, as she explains the journey of how she became involved with SFA and how it led to this awesome accolade.
When Fuentes’ little brother Lucas was diagnosed with autism, a family friend told the Fuentes family about SFA, a non-profit that teaches children on the autism spectrum how to surf. Lucas, now 15, loved attending events, and the Fuentes family became hooked.
Now as a master instructor for SFA, Fuentes arrives at surfing events around 5 a.m. to set up for registration. She is a natural instructor. In addition to her knowledge of surfing, her easy-going nature and her relationship with her brother gives her an understanding of autism that makes it easier for children to trust and open up to her.
Her work has not gone unnoticed. This past year, the Pembroke Pines resident was honored by Nickelodeon for her volunteer efforts with SFA. She received a HALO Award, which stands for “Helping and Leading Others.”
Fuentes had no idea that she would receive an award from Nickelodeon. The network contacted SFA to see if there were any volunteers who met requirements for the award. They were looking for a teen with an inspiring story who was creating an impact on his or her community. Producers heard about Fuentes and called to interview her.
“I didn’t know it was for HALO; I thought it was just for a commercial,” Fuentes says. Discussions and interviews continued with different producers for around two months before Nickelodeon producers and staff came to an SFA event.
During the event, producers pulled everyone out of the water and presented Fuentes with the award. “I’m next to a producer when they’re presenting [the award] to her,” Fuentes’ mom, Laura, says. “And I’m like ‘What’s HALO?’ I had zero idea what HALO was.”
After that, Fuentes’ life changed. The family took two trips to California, where she received the award and met celebrities like Shay Mitchell from “Pretty Little Liars” and musician Austin Mahone. Nickelodeon also awarded the teen $10,000 to use toward her education and gave SFA $10,000, which will help the non-profit continue to produce events for the 2014 season.
Even though she is the first to tell you that she misses the “HALO” that Nickelodeon shined over her, she’s getting back into the swing of being a normal teenager. She continues to skateboard and attend concerts. But she is awaiting the spring and summer 2014 events season. Fuentes lights up the room with her smile as she describes how anxious she is for the all-day events to begin.
Through the surfing and paddleboarding lessons, the children learn to open up, changing their lives, their families and even the volunteers.
“Your life has changed,” Fuentes says. “Because you’ve changed somebody else’s life.”