Summer camp counselor Shaunak Mishra floated from table to table during a recent afternoon art class at the Boys & Girls Club in Kendall, asking his group of second graders what they were painting.
"I’m trying to draw Batman," one replied. Shaunak — who the kids call "Shaun" for short — told him to draw the Joker, too.
The 17-year-old interpreted one kid's painting of green swirls as a soccer field and asked the table for predictions of World Cup winners. A couple of the campers chanted: "Mexico! Mexico!"
Shaunak and 14 other South Florida teens are doing paid internships at local nonprofits and taking a free trip to Washington, D.C., this summer as part of a selective national leadership program run by Bank of America.
To be eligible, the students had to show how they've given back to their community. Their service projects range from volunteering as a swim instructor for kids with special needs to leading an effort to reform the bylaws of a local homeowners association to be fairer to tenants.
This week, the local participants — five students each from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties — are attending a summit in the nation’s capital with more than 200 others from around the country. They'll learn about civic engagement and meet with their members of Congress.
For most of the summer, though, they’ll be working at local community organizations — and making $10 a hour, on Bank of America. In Broward and Palm Beach counties, students work at the YMCA of South Florida and Communities in Schools of Palm Beach County.
The students in Miami-Dade are serving as counselors for summer camps at Boys & Girls Clubs that serve 1,500 kids, most of them from low-income families.
Shaunak just graduated from Palmer Trinity, a private school in Palmetto Bay. He's headed to Vanderbilt University and hopes to be a doctor.
On his application for the leadership program, he described a community service project that he began his freshman year of high school and that evolved over time.
At one point, he visited a group home for foster kids run by the Children's Home Society of Florida near his school. An avid basketball player, the run-down court caught his eye.
"I play on nice wood polished floors, and these kids don’t even get the chance to play with a hoop that has a net," Shaunak said. "So I said, 'We need to find a way because everybody should have a chance to play basketball.'"
He helped raise money to renovate the court. Then he started a club at his school called Hoop Dreams where he and other students went to the home to play basketball with the kids there. Eventually, the older students started tutoring the foster kids and doing art projects with them, too.
Another local participant in the program, Jacqueline Hatch, also wanted to help students discover what had become her passion in high school: speech and debate.
The first time she placed in a speech and debate tournament, her original performance piece was called "Science — no boys allowed."
"I played a little girl along with my friend, and we created a machine and a science project to make boys less gross," said Jacqueline, 17, an incoming senior at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in Aventura.
"So we wound up putting a boy in a machine — and out comes a girl," she laughed.
In the last few years, she has started debate clubs at middle schools in Miami-Dade County, hoping to help younger kids gain the confidence she had found in the sport. She has even taken some sixth graders to high school tournaments.
"I taught them all their hand gestures and 'posture' and 'feet planted,'" she said. "It was so nice to see them go from shy middle schoolers to blossoming high school kids."
This summer, she is working at the Boys & Girls Club northwest in Pinewood, teaching kids how to use Microsoft Office in the computer lab.
Alex Rodriguez-Roig, president of Boys and Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade, said having a few extra sets of hands in the summer is a big help.
In addition to participating in activities like arts and literacy, kids who attend the summer camps go on field trips to places like the beach and the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. They get lunch and snacks. The cost is from $150 to $350 for the summer, and most kids aren’t paying full price, he said.
"Funding is tough sometimes, so this is another way of helping," he said, "to make sure we can serve as many kids as possible during the summer."
CORRECTION: In the original version of this article, Shaunak Mishra's first name was misspelled.