castelline-tilus_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE — Despite the recent violence at Dillard High School, the school has many success stories.

One of them is of an exceptional student who is making a difference in her community.

Earlier this year, Castelline Tilus, 18, an A Honor Roll student at Dillard, was one of five Broward high school students recognized by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation.

“The Neighborhood Excellence Initiative (NEI) underscores our belief that investing in leadership is a sound practice, whether building the capacity of our nonprofit organizations, developing current and emerging community leaders, or preparing our youth for the future,” said Mark Maller, president of Bank of America’s Broward County market.

The NEI honors awardees in three categories: local nonprofit organizations working to promote vibrant communities; community leaders who contribute significantly to the well-being of their neighborhoods, and exemplary high school juniors and seniors dedicated to improving their communities.

The other four students recognized by the charity are: Savannah English of Fort Lauderdale, who attended Pine Crest School; Nathaniel Fritz of Davie who attends Western High School; Tiffany Knowles of Miramar, who attended Pembroke Pines Charter High School; and Jenna Shawver of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, who attends Northeast High School.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Tilus grew up in the poverty-stricken slums of Haiti and returned to the U.S. at age eight, where she said it was difficult to assimilate into the new, American culture.
She said she encountered many prejudices against Haitians.

“People looked down on you and it was really hard to climb up the ladder. But with prayer, I gained an interest in academics, so here I am,” she said.

Juggling a hectic schedule that includes working as a front end manager at a local supermarket, and enrolling in three challenging Advanced Placement classes plus an additional college class at Broward College, the 2006 Urban League’s Harriet Tubman Leadership Award recipient still finds time for volunteerism and maintaining a 4.73 GPA.

Her tremendous efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Tilus received the prestigious Neighborhood Excellence Initiative award for her volunteer work with the YMCA and the Urban League of Broward County. The two-part award included a paid, eight-week internship with the L.A. Lee YMCA, where Tilus worked over the summer alongside executive director Sam Monroe and gained insight into its operations.

“Castelline was very focused and mind-driven as far as what she wants to do. So, I definitely think that any organization that hires her will have a great asset,” Monroe said.

Tilus also attended a fully-paid, week-long leadership summit in Washington, D.C., where she and 255 other students from across the country received firsthand knowledge of how nonprofits, businesses and government partners operate.

“During meetings we discussed the economic state of the country and tried to come up with solutions for ending the recession. It also helped to boost my confidence in my leadership skills,” Tilus said.

Now a board member of the YMCA and a member of the marketing committee, Tilus said she was grateful and honored for the award, and plans to start a nonprofit organization in Fort Lauderdale or Haiti after finishing college. She said she would like to attend Brown University.

The violence at her school has not deterred her, either. Police said that on Nov. 12, 15-year-old Teah Wimberly brought a gun to Dillard High and fatally shot fellow student Amanda Collette, also 15. Wimberly is charged with first-degree murder and discharging a weapon on school property.

Tilus, who is ranked second in her class of 390, said she has never considered transferring to another school because Dillard hosts great students and teachers.

Yvonne Knight, who teaches chemistry at Dillard, said she is proud of Tilus’ accomplishments. 
“She adapts quickly to concepts and I know she’ll be successful because she has the discipline and the attitude that it takes to succeed,” Knight said.

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Castelline V. Tilus