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Miss South Florida 2015 Loves The Treasure Coast, Harry Potter And Reading To Kids

Taylor Mathews is Miss South Florida 2015—but she’s also a part-time treasure hunter, a huge Harry Potter fan and a full-time student at Nova Southeastern University.

Mathews’ first taste of competition came when she won the Junior Orange Bowl Princess title at age 14. She then competed in the Miss South Florida USA pageant for the first time in 2013 and won.

Mathews was able to compete again this year and was crowned Miss South Florida 2015 in February.

The 20-year-old is direct about what made her want to get involved with the local branch of the Miss America competition. It was the money—but not in the way you might think.

“When you’re a lot younger, you always see the competitions on TV,” she said. “I started realizing how much scholarship money was available through the organization and realized it was the perfect way for me to pay for school.”

The fiscally responsible college planner is now studying political science at Nova, her mother’s alma mater. She’s attending on a full-tuition scholarship, and her goal is to pursue law school afterward. 

No stranger to the Treasure Coast—Mathews visits her mother in Port St. Lucie monthly—she said she is a huge fan of treasure hunting there with her dad.

“We usually go to places where there have been shipwrecks along the Treasure Coast and up in the middle part of Florida,” Mathews said.

She hopes to eventually become scuba certified so the can go shipwreck diving together as well.

Through these visits, Mathews had found an appreciation for the area she considers so different from South Florida.

“When I do go to Stuart and Port St. Lucie, I feel like I can connect with Florida’s history a little better,” she said.

As much as she appreciates history, Mathews loves reading even more. Carrying a lifelong passion for service and literacy, she’s been involved with BookPALS—a children’s literacy program that promotes the art of storytelling—since age 8.

It all started with her own love of reading, which she developed after her mom bought her the first book of the “Harry Potter” series.

“I could not put the book down. The next day I was done with it,” Mathews said. “That’s really what got my passion started for reading and literacy in general.”

Her volunteer efforts began as early as the third grade, when Mathews said she noticed many of her classmates didn’t enjoy reading; they only associated it with homework.

“I asked my mom what I could do about that. We looked into organizations that promoted literacy, but they all told me I had to be 18 in order to volunteer,” she said.

However, Mathews says BookPALS was the one organization that welcomed her with open arms. She began reading to the kindergarten class as a third grade student herself. Since then, Mathews has read books to others at homeless shelters, children’s hospitals and Head Start classrooms. 

Through the Miss America organization, Mathews also volunteers with the Children’s Miracle Network together with her teenage Miss South Florida counterpart Amanda Shoopman, who used to be a patient at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. 

Mathews called visiting the center with her an eye-opening experience.

“When she was a kid, she had cancer,” she explained. “We went to her former ward and read to the kids who are now in the hospital where she was, growing up.”

Mathews has read to more than 3,000 children, according to a release, and has been working to read at a homeless shelter in each of Florida’s 67 counties. Each child she reads to receives a new book donated by BookPALS.