Couch Surfing -- Tikkun Olam Style

Read Erich Sorger's inspiring Tikkun Olam story about helping others in need by turning trash into valuable resources. This mitzvah made him a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam awardee. Kol Hakavod! The following article is from the March/April 2008 issue of JVIBE, a Jewish teen magazine. "A 10-minute mitzvah is all it takes to spark a new idea that can repair our world (tikkun olam). The other day I was wrestling the old brown couch into the back of my dad’s minivan. It was similar to a couch that had sparked an idea four years ago at the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles (NCJW/LA), which 'gives the less fortunate a fighting chance.' It all started when my dad and I were throwing out our recyclables behind my house and I saw a black backpack hanging on our fence. Just then a disheveled, emaciated man approached, about six foot three, with long hair and a withering beard. His name was Dwayne and he was homeless—all his worldly possessions were in this half-empty bag. Over time he had lost his job, his money, most of his possessions and finally his house. He told us that the homeless shelters weren’t safe, and the nearby church couldn’t help him. My dad wasn’t convinced. As we walked Dwayne to the church, I thought about how American activists are fighting for the poor in Africa, India and South America but we ignore the needy on our own street corners. To our amazement, the pastor said, 'We can’t take them all in,' and closed the door. My dad was speechless. He gave Dwayne some money, advice and sandwiches, and apologized that he could not do more. Later that day, while driving by UCLA, a monstrous couch on the pavement caught my eye. I asked why it was there. My dad told me when college students move out, they leave what they don’t want on their front lawns for the city to pick up as garbage. I convinced him to help me load the couch into our van and he told me about a group called NCJW that accepts donations, sells them at their thrift store and uses the profits to help the needy. While my dad could give Dwayne money, I didn’t have any. I figured I could give back with this couch. As we rode home, we saw a computer, then a chair and then a mattress. Finally, when our van could hold no more, I made my first donation. That day, tikkun olam gave me such a wonderful feeling that I knew I could do more, which is how my project 'Dollars for Dwaynes' was formed. With my friends and family I would find abandoned reusable items and donate them. One day it would be a couch and the next day a desk, which has since translated into $18,665 in donated items over the last four years. These items sold in thrift stores have funded programs that help children, women and families.

With a generous scholarship from the Helen Diller Family Foundation Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, awarded to help my college tuition, I am furthering my tikkun olam vision. Dollars for Dwayne came about because I saw a use for 'trash.'

It doesn’t take years to make a difference, just a quick mitzvah. It could be picking up trash or thinking a little differently that can make the world a better place and bring peace to our planet." The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards are for up to five teenagers ages 13-19 years old from throughout California that are awarded $36,000 each for community service and for demonstrating outstanding leadership and commitment to improving the world around them. Are you yourself or someone you know deserving? Click here for more information on how you can get started!

Categories: Awards, Endowment, Teens


July 14, 2008


The Federation