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15 Teen Leaders Who Are Every Bubbe’s Dream

Ever wondered what would happen if you put down Snapchat, turned off Netflix, and made something happen? These 15 teens did just that, creating impactful service projects that do everything from mentoring at-risk kids in Baltimore to educating migrant workers to empowering students to take a stand against bullying.

Meet 15 amazing teens who are making a big difference. Each is receiving $36,000 from the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards for their dedication to social change.

Are you a Jewish teen volunteer leader interested in applying for the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award and an opportunity to receive $36,000? Want to learn more about these young heroes and their projects? Check out dillerteenawards.org.

1. Shira Alcouloumre | Laguna Friends in Need

Shira, 17, wanted to make the lives of day laborers in Laguna Beach a little bit easier. She started Laguna Friends in Need, providing workers with food, clothing, weekly English classes, medical care, holiday presents, and a safe environment to wait for jobs. In the process, Shira has challenged local stereotypes and created deep, personal bonds with the workers.

2. Zachary Azrael | Tutoring Outreach Program (T.O.P)

Zachary, 18, is on a mission to help kids in his community, particularly those with incarcerated parents. He created the Tutoring Outreach Program (T.O.P.), in which he recruits and trains 50 peer volunteers to run academic clubs and extracurricular activities for local elementary school students in need. Through after-school enrichment activities ranging from physics experiments to a pen-pal program with kids in Uganda, T.O.P. is helping students rise to the top of the class.

3. Sophie Bernstein | Go Healthy St. Louis

Unsatisfied with the junk food on the shelves of local food banks, Sophie, 15, created a backyard garden to donate fresh produce to hungry St. Louis families. That small garden has blossomed into a full-fledged movement—Go Healthy St. Louis—working in partnership with low-income pre-schools to build gardens that give young kids the opportunity to make hands-on discoveries about planting and healthy eating while giving low-income families more healthy foods. It’s safe to say that St. Louis is going healthy, one seedling at a time.

4. Liesl Eibschutz | SOS: Strengthen Our School

Liesl, 17, has turned a call for help into an organization that empowers high schoolers living below the poverty line. SOS: Strengthen Our School, provides basic necessities like clothes, food, and school supplies to students facing adversities like homelessness, foster care, and poverty. But, what’s more, this year alone, Liesl has raised $20,000 in scholarships to help send 14 students to college – kids who might not otherwise be able to further their education.

5. Emmi Eisner | Play It Forward

Can you imagine a playground without soccer balls, footballs, and basketballs? When Emmi, 16, visited one Los Angeles school with no sports equipment, she wanted to make sure its students had access to the same benefits of sports that she had. She founded Play It Forward, which gives sporting gear to underserved schools. Now 10,000 students at 20 schools can enjoy time on the playground and enjoy physical activities that build teamwork, communication skills, and friendships. Recess never seemed so good!

6. Hart Fogel | Marin City Community Garden Project

Hart, 16, has taken healthy food to new heights. The Marin City Community Garden Project combines gardening and restorative justice to build connections in a diverse community. Stereotypes break down as people of different backgrounds—including past juvenile offenders—work together in the garden, not only planting seeds for vegetables, but also of change and acceptance. And the increased healthy food options for the community? That’s a great bonus.

7. Jake Galant | Tera Byte Outreach

If there’s something all millennials know, it’s that technology is here to stay. Jake, 17, wanted to give underprivileged students the same opportunities he had for a power-charged career. He created Tera Byte Outreach, a four-day camp that teaches computer programming skills through video game creation. First stop, camp; next stop, Silicon Valley!

8. Riley Gantt | Rainbow Pack

Crisp paper. Scented markers. A freshly sharpened pencil. Riley, 15, believes all students should have basic resources and experience the thrill of new back-to-school supplies. Her organization, Rainbow Pack, provides backpacks full of school supplies to students living under the poverty line who otherwise might not have the supplies they need to do their homework. She’s helped 5,500 students prepare for their upcoming school years, making sure that everyone has the opportunity to complain about doing homework.

9. Marissa Hacker | Fantastic Friends

Marissa, 19, knows everyone needs a friend, so she decided to help those who struggled to build friendships. She created Fantastic Friends, an organization that offers a safe space for special needs kids, where they can form supportive relationships with each other and neurotypical teen volunteers. 500 special needs youth and typically developing teens participate in activities like a Candyland-themed prom and a support group for siblings of kids with special needs, creating not only life-long friendships, but—more importantly—an extended family.

10. Matthew Kaplan | The Be One Project

Who’d have thought the answer to bullying would be preventing kids from ever wanting to be bullies in the first place? Matthew, 18, turns traditional anti-bullying programs upside down with The Be One Project, empowering students to discover the benefits of inclusive school environments by leading activities that foster empathy, respect, and community. This peer-to-peer program has helped prevent bullying, form friendships, and initiate apologies, forever changing the dynamics of middle school relationships.

11. Jessica Markowitz | Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE

A young woman interested in empowering her female peers on the other side of the globe? Now that’s powerful. Jessica, 19, created Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE, a program that funds the educations of girls in Rwanda from primary school to university. Jessica’s helped develop girls’ leadership skills, challenge gender discrimination, and build cross-cultural friendships.

12. Lauren Maunus | School Food Labeling Initiative

Ever envisioned a world with tasty and healthy cafeteria food? Where you know exactly what’s in that mystery meat—including any foods that you’re allergic to? Lauren, 17, is making this vision a reality for Florida children. Thanks to Lauren, 3 million students now have access to information about their school lunches, helping them determine the safest, healthiest, and best food options. Through lobbying and building partnerships, she’s moving forward school nutrition policy reform – in Florida and beyond.

13. Ben Moelis | The Magic Arrows

Everyone could use a little bit of magic in their lives. Ben, 18, set out to share that magic, creating a therapeutic game for children with Fragile-X Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. The Magic Arrows helps ease kids’ transitions between daily activities and decreases the risk of anxiety-induced seizures, changing how children with Fragile-X are able to manage their stress and cope with the less-than-magical parts of life.

14. Ruthie Perlman | Gesher BBYO

Ruthie, 17, wasn’t going to let her Judaism make her feel like an outsider in her small, primarily Christian, South Carolina town. She formed Gesher BBYO, a chapter of the international Jewish youth movement, giving Jewish teens the opportunity to develop pride in their Jewish identities and helping to make a small Jewish community even stronger.

15. Andrew Plotch | Fight Apathy Campaign

Tired of listening to conversations about celebrity drama and reality television, Andrew, 19, created the Fight Apathy Campaign. Students complete and then wear fill-in-the-blank stickers, proudly declaring to their peers what “I believe in,” and sparking discussions around issues important to one another. He’s not only challenging apathy – he’s also challenging all those who claim that the next generation is a lost cause.

The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards are funded by the Helen Diller Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. Learn more at www.dillerteenawards.com.

Categories: Endowment, Awards


August 19, 2015


Eva Gellman