Real Life Rad Girls: Tikkun Olam Award Winners!

Real Life Rad Girls:
Tikkun Olam Award Winners!

The Diller Teen Awards celebrate Tikkun Olam, which means ‘repairing the world.’ This prestigious award honors Jewish teens making a difference with a $36,000 award, which winners may use for their innovative projects and/or their education. This year, 12 of the 15 winners are girls who created projects addressing opioid addiction, racism, sexual assault, antiSemitism, losing a parent, and more. Hear from a few of these incredible young women!

Emilia Peters, KEM Creative

Why were you inspired you to create/begin your project?

Art has always served as my escape from academic and social pressures.  When I was younger, I had the privilege of attending weekly art classes where I learned exciting, challenging techniques to wield materials, gain skills, and express myself.  Living in Los Angeles, I noticed that many homeless people did not have resources to occupy their time or minds. In seventh grade, while preparing for my Bat Mitzvah, I decided to collaborate with a friend and honor the occasion by creating a series of art classes for displaced youth to share my secret therapeutic device with others.

What advice would you give to another young person who wants to see change in his/her community?

I’ve learned being clear and direct are the most effective ways to engage others and create progress.  I’ve always struggled with making requests, but managing KEM Creative Studios has taught me that if you are passionate about achieving something for the community’s benefit, others will enthusiastically support you.

How did your family and friends support you while you worked on your project?

KEM Creative Studios would not be successful without my dedicated partner Kyra Kraft; the warm, receptive enthusiasm of our students; and the generosity, support, and compassion of the incredible community around me.

So many people have supported KEM’s development by providing guidance and mentorship, volunteering their time, and donating resources.  This experience has taught me—especially with regards to social innovation—the significance of collaborating with and learning from similar organizations.  It is the greatest way to make an impact!

Now that you are a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, what do you plan to do next?

I feel so grateful to be a member of the uplifting Helen Diller Family Foundation community!  The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award will help fund KEM Creative Studios and my future college studies.  In addition to facing the college applications process, I am in the beginning phases of planning a collaborative public art project that I hope to complete by the end of this senior year!

Genevieve Liu, SLAPD

Why were you inspired you to create/begin your project?

Realizing that after my father passed away that parent loss at a young age was ubiquitous in this country and beyond, and yet, there was nothing online bridging the gap. Fundamentally, that’s what inspired me to create SLAPD (www.slapd.com) — Surviving Life After A Parent Dies, the first social media for teens who have lost a parent. I wanted to create a place for teens who had lost a parent to know that they themselves, and their stories, are unique, but their situations are not and more than anything, they are not alone.

What advice would you give to another young person who wants to see change in his/her community?

Use your experience as a way to connect with others.

 How did your family and friends support you while you worked on your project?

My mom was tremendous in getting SLAP’D off the ground and cheering me on. Years later, my friends, many of whom felt at a loss for what to do directly after my father died, told me they were so grateful once I started the project because they felt it was something they could directly help me with.

Now that you are a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, what do you plan to do next?

My current academic interests lie at the intersection of policy and economics, believe it or not, as a result of my experience of having lost my dad at thirteen. After winning the award and just moving forward with my life, I aspire to create economically informed policy proposals which would better the outcomes of the millions of young people who, like me, have lost a parent in this country and beyond.

Michaela Weinstein, Speak

Why were you inspired you to create/begin your project?

At the beginning of my freshman year, Anti- Semitism was a prevalent problem at my school. Heil Hitler salutes, as well as swastikas drawn in textbooks and on lockers targeted the Jewish students and faculty of our community. Later in the year, a horrific Instagram account was created by various privileged male students, aimed at mainly black female peers at my school. These events uncovered the undercurrent of hate that many privileged people were unwilling to acknowledge or were oblivious to. It is a privilege of mine that these were the events that awakened me to this perpetual environment of hate and passivity. Education of oppression, social awareness, and empathy development were needed from a young age to stop this culture in our community. A friend of mine, Melia Oliver, and I joined together to invite other student activists to join us in addressing the numerous underlying issues contributing to this eruption of hate at our school. We saw it as our duty as students, as citizens, and as humans in this world to change our future. Students Anna Baker-Heans, Navin Attanayake, Toby Echveria, and Odette Bradburry came together to form our core leadership group. United under our passion for equality, we founded a social justice education program: Speak.

What advice would you give to another young person who wants to see change in his/her community?

Oftentimes, our lives as young people seem to be set. It feels as though we are given little choice as to how the world works. Injustice, ignorance and fear seem impossible to fight, yet all around us. In order to make a change, we need to break free of the false notion that we are limited to a passive role in our lives until we reach a certain age. One must engage critically with the hardships they come across, and devise a plan as well as build a community to stop these issues. Once this self-realization of the malleability of the world and one’s own power to change it is made, progress can begin. Many of the problems Speak targets will not be solved in my lifetime, but “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”-James Baldwin. We all have a responsibility, no matter our age, to attempt progress.

How did your family and friends support you while you worked on your project?

Speak is a ‘for the students, by the students’ initiative. Many of my friends I have made working with them in Speak, and we support each other through the knowledge that together we are making a change in the society that oppresses us. There is a miraculous feeling that comes from united passion, and this has helped many of our members, including myself, to stay motivated in our quest for equality.

Now that you are a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, what do you plan to do next? 

I am incredibly thankful to the Helen Diller Family Foundation for this award, but most of all for the amazing network of young leaders it has introduced me too. I plan on supporting and learning from the alum and new leaders that are introduced yearly into our Diller community. The amazing people I have met though this award inspire me and are an endless source of wisdom. I have two years left of high school where I will develop and expand Speak, and after I wish to attend school in New York City, perhaps Columbia University where I attended a summer program this past year. 

Helena ZImmerman, TeensGive

Why were you inspired you to create/begin your project?

The inspiration for TeensGive was born from my mitzvah project. As an avid baker and cupcake connoisseur, I used my culinary expertise to create a mini-bakery to benefit P.S 182, a school in Harlem where my family volunteers. Although the profits I generated were modest, the experience was priceless, affording me a feeling of accomplishment.

Around the same time, I observed that many of my peers were not as fortunate in their efforts to find ways to give back in their communities, partially because there are so few opportunities that offer teens a chance to work directly with underserved populations. Service projects were limited to clothing drives and daylong cleanup projects, which provide critical services but also leave many teens with a feeling of dread and ineffectuality rather than accomplishment. I decided to take action and change this mindset by inspiring high students to find skill-based, rewarding and engaging community service opportunities.

What advice would you give to another young person who wants to see change in his/her community?

If I had to give another young person advice, I would tell them to never give up on what they are passionate about. There will be many setbacks and times when there seems to be no road ahead, but I promise there is and if you just keep going, things will fall into place. A piece of advice that I heard many times when building my enterprise was “things are easier said than done”. I had big plans for my project to change the world and it seemed to be simple on paper, but it was not! If I didn’t have the support and motivation from my family, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. The last piece I would give is to listen to anyone who will give you knowledge and advice. You never know what will inspire you and be helpful.

How did your family and friends support you while you worked on your project?

My family cheered me on and supported me throughout my whole project. My mom, who I could never express enough gratitude to, guided me with her knowledge, she spent time working with me and she encouraged me to keep going when I was frustrated and wanted to give up. My friends are the reason I started my project. They wanted service opportunities that fit their needs and their schedules, and I found it my responsibility to provide that. My support team has been the most helpful part of my journey.

Now that you are a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, what do you plan to do next?

I plan to keep building my organization so that I can inspire as many teens as possible to embark on a lifelong journey of community service. The people I met at the Diller weekend have inspired me and motivated me and I am grateful to have that community of unbelievable people to call my friends.

Stephanie Reifman, HAPPY Week

Why were you inspired you to create/begin your project?

I was inspired to create my heroin awareness project, H.A.P.P.Y. (Heroin Addiction Prevents People’s Years) Week, in 2013 after my favorite actor, Cory Monteith died of a heroin overdose. I had always been a huge fan of his and of the show and I was devastated that he had lost his life to his addiction. I wanted to understand more about heroin, so I did some research. I was shocked to learn what an epidemic heroin was right in my own backyard of Bergen County, New Jersey. At that time there were more than 24 lives lost just that year. I knew then that I wanted to do something to create awareness and educate students and parents about this issue.

What advice would you give to another young person who wants to see change in his/her community?

My advice would be to never give up even if you face difficulties along the way.  Believe in what you are doing and your passion will engage others. Our communities need us more than ever to help create change. I strongly believe that we all have the power and ability to make an impact and better our world.

How did your family and friends support you while you worked on your project?

My family and friends were a huge source of support for me while I worked on my project. From coming to my programs to spreading the word to others about it, their support was incredible and contributed greatly to the program’s success.

Now that you are a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, what do you plan to do next?

I plan to work with my younger sister Melissa to continue the program locally and I am also going to be working to hopefully spread the program nationally as well. This epidemic is continuing to worsen and it is critical that we continue to educate kids and parents in the hope of saving lives and sparing the heartache so many people have experienced.

Peyton Klein, Global Minds Initiative

Why were you inspired you to create/begin your project?

One day I overheard a conversation between my homeroom teacher and an unfamiliar classmate. I realized that although she had been sitting behind me for several months, I didn’t know her name. I made incorrect assumptions that simply because she wore a Hijab and always sat quietly behind me in class, that she didn’t speak English. I realized something was missing, I had campaigned and knocked on doors, I believed in equality and inclusion, but I wasn’t actually living by those values. I befriended this classmate and learned her name was Khwala. We began speaking every day and I realized I had missed out on this amazing person for the last few months. As we got to know each other, I was lucky to be invited to her birthday party, had the opportunity to share in her traditional food, music and culture. Our friendship enriched both of our lives and I couldn’t help but think of the other “unfamiliar” classmates I had missed out on, who my peers were missing out on. I deeply regretted not meeting Khwala and my new friends sooner, I missed out on a whole three months of laughs, kindness and friendship.

Khwala shared with me her negative experience in high school thus far, it wasn’t good enough just to put my arm around her in comfort her. What about the other students facing these challenges, how could we turn their experience into a positive one? I needed to not only put my arm around Khwala, but around the community and student body. Not only to comfort, but to change the experience they faced. From talking with Khwala, her friends, Global Minds was developed and has been implemented ever since.

What advice would you give to another young person who wants to see change in his/her community?

Go for it!! YOU can be the change. Global Minds has truly been the best experience of my life. I have the opportunity to work with superhero educators and student changemakers, who educate me every single day. My grandma has always told me, “Your mind is like a parachute, it only works when it’s open.” I live by this phrase everyday and go into my work with an open mind and heart. I hope you can do the same.

Global Minds has chapters all across the USA and Canada, and we are continuing to expand. If you want to get involved visit  www.globalminds.world and start a chapter at your school! It seems like a daunting task, but I promise our team is amazing and we will help you through it. We want to hear from you!!

How did your family and friends support you while you worked on your project?

My family and friends have been crucial in every part of Global Minds. They have supported my work not only by participating in Global Minds, but supporting me personally. I could not do any of this without my family, friends and the community of supporters that I am so lucky to have.

Now that you are a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, what do you plan to do next?

Start and finish Junior year (hopefully!) All of this success is so exciting, but I am also a full time student, so school is definitely in my future. Beyond that, we are working on strengthening and growing our chapter network, so Global Minds can be in every school internationally. In the next few years we want to work on convening our chapters for a conference, to train chapter leaders and leverage our network of global citizens. Above all, our priority is maintaining our family like atmosphere and continuing to forge the incredible friendships that are so crucial to our mission.

Minnah Stein, EMPOWERU

Why were you inspired you to create/begin your project?

 In 2014, at the age of 14, I heard a segment on NPR about the rampant occurrence of sexual assaults on college campuses. I then learned it’s equally prevalent in K-12 schools. If students are at risk, why wasn’t anyone talking to us about this problem? I decided to change things. I created a community action program called EMPOWERU to address issues important to teens, primarily sexual harassment and assault. I began to organize pledge drives to get students to take a pledge against sexual assault, showing the documentary It Happened Here to all the high school students in my county, and talking about the facts, what constitutes consent, and how to be a helpful bystander. Over 2,000 local students participated in these events. While doing the screenings, it became apparent to me that it isn’t just students who need to be educated on this subject, teachers do too. So, I put together an educational program using the materials created by Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS.org), the national nonprofit leading the movement against K-12 sexual harassment and assault, and got my school board to approve it for over 43,000 K-12 students and educators throughout my county.

What advice would you give to another young person who wants to see change in his/her community?

Know that your voice has power and that one person can make a difference. Pick something you really believe in and then be prepared to do the hard work to help influence change. I also learned the immeasurable value of networking and building a support system of like-minded people. To be an effective activist you have to be open to compromise and relentless in your pursuit of change.

How did your family and friends support you while you worked on your project?

K-12 sexual harassment and assault isn’t a subject most people want to talk about, so more often than not, they don’t. But, not talking about the problem doesn’t make it go away. At first, it was difficult to get people in a position to help to take my calls or to respond to my e-mails, but I would not give up. I felt compelled to do this work. My parents were always very supportive and helped mentor me. The facts are that sexual harassment and assault happen in K-12 schools and then are perpetuated on college campuses and in the workforce. So, in order to really bring about change in this area, we have to address education on this topic earlier and more often and in an age-appropriate manner. I am so proud that my county education system eventually supported my work and helped me bring the much-needed education to students.

Now that you are a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, what do you plan to do next?

While I’m in college I will continue to fight for K-12 education on sexual harassment and assault. However, now that I’m in college, it only makes sense that my work also include educating college students. I am happy to share that I was selected as an It’s On Us campus leader. I have already started working to bring educational programs to my campus. And in the spring I will be a very enthusiastic intern for state senator Darryl Rouson, assisting with the legislative session. After interning for my city’s mayor, Shelli Freeland Eddie, and learning so much from her about how county government works, I can’t wait to learn from Senator Rouson about state government. I would like to work toward getting a statewide K-12 sexual harassment and assault educational program adopted.

Lena Goldstein, Improved Cervical Cancer Screening Programs in Developing Nations.

Why were you inspired you to create/begin your project?

After traveling with my family and working in South America and Southeast Asia with nine different NGO’s, each with its own mission, I was particularly struck by disparities affecting women in developing countries. Soon thereafter, I started to learn about cervical cancer, which is a leading cause of cancer death in women in resource-poor continues, despite being one of the easiest cancers to prevent and to detect in the pre-cancer stage.

What advice would you give to another young person who wants to see change in his/her community?

Once you find a cause that you’re passionate about, the most important first step is to surround yourself with a reliable and valuable team. Though the task of improving healthcare for just one patient seemed at first daunting, working together, I began to see the indispensable role of each local health promoter, philanthropist, volunteer physician, lab technician, CEO, nurse, pharmacist, and translator.

How did your family and friends support you while you worked on your project?

Growing up in a family of many physicians, I am especially grateful to my parents for showing me the importance of spending your own time helping others. Most recently, I am so appreciative of the Diller Foundation for recognizing Jewish teenagers who aim to make the world a safer, healthier, and happier place. During our scholarship weekend, I learned so much from the other awardees and about the ways that my project relates to Jewish values.

Now that you are a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, what do you plan to do next?

Using the Diller Teen Award Scholarship, I hope to further investigate the application of telemedicine technology in cervical cancer screening. On a more personal note, I just began my first year at Yale University! I look forward to spending college breaks and summers on medical brigades with our partners in Peru, China, and Cambodia. I know that I am only beginning to understand the cultural and societal complexities that are vital components of the global health field, and I look forward to continuing the hard work.

Sara Blau, GameChangers

Why were you inspired you to create/begin your project?

Growing up, I was involved in multiple sports teams. I loved the feeling of being a part of a team; of feeling like an essential player. I loved working alongside my teammates to reach a common goal. My years of experience on various teams empowered me to assume leadership positions, both on and off the field. Sports can have an extraordinarily positive impact on young people’s lives, yet disadvantaged kids face many barriers to participation. I was inspired to begin my project when I realized that so many children do not have access to participate in sports, and the empowering experience that was incredibly formative for me. I knew that if every child had a soccer ball to kick, a bat to swing, or cleats to run in, they too could become leaders in their local sports leagues; they too could benefit from the life skills that playing sports imparts.

What advice would you give to another young person who wants to see change in his/her community?

I think that if you are passionate about changing something in your community, country, or even the world, you should definitely act on it. Don’t think another person is going to do it, because they won’t, and it should be you. Mahatma Gandhi, a great Indian activist once said, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world”. I follow his words very closely in all of the community service and volunteer work that I do. It won’t be easy, and it won’t take a day, month, or even a year, but with hard work, and determination, you can make a difference.

How did your family and friends support you while you worked on your project?

My family and friends have truly been an integral part of my project. Without their constant support, I would not have been as nearly as successful with my organization as I am. Whether we am planning a fundraising sports event, or holding a sports equipment collection, my mom, dad, sister, and friends have been there for me all of the way. I am eternally grateful for their help with everything and anything I do.

I believe that it’s extremely important to have this support system because whatever change you want to make, you will need support from others. Community service is not meant to be done alone. It should be for the community, and by the community. Getting your family and friends involved with the work you are doing will help you achieve more success, and allow you to make a larger impact.

Now that you are a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, what do you plan to do next?

With more money in the Game Changers New York budget, I have great plans to allow the organization to grow and prosper even more. Currently we have chapters in two states, New York and New Jersey, and my longer term goal is replicate the model and process that we have established and expand into more states in the Northeast Region of the USA. We will additionally buy large receptacle bins to place at sports centers so that there can be a central, and easily accessible place for people to donate their sports equipment. Additionally, I plan to continue to guide the direction of the organization and the future volunteers in order to help with continued growth.

Madeline Salvatierra, Summer Camps for Kids

Why were you inspired you to create/begin your project?

I’ve been a Girl Scout for 13 years. One of my goals in Girl Scouts was to earn my Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can earn. To earn the Girl Scout Gold Award, girls make the world a better place by taking action on an issue they are passionate about. I am passionate about summer camp, since summer camp is where I gained independence and confidence. I wanted to bring summer camp to all children. As I started brainstorming ideas for my Gold Award project, I learned that many kids from low-income families lack access to opportunities to explore careers for their future.

Shockingly, almost one half of children born to low income parents become low income adults according to the Dynamics of Inequality and Poverty by John Creed and Guyonne Kalb. I made it my mission to break the cycle of poverty, by helping youth from low-income families explore careers for their future in a supportive summer camp environment. So, I combined my love of summer camp with children’s’ need for career exploration, and I created Camps to Explore and Empower.

What advice would you give to another young person who wants to see change in his/her community?

If you want to change something, the best time to start is when you are young! Making a change in your community requires a lot of determination. People might tell you that you are too young to make a difference, but I believe that now is the best time to take action! Once you reach adulthood, you will have more responsibilities and less free time. Right now, you have peers in your school and community who can support your endeavors. Just go for it!

How did your family and friends support you while you worked on your project?

I am so grateful for my family’s support, because they encouraged me to keep working on the Camps to Explore and Empower throughout high school, and because they helped me develop my project in so many ways. From helping me design marketing pitches, to coming up with new ideas for the curriculum, to allowing me to store boxes of camp supplies in our garage, my family’s support was essential to my project. My friends supported me by volunteering at the camp. Having a support team is super important!

Now that you are a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, what do you plan to do next?

I recently started college, so I have been busy adjusting to college life. College is exciting because of all of the new opportunities and experiences that I can have! In my English class, for instance, I am conducting a semester-long research essay on hunger and poverty. I am looking forward to seeing how this research will further my understanding of the youth that I serve through Camps to Explore and Empower. I am also interested in volunteering with local organizations that support low-income families. I plan to continue mentoring teen leaders who will lead the Camps to Explore and Empower camp each summer, and to continue developing the curriculum for the camp.

Nominations and applications for the 2019 Diller Teen Awards are open now! 

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