Helen Diller: The young winners have already made the world a better place by their actions, and they serve as a role model to inspire others to make a difference. This naturally creates a ripple effect.
Megan Kilroy: Growing up in Santa Monica, my dad’s a lifeguard, and I grew up on the beach. I grew up playing in the waves, playing in the sand, and I began to see that it’s becoming more and more full of plastic and dirty and dirtier, and this place that I love so much and that I see is this clean, pristine ocean is becoming full of plastic because this is what humans are doing. And so I found Team Marine, and I was like, you know what, this is a way I can step in there and I can make a difference.
Team Marine is a group of environmentally conscious, dedicated students from Santa Monica High School, and we travel all over California teaching people about how to live sustainably and about the problems with plastic in our oceans.
The first thing is education. We go to elementary schools, we go to conferences, we go everywhere teaching people about how important it is to actually take those steps to make a small change in their lives.
Another component of what Team Marine does is we try and get the government involved. We’ve gone up to Sacramento to lobby for a bill, which will ban single-use plastic bags and regulates single-use paper bags throughout California. And I’ve personally gone up three times as Capwoman. It’s so much fun just walking around the capitol in a suit covered in about a thousand bottle caps, having senators and assembly members take a double take in the hallway, and uh, you know, trying to just bring that awareness up to the capitol.
So first we start with California and then we move on to the entire nation, hopefully, the entire world.
David Weingarten: The project I did was the, um, U S Y Abuyadaya Partnership where Shomrei Torah Synagogue USY fundraised to bring three Abayudaya teens from Uganda to Los Angeles for the Far West USY convention. They came here for two and a half weeks to learn how to develop programs, leadership training, and also to interact with Jews from all over the west coast at Far West USY regional convention.
So the three teens returned to Uganda, excited from what they had just witnessed in Los Angeles and created the AYA , the Abayudaya Youth Association. They wanted to have a convention just like the one that they’ve been hearing about. So myself, with the help of many others within U S Y began fundraising to fund the first-ever AYA convention in Uganda.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got there. [singing] At the convention, there were 200 Jewish teens from the eight Abayudaya villages and from Kenya and Northern Uganda. The convention really helped to bring these teens together to unite and to meet each other because they rarely have the opportunity to meet each other.
Speaker: Number one is, uh, to create unity among the youth among us old.
David Weingarten: It was the first time ever that the youth of the community, they actually led all of Friday night services, all of Saturday morning services, and they led the Saturday night services. They led everything for the entire weekend for the first time ever.
Now the teens in the community are, are more excited to take on leadership roles because now they’re, they’re empowered with this youth group to be able to teach others within the community. [singing] They can create their Jewish experiences with this youth group. And as their society continues to develop and instead of staying home and being subsistence farmers, they can move on to the universities and take these experiences with them as they move on into the world.
David Schenirer: So when I became a teenager, um, things started to change in life, like they do for everyone, and all my friends started to get into this whole, uh, idea of drugs and alcohol and partying all the time, and, and it became overwhelming. And I, I lost my best friend at the time to drugs and alcohol.
You know, to me it was that he didn’t have somewhere to call his own. He didn’t have, you know, the loving family that, you know, some of us have. He didn’t have that kind of support behind him. That’s what motivates me to want VIBE to exist so badly. I don’t want anyone else to have to deal with that. I don’t want anyone to lose their best friend.
There aren’t any safe places for teens in Sacramento. There’s not one place where teens can go to call their own. There’s not a place where you can get resources. There’s not a place where you can just hang out. I brought the idea to the Sacramento Youth Commission. We created an ad hoc committee called Safe Places for Youth. We’ve raised over $600,000 of in-kind donations, which we’re extremely proud of.
We have a space in downtown Sacramento where teens want to hang out and do hang out now, and we’re getting ready to remodel the space into VIBE into like the coolest teen lounge in Sacramento, the coolest place to be in Sacramento.
As these are the, um, like study areas, so you’ll have these tables and stuff, and then this is actually the computer area.
We want VIBE to be a place where you can go, if you’re black, white, Latino, straight, gay, whatever it is, it’s for you. LGBT youth should be able to feel comfortable in a space that’s, that’s for everyone. We’re making this more of an open, inclusive place to be where, uh, teens from all walks of life are welcome and, and are happy to be there and aren’t feeling harassed or feeling out of place there. They feel comfortable and, and that’s a beautiful thing. And, and to see it manifest in VIBE is wonderful. We’re picking up the pieces, we’re putting things together, and we’re creating a better and safer place for everyone to live in.
Jason Bade: So you turn on the news, you read your newspaper, and you see that the world is in dire straits, but I found that really the best way to deal with this is to, um, start where you can. And for me, that was at my high school.
I noticed that a lot of the school’s actions and decisions weren’t meeting up with my vision of sustainability. So basically I started out, um, wanting solar panels on my school and also wanting to fix the recycling program; those were my two main goals. The impact that would be had, um, by implementing a rigorous recycling program as well as installing solar panels would help out the environment as well as students and teachers in, in terms of more money for education. The recycling program, after instituting it, we found out in the first year we calculated, we saved just my school alone, $4,800 just in not having to pay for waste disposal fees.
Solar took a lot of persistence and time. We had to research, um, different financial options available to the district to fund the panels because they were very expensive. Um, and then also just, uh, meeting with, uh, the appropriate people, trying to convince the right people that saw our panels were indeed a good investment for the district.
As much as we’d like to think that Foster City is ahead, which we are compared to many other cities, um, there are other municipalities that have, are well ahead of us. And as a result, the district is going to save, um, well over a million dollars a year just in, in energy costs.
But then also it’s going to save the environment in terms of the air pollutants and carbon emissions that were otherwise going to be produced, um, by this dirty fossil fuel-based energy.
Kyle Weiss: In 2006, my brother and I were lucky enough to attend the FIFA World Cup in Germany. And one of the games we got to go to was Iran versus Angola. And the Angola fans, they told us how soccer in Africa is everything. It’s life, it’s what they care about, it’s what they follow. Everything. We realized that, you know, we could help these people. We have the best fields, we have the best everything here in Danville when you look at the kids in Africa and some of the problems that they face on their day-to-day lives, war, child soldiers, disease, like HIV, Aids, and malaria and serious drug and alcohol problems everywhere.
But we didn’t really know the extent of what Africa was like. We didn’t know what the people were like. We were just kids. I was 13 at the time, and we wanted to do something. So we told some of our friends and we we’re gonna originally bring cleats or soccer balls, some just to let them play the game. But one of our friends said, well, don’t they need a field first?
So we decided to build a field, and now we have over 30 kids who are working together to raise money for these kids in Africa. So far, this group has raised over $112,000. When we build a field, we try and put it at a school because for a couple reasons. One, because it gives the kids a good reason to stay in school because the field is the greatest motivator. One of the kids there said, you know, Uganda’s been torn apart by war for so many years, and no one really trusts each other.
But one of the ways that people start to trust each other, they start playing soccer on the same team or against each other, and they learn to respect each other, and it just brings the whole community together as opposed from pushing them apart.
Helen Diller: This has all been an inspiration for me, and especially when I hear these stories. I’m in awe of the Diller teens and of course now of all the tikkun olam awards.
Kyle Weiss: The lessons you learn, tikkun olam, how to repair the world, everything that you learn from your Jewish upbringing, it’s everything you do, it comes from that, and it just basically teaches you how to do the right thing.
Jason Bade: When you stand up, others will stand up with you. If enough of us act in this way, thinking in terms of tikkun olam uh, that the world will be a pretty good place after all for, for my children and, and their children and so on.
David Weingarten: Receiving this award just gives me the confidence and ability to be able to go inspire others and to create more change within the world.
David Schenirer: It’s awesome to be recognized and to be with all these other teens who are doing such inspiring things, and it really fuels you and gives you the inspiration you need to know that you are making a difference. And, uh, I hope that I can take this into my future and take tikkun olam and my future and, and really change the world for the better.
Megan Kilroy: For me, the most important part of being Jewish is giving back, the concept of tikkun olam, that we all have an obligation to make this world a better place, and that’s what I plan to do for the rest of my life.
Helen Diller: What better way than to leave a legacy that have an impact on the youth, for Jewish knowledge, and future leaders? It’s never too late, too early or too often to demonstrate the spirit of tikkun olam.