Daniel Sobajian: I go to a high school where 60% of the students live at or below the poverty line. There are a lot of kids who really don’t have the necessary supplies to go to school.
My Jewish upbringing helped me be grateful for what I have and know that every little thing that you give back does make a huge difference. So in eighth grade, I approached my council member and I told him that I wanted to make more of a difference in my community. Council Member Rosenthal has taken me under his wing and has shown me everything there is to know about city politics. And he suggested that I start the 11th District Youth Council of Los Angeles, a group of students who come together and meet on a monthly basis to discuss different issues in the city of Los Angeles.
Well, at our first meeting, we decided that a school supply drive would be the perfect first project. I was talking to a teacher at Washington Prep, a high school where a hundred percent of the kids are at or below the poverty line, and all of her students had no school supplies, and I donated a bunch of calculators and backpacks and rulers and protractors.
Well, the first time walking into the classroom, that was really a great moment for me because it was already the 15th week of school and I saw how much of a difference it made that I just knew that this had to be more than just a one-time project. I had to continue doing this drive year after year and just continue giving until all LA USD students can go to school knowing they have school supplies.
Mrs. Diller’s generosity means so much to me. She’s inspired me to continue working harder and to continue growing the project and to continue staying involved in my community and making a difference.
Liza Gurtin: The world water crisis is one of the most significant public health issues of our time. Over one-third of our world is water stressed. So in a place like Tanzania, Nicaragua, women and children are walking between three to six miles and getting water they bring back to their family and gives them cholera. It gives them dysentery. 80% of the world’s diseases are caused by unsafe and unclean water, and that’s a large part of the project we’re working towards.
I’m a key contributor in the planning organization and execution of the San Diego Walk for Water, an event that works to show solidarity with those around the world that lack access to clean water. Over the course of this 5K walk, we carry buckets to simulate and experience the journey these women and children are taking every day, and we educate our local community on how they can make a difference and conserve water in their daily lives.
Over the past two years, this event has been a huge success in raising both awareness and money. And our partnership with Project Concern is one of the main factors that made this event such a success. They are a nonprofit organization that works towards building wells and water structures in third world countries. What we’re doing is we’re raising money, raising awareness to help fund their projects, and one of my key contributions to the walk was adding a fundraising component. So I drafted a letter and send out letters to a hundred prospective sponsors.
And since I joined the board, we’ve raised over $40,000 and all of that money is going straight toward building wells and water structures in Tanzania. Since I was a young, young child, tikkun olam, repairing the world, has been something that I’ve related to and that’s been a part of me. It’s something that kind of makes me whole. I can’t thank Mrs. Diller enough for this award, and I’m excited to put this money to use to a project in Harar, Ethiopia.
But money is only one part of the solution. There’s many things you can do in your everyday life to conserve water. What we need to work to is turning off the faucet while we’re brushing our teeth, cutting our shower down by five minutes. Flushing the toilet that uses five gallons of water, that’s more water than most people get in a day. There’s so many little things we can do to make an impact and make a difference.
Gabe Ferrick: It started in fifth grade when my humanities teacher taught us about the Janjaweed and what was happening in Darfur. I had learned about genocide before because of my Jewish heritage. We said, never again. There shouldn’t be genocide anywhere in the world, but there is, and we need to help. I decided to get involved by organizing a backpack project and organizing three walks on genocide in my community. The backpack project raises money so children who are living in refugee camps can have school supplies and hygiene items and shoes.
After the backpack project, Jewish World Watch invited me to come to their walk for Darfur, and I said, you know what? Instead of coming to your walk, I’m gonna organize my own walk here in Santa Rosa.
When I just started, I was shocked that people were actually listening to me because at that time I was only 12. An author Jason Siegel wrote to me and he said, it’s because of your age that people will listen to. It’s because you’re so young that people will listen to you. And having somebody else believe in my project the way that Mrs. Diller does, it’s incredible. She’s, she’s amazing.
At the walk, I was in front and I remember on this long street, I looked behind me and I saw hundreds of people following me holding signs, and everybody was wearing the same shirt, and we were together as a community. I was just shocked and overwhelmed, and it felt, it was a great feeling.
Following the walks, I wanted to take it to the next step. So I traveled to Rwanda. There was a boy in Rwanda at the secondary school that we went to. His name was Jimmy, and he asked me how old I was. I told him I was 16. He said, oh, I’m 16 too. We’re twins. We became friends and he told me his story about how his parents had died in the genocide. He sent a letter home to my family, asking to be a part of our family, and we definitely consider him a part of our family.
Naftali Moed: We started with a gravel lot that you can now see behind me. The hardest thing was the physical labor. There were a number of pickaxes that we ended up breaking because the gravel and ground were so hard. But I think that that was just the hardest thing is creating a place where people could look out and say, oh, I would volunteer my time there.
So when I came to Oceana, I had a strong connection between Judaism and the outdoors, and I was already starting to learn about the food issues that our country is facing, and the culmination of those two things inspired me to start working on getting a garden going.
I think the biggest success has been to bring people together and to build a community. Once they eat that first strawberry, once they have experience where they’re physically connected between whatever the work they’re doing is and the taste and health value of the food they produce, people are able to come back and to continue learning and doing new things and take some of that knowledge home, which is the ultimate goal is to spread the message and how easy it is to produce your own food and be a little bit more self-sufficient.
Sometimes standing out here and digging a hole and fixing a sprinkler said of wonder, why am I doing this on my Saturday? But receiving the generous award from Mrs. Diller really has allowed me to see that it’s gone from nothing into something. And whatever that something is, whether it’s a community or whether it’s an active growing garden, or whether it’s the home of 10 chickens, to see that physical and the psychological transformation into getting the community mindset is what’s most gratifying to me about the garden, and what keeps me coming out here most morning is all summer long.
Casey Robbins: Liberia is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Since the Civil War, most of the infrastructure was destroyed. A lot of the kids especially don’t know how to read, and they are trying to kind of get their life started after the war and help their family get past the chaos. Some even who were child soldiers were fighting in the war, but it’s really hard for them to do much of anything without knowing how to read.
In eighth grade, I heard the former Deputy Minister of Information on the radio, and he was talking about how the country was rebuilding after the Civil War. So I decided to find him on the Internet and said, what can I do? He emailed me back and said, if it works, which it probably won’t, but if it works, then um, we want books.
When I first started the project, I just found a bunch of old books at my school in the staff room, but then the district textbook warehouse found out what I was doing and said, oh, we have all of these thousands of textbooks. And I was thinking, how am I gonna get thousands of textbooks there? So I typed Liberia into a search engine and found a bunch of non-profits in the U.S. but a lot of people just thought I was crazy and said, okay, good luck, and hung up. So I just started calling the numbers off the sides of trucks and finally one of them said, okay, we’ll donate the shipping.
Both my rabbis were really supportive and my Hebrew school teacher, so I think that having the Jewish community back my project was a huge motivation. The day when the first book loading happened back in eighth grade, I was so excited when they all fit and they all got put on the truck and left. It was really rewarding.
I was invited to be the honoree at a ceremony at a high school in Monrovia, Liberia, the capitol. There were very few girls, especially in high school. After the ceremony, a couple girls approached me and said they really appreciated what I was doing, partially because I was providing them with books, but also because I’m a girl, showing them that women’s education is also important.
Mrs. Diller’s sponsorship of this award, it’s really encouraging for the continuation of the project and my community service endeavors in the future.
Daniel Sobajian: By being a leader, you have to take the initiative, get involved, and really take lead and take charge. If you want to see something get done, speak out and stand up and take action.
Naftali Moed: I’m really grateful and I feel very honored to have, um, received an award with the other pretty remarkable recipients. And it, I think it definitely marks a big stage in development of the garden and has a presence and is relevant to other people.
Casey Robbins: I’m giving the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award back to my community, to a project in Harar, Ethiopia. They had gotten a $400,000 grant from the U.N. and I’m using my money to finish the amount of money they needed in order to put this project into place.
Gabe Ferrick: I, well, I will go back to Rwanda. I know I will, and I think this award will definitely help me get back there.
Casey Robbins: I think that the value of tikkun olam and Judaism really showed me that you really, you can go outside your immediate community to providing help and that we can’t only think locally. We also have to think globally, um, as to how we can do as much as possible to fixing what’s gone wrong in our world.
Helen Diller: It’s never too late, too early, or too often to demonstrate the spirit of tikkun olam.