Narrator Jessica Markowitz: In this complex and ever-changing world, there are those among us who show courage even when the road is long and the uncertainty profound. In every obstacle, they see an opportunity to fight for justice, and they are not afraid to step up and stand out for the sake of their communities. The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards recognize and honor Jewish teens going above and beyond in their efforts as outstanding leaders repairing the world.
Karen Kaufman Perlman: It is so exciting to see what this new group of Diller Teen Awardees is doing. They not only create their projects, they engage their peers, they engage their community, they even engage adults. They scale their projects, sometimes nationally, sometimes internationally. It is extraordinary to see what these youth can do.
Sydney Kamen: Courage itself is more than the absence of fear because anyone can be fearless. Courage, true courage, is about the values that we hold and the beliefs that we have, and our willingness to do the right thing for the benefit of others.
Nathaniel Goodman: I feel that courage is important because it enables people to take risks, and without taking risks, we can never grow or move forward with a mission, with a cause, or with an idea. I’ve been able to grow as a filmmaker to help organizations get more people involved in their causes and elevating their level of community impact.
Gabriella Cooperman: I’ve learned that whoever may doubt you, just think about that one goal of making a difference in the world and in someone else’s life. I’m definitely proud of the fact that Cookies for Charity has raised over $130,000. I truly believe the values that have been instilled in me since Hebrew School and USY have really pushed me to do even more and more with Cookies for Charity.
Katie Eder: Writing is a tool to connect cultures and to connect people and really to, to break down barriers. We have a lot of kids that come in, and they say, you know, I can’t write, I’ve never written before. I’m not a writer. Uh, and we sit them down and say, yes you are. We’re using writing to empower kids and show them that they have a voice and they have stories that matter. And we work with kids in refugee camps. We work with kids in juvenile detention centers. You know, we see kids that have gone through experiences that most kids should never have to go through.
And what we notice a lot of times is that, you know, no one has really ever asked them about how they ended up, where they ended up. You know, what’s your story? That moment that they decide, I’m gonna write about something that matters to me. It’s really transformative for kids. And you know, over the course of the week, you really see them start to open up. Once you give a kid a published book and you know they’re holding in their hands their own published book, something really does click in them and you can see it in their faces. And it’s really seeing that you have the ability to, to make something and to create something that other people wanna read, and other people wanna see.
My goal for Kids Tales is that every kid in every corner of the globe, no matter who they are or where they come from, has the opportunity to publish a book and has the opportunity to have a voice.
Shira Strongin: When I was 10 years old, I became aware that I have a rare and undiagnosed disease. I spent most of my years in and out of hospitals since then, and I still don’t know what’s wrong with me. I was looking for a way to talk about these experiences because none of my friends really got it. So I started writing under the pen name Sick Chick, and it grew beyond my wildest dreams. It was picked up by an East Coast-based nonprofit. I was asked to speak at national conferences, and I think it’s because I talked about life experiences and had more of a sense of humor about it and didn’t have a filter. I wrote about going to winter formal and then going to the hospital the next day. That helps people relate. They were like, I experienced that too. I didn’t know other people did cuz no one ever talks about it.
I realized needed to be something bigger than just my own personal blog. And what Sick Chicks does is we bring people together in an environment that’s safe for them. So whatever you walk in the door with will be accepted 110%. And now we have a group of ambassadors all over the world who will be hosting events in their locations too. My health has gotten a lot worse over the past two years. I wanted to give up. I didn’t wanna go to college at that point. I, I was done. All of the other young women from Sick Chicks forced me to realize that this is not the end. And now, I’m headed off to George Washington University in the fall with a merit scholarship, which I didn’t think would be possible at all. They’ve really helped me shift my own paradigm when I’ve needed it too.
Taylor Gleeson: To fight for an issue of social justice, you need to tap into your own personal investment and your passions behind an issue. Students United shows teens that there’s not a right or wrong way to advocate against gun violence. Whether it’s talking to elected representatives or doing art, it’s building on their own personal strengths that’ll lead to the most impactful change in the end.
Asa Schaeffer: To me, growing up Jewish means you live your life conscientiously and you think of other people before yourself. To say that some kids, just because of the way they were born, don’t deserve the same opportunities and rights as other kids. It seems pretty unfair.
Oliver Stern: I was born deaf. I wear two cochlear implants, and that doesn’t mean that I’m any different than you. The work that Our Abilities has done has truly empowered young children. Hearing for the first time opens so many opportunities. You only see things, but you don’t hear birds chirping. You don’t hear your mom saying I love you. You can’t hear your friends making jokes. It opens up not only world of education, but also a world of social life that you didn’t have before.
Evan Barnard: I’ve always grown up in the outdoors. I’ve spent lots of time hiking, playing in the tide pools along the coast, really just enjoying nature. So when it came time for my Bar Mitzvah project, I decided to make it my mission to work with the visually impaired community to make nature more accessible. And that’s really what led to the creation of the Whispering Woods Braille Trail.
When I dedicated the trail, I got to see the members of the visually impaired community out on the trail for the first time, and it was a very incredible experience. They were reading the braille signs, touching the scratchy bark on the trees, feeling the leaves, listening to the wind in the trees. They were learning about the outdoors in a way that they have never had before.
I was really proud of the success with my local trail, but I wanted to do something even bigger. So I founded my organization, Nature For All, and I started a website NatureForTheBlind.com, an online directory of over 200 braille trails and sensory gardens all around the world in 35 different countries. It is so exciting to be able to connect with people all over the world who are just as passionate as I am about making nature more accessible to the visually impaired community.
Sabina London: In the next decade, for the United States to be competitive globally, we’ll need to fill about 1 million more jobs in science and engineering. Women make up half the workforce but only 24% of science and engineering careers. I think if I got girls into science when they’re in fourth or fifth grade, that’ll really inspire them to think about it when they’re in middle school or even high school, where they often feel left out and intimidated. When I ran the first camp, the parents kept on coming up to me asking, can I bring this program to their town? So I had ideas that maybe I could train other teens to keep this growing.
Right now, Girls Science Interactive has a presence in over 45 locations in 15 states. All of our programs are completely free, the majority of them are in low-income communities, and providing these free camps full of fun, hands-on experiments just really gives all girls the opportunities. At the end of the day, when the girls are testing, they experiment, they feel really excited, energetic, because it’s all their teamwork, problem-solving skills, their curiosity and all of it really puts that test, and when it works, it’s so nice to see them jumping up and down or clapping. I think they’re definitely going to walk away with that moment. That’s what I eventually hope to see in every classroom in the United States.
Benjamin Hoffner-Brodsky: In working with the homeless community, one of my favorite parts of our organization is how interfaith we are and how we involve so many parts of our community. Each year we have more than 2000 community members volunteer with the shelter. At the same time, the shelter rotates from a different religious congregation. One day staying at the synagogue, another day, staying at the church. The entire community is involved, and it really brings the town together.
Elias Rosenthal: I have many friends who, you know, have told me personally how they’ve grown up served unhealthy foods, and how they’ve suffered through obesity and diabetes. Informing them and giving the resources to learn about this, not only are we leaving them information for themselves, we’re also leaving them more informed to teach those in their communities. We have teenagers from Texas, Massachusetts, Israel, and Taiwan, who are all working together to continue pushing our message out.
Jordan Yaffe: A big part of Dunks for Diabetes is that it’s all run by kids. In each location, we’ve established teams to grow it, organize it, and take charge of it. We’ve made it a priority to bring these communities of high schoolers or middle schoolers together for a larger goal.
Michael Ioffe: I really believe in the power of a conversation. I believe that conversations have the power to change students’ lives and to change the paths that we take. And I created something called a TILE manual, which is a 28 page document that any student can use to start a conversation series.
And I started sending the TILE manual to students around the world. Now TILE has 145 chapters in counting, and by the end of this year, we anticipate reaching over 200,000 students. We sincerely hope that you take something away from this topic, something that will broaden your perspectives and inspire you.
Once you interact with somebody who has founded their own company or who runs their own nonprofit, and once you realize that they’re not that different from you, your perception of yourself radically changes.
TILE’s chapter in Yemen has been one of our greatest success stories. The chapter is in a war zone, and TILE is able to provide a venue for conversations that don’t typically exist in that community. I want there to be a TILE chapter in every single high school and college campus in the world. And through partnerships with organizations such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Jam City, and Ted, TILE has truly transformed from a community into a movement.
Julie Averbach: In comic bookstores. We all just become kids again. We get excited. We wanna open up the newest edition of Superman and we wanna catch up with all of our favorite characters. And so, through exploring this medium, I decided to create a comic book to support special needs siblings.
Adventures From My World showcases some of the challenges and the joys that special needs siblings encounter on a daily basis. And I knew that the images would be really useful in allowing siblings to connect to the stories, to relate to them, and to open up about their own experiences. Some different situations that appear in the comic book include siblings trick or treating together, attending a birthday party, taking an art class together. The comic book really explores the challenges that arise for special needs siblings in these very common and relatable situations.
So after printing 8,000 copies of my comic book, I’ve been able to bring the comic book all over. I like to organize workshops, readings, discussions, and unite siblings with each other. So once they read the stories in these discussion groups, they can relate to each other and to the characters. And this community starts to build amongst these special needs siblings and they start to feel like they’re not so alone anymore. So I’m hoping that 10 or 15 years from now, there will be comic books to explore a wide range of social issues. And it’s really been very humbling, rewarding for me to see how this comic book has really united people from all different walks of life.
Karen Kaufman Perlman: There’s no question this extraordinary group of teens is living up to the vision that Mrs. Diller had when she created this award. They’re making such an incredible impact. Tikkun olam for them is not just a vision for the future, it’s a vision for now. And they’re doing it.
Taylor Gleeson: It’s such an honor to have won this award, and I’m so excited to meet people who are doing projects on issues they are passionate about.
Gabriella Cooperman: I think this award represents passion, dedication, and hard work. I was five when I started this, and no matter how old you are or how young you are, you still have the capacity to make a difference.
Benjamin Hoffner-Brodsky: Yeah, we have all these stereotypes about teenagers being lazy or not caring about their community, but really it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Sydney Kamen: I think the younger the better, the more energy, the more life, the imagination, those are unstoppable.
Oliver Stern: I know it sounds cliche, but although you are young, although people may say that you are immature, you have the ability to change the world.
Shira Strongin: Thank you.
Asa Schaeffer: Thank you.
Julie Averbach: Thank you so much.
Nathaniel Goodman: Thank you to the Helen Diller Family Foundation.
Katie Eder: It’s never too late,
Evan Barnard: too early,
Jordan Yaffe: or too often
Sabina London: to give back
Michael Iofee: and make the world
Elias Rosenthal: a better place.
Narrator Jessica Markowitz: The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipients are proof of the wisdom these in words. They’re courageous teens embracing this call to pursue justice and step up as community leaders. Today and every day, they’re each becoming the change they want to see, doing their part to repair our world.