Narrator Katie Eder: What causes a ripple effect? It starts with a single drop. Just as one individual can catalyze change, one simple idea can spark a movement. For over 10 years, the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards have been recognizing young Jewish leaders who are igniting change. In our world, young people have the power to dream, the passion to inspire, and the energy to put ideas into motion. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It progresses inch by inch. Yet actions that may seem modest at first can bring all of us together to change the world.
Eitan Bencuya: The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards have truly become synonymous with exceptional young people taking on the major issues of today. The passion that these young people have for their projects is contagious. They’re harnessing the energy of their friends, of their family, of their communities, identifying problems that are ripped from the headlines that are truly world-defining, and they’re not shying away. They’re not backing down. Solomon Olshin: In the Portland community, homelessness is a pressing issue. Thousands of people live unsheltered on our streets, and almost everywhere you drive, there will be a tent on the side of the road.
Solomon Olshin: My work with Shine has been about bringing a greater sense of dignity, independence, and security to people who are working to transition out of homelessness in my community.
Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved inventing and tinkering, and it’s been fantastic to apply these skills to Portlanders’ higher quality of life. Shine is a group of high school students working to design, build, and install electricity and shower and hygiene facilities.
I’ve really enjoyed working alongside my team to make a meaningful difference in a creative way. The Shine team installs solar panels, wires batteries, installs equipment inside of tiny homes and manufacturer’s wash pod and shower pod devices to provide mobile hygiene access to the homeless community.
I got the ball rolling with Shine, but there’s no way I could have done it alone. My bar mitzvah torah portion Nish Patim focused on understanding, caring for, and knowing the stranger.
I’m proud that Shine’s products have helped people transitioning out of homelessness, find jobs, a greater sense of community, security, and comfort.
Elyse Forman: Girls in STEM is closing the gender gap in the sciences, and we’re empowering girls to pursue their passions in the STEM field. Minority women make up only one 10th of the STEM workforce, and this is something that needs to be changed. When we engage girls at a young age, they’re much more likely to keep up their passions at high school and beyond.
Beatriz de Oliveira: What I love about reading is that feeling when you open a page, and in the first few words, you’re just placed in different world. It’s like you’re not even in your own home. I’m in a different universe, a different time. I have all these different people around me, and I’m learning with them. I’m feeling with them. It really is a transformative experience.
For children in areas who might not have access to books, it really does hinder them to not be able to have these experiences, so that’s really where the idea for Books for Change was born. I’m originally from Brazil, and walking into these places called [unknown] with 300 kids, only a few rooms for them, and not a single book. It was really humbling to me and really stuck with me.
I told my parents that I wanted to find a way to get these children books, and I really just pushed forward. I started knocking on my neighbor’s doors. I called up my friends, called up my family, as many people as possible to get involved. I made a webpage, and I made a Facebook page, and then all of a sudden, we were getting donations, and it really just exploded from there and became what it is today.
Books for a Change has helped almost 10,000 children in Brazil gain access to reading. We have five chapters at five different high schools here in San Diego. With over 200 volunteers, we’ve been able to partner with organizations such as Words Alive and the International Organization [unknown] to donate books throughout Brazil, San Diego, and even in Mexico.
I was 13 when I started this project, and I think so many other people got involved because we’re all united by this passion for reading. You really need to love what you’re doing to reach that success.
Grace Freedman: There are just over 25 million refugees, and of those, many of them are children. They’re fleeing from war, persecution, and environmental disasters. I created JaxThrive to tutor and mentor refugee youth in math, vocabulary, and reading. What started as a personal passion grew to over a hundred volunteers who dedicate their time each and every Saturday to help tutor and mentor refugee youth.
John Finkelman: I am the son of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union. They have told me about all the persecution and discrimination they faced. They were not even allowed to practice Judaism. Not only are people fleeing terrible conditions, but when they arrive to a new country they’ve never been to, they might not know how to use the public transit system or where to put their money or even their legal rights. I’m incredibly happy to see that we’ve changed someone’s life for the better.
Lucy Beckett: At Camp Nefesh, many of our campers have fled violence, persecution, war, and these kids have been forced to grow up way too fast.
My goal with Camp Nefesh was to make sure that these kids can claim back their childhood and have a chance to make friends and to be kids again. One of my favorite parts of Camp Nefesh is watching the campers being carefree. There’s a lot of stigma against moving from one country to the next, and it’s really hard for them to find a place where they can feel safe and valued.
The Jewish people have had that experience of not being welcome anywhere, and it’s our responsibility as Jews to help the modern-day refugees because we were once in their shoes.
The most special thing about the bond between counselors and the campers is that they’re learning from each other. They’re learning about each other’s customs. They’re learning about each other’s religions. A lot of volunteers have basically become older siblings to the campers.
It makes me proud to see members of the community treating everyone as equals, and helping give refugees the voices they need to be heard and treated with respect and kindness.
Britton Masback: Across the country, we’ve seen time and time again that racial tendencies can make their way into policing through things like implicit bias. And here in Portland, we’re no stranger to those issues. And it’s these sort of problems that are worrying young people every day.
So the essential and founding mission of Youth Educating Police was really to build a coalition of young people, police officers, and decision-makers in public policy here in Portland, to come together to build bridges, reinstore trust, and to give young people a voice.
Our training program has been deemed so effective that the City of Portland is actually gonna roll out, in addition to this training in 2020, for every single officer of the Portland Police Bureau.
Adam Hoffman: I created Day of Unity to combat political polarization and promote person before politics beliefs. Widespread youth support for our mission attracted high-profile speakers on the right and the left. Senator Ted Cruz, Congressman Joaquin Castro, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Texas, and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
I’m particularly proud that Day of Unity is working with the Texas State Board of Education to scale our ideas to every public high school in Texas.
Malcolm Asher: For kids who go through the hospital experience the first time, it can be incredibly scary and challenging. In particular, for developing countries, a lot of the hospitals don’t have the resources they need.
Art Pass has over 500 global ambassadors now, all of whom are teenagers, and we’ve created this curriculum full of resources for them to remold and reimagine how kids perceive and experience the hospital all through the vehicle of art.
Jessica Goldberg: Sib 4 Sib is a support network for individuals who have a sibling who struggles with mental health. I’ve found that there are so many people who feel that they have no one else who understands them, when really it’s quite the opposite. Helping one person understand they’re not alone and they have an entire community of siblings behind them is something that I really take a lot of pride in.
Katelyn McInerney: My sister has bipolar disorder, which is characterized by manic episodes, intense depression, distress, and sometimes suicidal thoughts. Society and adults don’t often recognize the unique struggles and challenges of having a sibling with special needs. Seeing these episodes can make that sibling feel distressed, concerned, and often helpless.
My vision in creating Special Siblings was to create a space that was safe for siblings to develop better senses of support, understanding, and acceptance with the help of experts. There is something very special about being in a group where everyone else understands your experiences.
There are meetings where kids will open up in a way that some of them never have before and describes situations which were really scary for them in the moment. Another really important component of our monthly meetings is bringing in mental health experts who help facilitate the support group discussion and provide one-on-one advice and strategies.
What’s really awesome about Special Siblings is the community sense of it. Even if they’re from different school systems or are different ages, the members come to understand each other and rely on each other.
Seeing them grow with each other makes me really proud to have founded Special Siblings. I’m really thankful that this award will allow me to open a new chapter in Raleigh, North Carolina. Where I’m from, there aren’t many Jewish people, so this award is special and that it unites me with other young Jewish changemakers.
Ethan Hirschberg: My name’s Ethan. I’m from Carlsbad, California, and I have high-functioning autism. Having high-functioning autism, I feel that I am an effective ambassador to help others who can’t communicate as well themselves.
I started my blog just to simply share my experiences, but now it has grown to over 60,000 current readers in over 50 countries. Through my writings, I share my own experiences, which are very common to others who have autism as well.
For example, one thing that many people don’t understand about autism is stemming. Stemming is a repetitive motion that calms down the body. Certain stems that you may see include locking back and forth, flapping arms, humming, movement of the eyes, etcetera. Oftentimes, people with autism might be on their own or alone and may do some socially awkward actions. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t want friends, and people with autism want friends as much as everybody else does.
With all of the positive feedback that I’ve gotten, I’ve been able to expand my online community into an in-person community as well, where I publicly speak at schools, companies, and conferences.
My favorite part about public speaking is that I’m able to answer questions, deepen my connections, and relate my own experiences to other people around me.
The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award is so special to me because it not only validates my work in the autism community, but also in the Jewish community.
[Arielle Geismar segment]
News Announcer: A high school in Parkland, Florida became the scene of chaos just before the end of the school day.
911 Dispatcher: Possible shots fired at Stoneman Douglas High School.
News Announcer: One of the worst school shootings in US history.
News Announcer: And while so many tears are being shed, so many voices are also being raised.
News Announcer: They mourn, but they are demanding action.
News Announcer: The largest youth-led protest since the Vietnam War era.
News Announcer: A lot of the young people participating, not even old enough to vote.
News Announcer: A moment that is now launched a movement.
Arielle Geismar: No one becomes an activist because they feel like it or they want to. It’s out of necessity. It’s because we’re fighting for our lives.
We will fight because if we are old enough to be affected by gun violence, we’re old enough to have an opinion about it.
Gun violence is a national epidemic, but our generation is harnessing the power of our own voice to fight back and we’re gonna make a change.
Ethan Asher: When the Parkland students got on stage and said, this is not a moment, it’s a movement. They meant it, and that’s really what we took to heart here. This is our time to say something and our time to stand up, and we’re not gonna just be quiet and let it happen anymore. As far as March of Our Lives goes, there’s no wizard behind the curtain. There’s no adult controlling it and making the decisions. It’s all young people on the front lines in charge, and it means that there are now advocates all over Georgia working to make change on this issue.
The emotion of the march and of the day of the march, it was just so powerful. There’s not a lot of things to describe what it’s like to be in front of 70,000 people. Being on the front lines with John Lewis, who knows a thing or two about marching. It makes you think about why you’re really doing it and about why everyone is there.
And now there’s 70,000 people standing outside of the state capitol demanding a change in the laws and a change in the way we think about guns and a change in the culture. Largest protests in the state of Georgia ever, and that’s not something that you get to ignore or get to brush off.
Arielle Geismar: We are here because we know we can make a change. We’ve already seen what we can do. Our voices do matter. Enough is enough.
That day, the feeling I had was incredible. You’re standing there with all these people in front of you and you’re seeing the power of giving someone a voice. That’s really where the central idea for Empower The People came from.
Empower The People is a non-profit, nonpartisan, student-led organization dedicated to giving youth the tools and resources necessary to stand up and speak out about issues they care about. In every state across the country, Empower The People as working with students in both middle and high schools to teach them about what’s going on in their government and society and help them take action steps around these issues.
Passion is important, but it’s lost if there’s no action. We’re here to help you figure out how to contact your representatives, make a poll, make a survey, hold a press conference, hold a rally.
Over the course of the past year, we’ve gotten the chance to work with thousands of teens from across the country, and now we’re seeing them working with their congressional members, working with the media news outlets to actually make their voices heard.
Today we stand here not only as kids, but also as leaders in the world of civic engagement alongside other countless incredible leaders, including all of you. Embrace change and use it to elevate your voice, your message, and your passion.
Malcolm Asher: This award has completely changed the trajectory of my life and my work.
Adam Hoffman: I’m proud to join the Diller community, community of young people or change makers.
Elyse Forman: There is no age that you need to be in order to make change.
Beatriz de Oliveira: The secret to making an impact is that there really is no secret.
Ethan Asher: These are issues, and here’s what we’re gonna take a stand on.
Grace Freedman: If you’re passionate about something, you have to run with it.
Arielle Geismar: You have to have chutzpah. You have to be strong, be proud of yourself and those around you and work to get things done.
Narrator Katie Eder: How does change happen? It starts with an idea, a purpose, and a passion. It starts with each of us. As the 2019 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awardees teach us. One person can build a community. One action can lead to a movement.One movement can change the world for good.