Announcer Peyton Klein: Young leaders are driving change and making the world a better place. They are taking on the world’s biggest challenges and finding solutions. Young leaders are repairing the world.
Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awardees are leading the way in tackling the greatest issues of our time. They carry on the tradition of tikkun olam they use their words and actions to create ripples of good. These teens are a part of a growing network of young Jewish visionaries creating change. A network that connects across 15 years of Diller awardees and the countless individuals they have impacted. They embraced the vision of our founder, Helen Diller, who believed in the power of young leaders.
Helen knew that anyone can make a difference no matter their age. Over the last 15 years, the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards has built an incredible network of young Jewish innovators. These teens are not only fulfilling their own commitments to a life of tikkun olam, but they’re inspiring countless others to join them.
Helen Diller would’ve been so proud of the 2022 awardees and their impact, and I know that we can all learn from their examples of giving back to repair our world.
Ariel Beck: It’s hard to believe, but only 2.3% of all venture capital funding goes to female-founded companies. I was only 13 years old, but I set out to change those statistics and I founded Girls Who Start.
Girls Who Start is a non-profit organization with the mission to inspire middle school, high school, and college girls to become entrepreneurs and leaders today. Girls Who Start has grown to 54 chapters and 2,500 members across the country and internationally, including in the U.S., Canada, India, China, and Switzerland. We accomplished our mission in three different ways.
We inspire by hosting speaker events with well-known female entrepreneurs and leaders. We build by creating skills, building workshops, and hackathons, and we connect by creating a community of girls across the country and around the world.
Something that’s really significant in measuring our impact is seeing the amount of girls that come out of Girls Who Start and start their own ventures or organizations. It’s been really inspiring as I see the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
Gideon Buddenhagen: I’m a biracial Jew of color. My mother is Ashkenazi Jewish, and my father is Ethiopian.
I’ve grown up in the flats of Northwest Oakland my whole life and being part of these different communities that I find myself in. It’s all motivating me to think about effective ways to keep Oakland rising and keep Oakland beautiful.
The idea behind Leadership in Motion and my personal mission is to provide equitable access to computer science education to underrepresented youth. Computer science is a field that’s growing so much nowadays, but traditionally these are fields that are not occupied by communities of color. Learning these skills can really serve as an opportunity for future careers and provide a pathway out of poverty. The class is entirely student-led.
It’s not just about teaching the knowledge, but also developing the interpersonal relationships. That connection is something that’s so important. Make underrepresented youth feel like this is a pathway for me. I’m capable of this, and I am seeing mentors who look like me and who think like me pave the way. That is really what inspires me and drives my continued efforts.
Anna Siegel: I am happiest when I’m outdoors. I love the trees. I love listening to the birds and to the wind. It’s a full sensory experience.
I always thought that I was gonna be an ornithologist studying birds in the background rather than out front doing public speaking. Being a climate justice activist, I’m here to speak about our first demand that legislators commit to divest Maine.
From the $1.3 billion we have invested in fossil fuels, a bill called LD 99 Fossil Fuel Divestment is a tool for us to stop funding the climate crisis. It was a huge learning curve to work on something this big, and I was totally learning as I went along. You know, how do votes work and how do I lobby a legislator? You learn to use your voice to amplify the cause.
Passing LD 99 in Maine was a huge victory, but there’s so much more we need to do. Seeing other youth passionate about climate justice brings me a lot of hope. I was 12 when I started this work. No matter your age, no matter who you are, you can do something and you can use your voice.
Hailey Richman: When I was four years old, my grandmother got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It was a little scary for me at first cuz I noticed that she couldn’t remember who I am. She would call me my mom’s name, but I learned that doing activities that stimulate her brain would really help her.
Puzzle Time started with just me and my grandma but now has grown to helping people across the country. My organization pairs students with seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease for an hour of intergenerational puzzle-solving, and it really makes a difference not only mentally, but also emotionally. It sparks joy and I wanna give back to other people who might not have a family and I want them to feel the same love today.
Puzzle Time has grown to 50 states and over 16 countries. We have collected over 68,000 puzzles and helped over a hundred thousand people of Alzheimer’s disease. I’m so happy to see that it’s benefited people across the world and just made a difference in their lives.
Matthew Castertano: During the pandemic, many seniors have not known how they’re gonna get their next meal and their medication. I remember speaking to my own grandparents and seeing how scared they were of having to go out and put themselves at risk of the virus.
Teens Helping Seniors began with friends at my school, but as soon as we got our first article in local media, we ended up getting requests from seniors all across our state and across the country, and so at this point, I knew we had to expand the organization. We had a chapter start in New York and a chapter in Nevada and a chapter in Texas, and very soon we had spread all across the country.
Young people have been so eager to help. We’ve had over a thousand teenagers sign up, and it’s been amazing to feel the enthusiasm. It’s not just about providing food and medicine, it’s also about providing human connection.
In the moment when I hand a senior in the bag of groceries, I see the sparks of tikkun olam. When I see the smile on their face, I know that I’m making their day better, and I know that I’m helping them. That is what has kept us going. That’s been our motivation. We’re gonna continue to expand and grow our efforts to help those around us.
Sienna Nazarian: I am the daughter and granddaughter of refugees. I grew up hearing stories about how my father and my grandparents had to flee Iran due to religious persecution because they were Jewish. They left their home; they left their lives. All they really brought with them was family. Hearing all these stories and growing up with this history created a sense of empathy that really motivated me to do this work.
The Refugee Empowerment Project’s mission is to provide a space for teens to directly serve refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers. We have global ambassadors in eight different countries. The resettlement process can often be really overwhelming with a lot of cultural, language, and employment barriers.
We have volunteers introduce them to the communities in which they’ll be living, collect and distribute clothing items, school supplies, backpacks, and one of our biggest programs is our mentorship program in which refugees have the chance to learn English from a teenage mentor.
This work has connected me back to my own history but has also allowed me to make really meaningful connections to refugees local to me and across the globe.
Cameron Samuels: I am queer, and I don’t identify as male or female. I am somewhere in between. I feel like myself. I’m Cameron and I want a community where people can be themselves, be true to themselves and to others, and receive support for those identities.
But there is discrimination happening in my community right now. Around the country, efforts to ban specific books are on the rise. Students addressed concerns that the books removed are largely topics of slavery, the Holocaust, L G B T Q, and mental health.
I did not expect that a small town like mine would become national news, but when my school district began banning books, I began speaking at school board meetings. I built partnerships with local bookstores and grew a movement of students to distribute banned books across the district.
There has never been a time where book banning has been on the right side of history. Books can change people’s lives change perspectives, and we are standing strong and speaking above the flood line of censorship.
Sophie Wolters: When I was younger, I didn’t really think school was for me. I had a learning disability, and I struggled a lot in school. I just didn’t really believe in myself. But when I started getting tutored by a peer tutor, I started to find a passion and a love for learning, and I became much more confident.
I started Student Connection to make sure that every student who needs academic help has access to free one-on-one tutoring. Student Connection really focuses on serving students of color so we can increase the access to everyone who needs help outside of school by spreading my passion to other students just like me who want to give back to the community.
We serve hundreds of students all across the Seattle area. I get really proud when I hear tutors tell me how much their student has improved in their classes, but also, most importantly, confidence.
And in every student we serve, I see myself, I see future learners who just need to believe in themselves and I’ll work every day to make sure they have a tutor who believes in them.
Jonah Bard: I live in Los Angeles, and the public school district has over 500,000 students every single day. Schools are running into the problem of overcrowded classrooms and overcrowded schools that ends up putting a very, very intense stress on teachers and also students.
The mission of Ed Rise is to deliver free one-on-one tutoring services to any student who might not be able to afford it. We have hundreds of trained high school and college-age volunteer tutors who are ready to spread the love of learning.
I’ve learned so much with the opportunity to manage this many people. We have an outreach team. We have a tutor development team. We have a team focused on curriculum design and heads of resources. It takes so much constant enthusiasm and constant energy juggling all these different departments of the organization.
The most meaningful element for me is the one-on-one relationships where each student can develop in his or her own way. Helping others is a critical aspect of my Jewish identity, and fostering that curiosity and engagement is how I put tikkun olam into action.
Amelia Fortgang: This is a tree that my grandmother planted before I was born. I never had the chance to meet her, and she knew that this tree wasn’t for her. It was for future generations. To me, this tree is a living, breathing reminder of tikkun olam and in my work with climate justice, I really hope to plant trees literally and figuratively for future generations.
I founded the Bay Area Youth Climate Summit to mobilize, educate, and empower youth to believe that they can make a difference. Our annual summits engage hundreds of youth from all over the Bay Area in workshops, exciting keynote speakers, and then we challenge them to create achievable climate action plans that they can implement in their communities, ranging from sustainable architecture to ocean acidification, phone banking and housing, and environmental justice.
I’ve been so proud to see the city and adults alike take notice,but mostly seeing so many other youth become motivated and inspired and acting for the future.
Evan Neid: Hurricane Florence was particularly devastating to people in my area to see the effects happening firsthand. It was a realization that climate change isn’t just gonna be an issue for my kids or grandkids, and what can I do to stop this?
What we do at Planting Shade is to plant as many trees as possible in flood-prone areas that suffer from the localized effects of climate change. Through the Jewish community and youth organizations such as B B Y O, I’ve been able to recruit young leaders from across the country and the world to start chapters and help their communities in mitigating natural disasters.
So far, we have held dozens of educational seminars and planted 12,000 trees across the United States and Israel. To have young people engaged around the world is one of the core missions of my organization and what motivates me every day.
Lindsay Sobel: There is no greater feeling than handing out a pair of shoes to someone who really needs them. You know, as a young kid, I would take for granted simple necessities that we have. It took me seeing kids my own age not having shoes, and that kind of just shook me to my core, and I realized I want to give shoes to as many people as I can.
I started Shoes for Souls when I was 12 years old, and I took action. I went in my garage, I went in my grandparents’ garage, friends, family, synagogues, and pretty much anyone I knew to just help me get out the word.
My garage has become the hub for Shoes for Souls. It is always filled with shoes. That’s where we go through them, and volunteers make sure that all the shoes are in great condition. And over the last six years, 52,000 pairs of shoes have been processed through my garage.
It just makes me so proud of my community because, you know, I don’t have 52,000 pairs of shoes. It’s not just me that’s donating, and I’m so grateful to have so many people in my community help Shoes for Souls become what it is today.
Benjamin Barkoff: This memorial is dedicated to a local hero, Lance Corporal Jordan Herder, who gave his life in Ramad, Iraq, defending a platoon of Marines. He’s a hero of mine, and his story has inspired me my entire life and is the reason that Whiskey Bravo exists today.
Whiskey Bravo seeks to improve the lives of veterans, active military, and their families. We have over a hundred volunteers, and some of our initiatives include serving meals to injured veterans, sending supplies overseas, fundraising campaigns, and assemblies at schools.
Another really important aspect of what we do is doing programming for Gold Star Kids. Gold Star family is a family who’s lost a loved one in service to our nation. We take Gold Star kids on fishing trips or camping trips, and our volunteers are able to build long-lasting relationships and continue those all year round. It starts out as a Whiskey Bravo initiative, but it really in the end is just a friendship.
I’m proud to be able to have an impact on so many kids, and while we can never match the sacrifices that our military has made, we can do everything in our power to try.
Robbie Khazan: Computer science is the future, but many kids aren’t being prepared for that beyond just employment opportunities. Coding is also an important way of fostering creativity and problem-solving skills. At Kiddo Byte, we offer free computer science courses to underprivileged kids and expose them to the magic of coding.
When I first started Kiddo Byte, we were our local organization, mainly focused around Boston. But over time, we’ve been able to expand our reach internationally.
One of the projects I’m most excited about has been Kiddo Byte’s efforts in Kenya. We built and set up a computer lab for an underfunded school for two weeks straight. Our class was a bubble of joy and excitement. Every single student was eager to learn, eager to really just explore and put their ideas to life on the computer. I felt like I had never had so much fun teaching before. We really formed intense bonds with each and every one of our students.
It was also really important that our impact would be sustainable. So, in addition to the computer lab, we trained teachers on the ground so they could continue to run classes in the computer lab once we had left.
I’m so proud of what my team and I have been able to accomplish, and Kiddo Byte will continue to expand and reach more students worldwide.
Dylan Zajac: No one ever taught me how to fix computers. I really learned from taking them apart, putting them back together.
Computers 4 People is my passion. It combines everything. I like business, technology, and helping people. I started Computers 4 People in my bedroom that moved to a storage unit, and now we have two offices here in Hoboken, New Jersey. We have four employees and 30 volunteers.
We have a wide range of people that we serve, including students, senior citizens, refugees, and so many more. Our computers are helping people to apply for jobs, go back to school, and connect with family and friends.
Being in charge of, you know, everything that’s going on, it’s constant. I’ve really learned how to run a sustainable organization and be a real leader for everyone.
When I think of tikkun olam, I think of my family who was forced out of Poland for being Jewish and came to the United States with no money. So they inspire me every day to do what I do to help those in need and to be an entrepreneur.
Announcer Peyton Klein: The 2022 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awardees are a testament to the power of young leaders and the spirit of tikkun olam. In the words of Helen Diller, it’s never too late, too early, or too often to give back and make the world a better place.