Three local students who are tackling global issues and creating lasting change were the recent recipients of the prestigious Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award.
This honor is bestowed on those outstanding teens the Helen Diller Family Foundation believes best exemplify the Jewish notion of â€œrepairing the worldâ€ â€“ or tikkun olam.
Along with the recognition, awardees each receive a $36,000 grant that is unrestricted, but typically goes toward college and furthering the student’s good cause. The Diller Award might be thought of as something of a MacArthur â€œgeniusâ€ grant for Jewish teens.
The teen awards, now in their sixth year, total more than $1 million that has been awarded to 30 California teens. The Helen Diller Family Foundation has given out over $200 million over the last 13 years.
Let’s meet the recent awardees.
Adam Weinstein (Brentwood School): Teen Prodigy Brings Math & Science To Life For L.A. Youth
Adam Weinstein is something of a math and science geek â€“ and this phraseology is only intended in only the most complimentary way.
Adam, who graduated from Brentwood School and who will start Princeton University this fall, started â€œArchimedes Learningâ€ which provides math and science training to fifth-grade kids in inner city schools in Los Angeles.
Adam said while growing up he had the opportunity to attend science and math camps. This is a real privilege not available to most inner city students. He jumped in to try and fill the gap.
His Archimedes Learning (see www.archimedeslearning.org) makes it fun for kids, using M&Ms, magnets and submarines made out of plastic water bottles to teach ratios, buoyancy and other scientific concepts.
â€œFun activities bring this to life,â€ he said. â€œThis is important to the future of the U.S.,â€ he added. Adam is from Cheviot Hills.
An aspiring astrophysicist, Adam has successfully completed competitive internships at UCLA’s Department of Engineering and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Celine Yousefzadeh (Milken Community High School): Students Strut the Catwalk to help war-torn Israeli Youth
Celine Yousefzadeh, 19, is the founder of Fashion with Compassion â€“ a student-run fashion show that raises funds for Israeli charities.
After hearing about the devastation of a high school in the heart of Sderot, Israel â€“ hard hit in 2007 by rockets from the Gaza Strip â€“ Celine Yousefzadeh felt an emotional obligation to help.
With a fashion-forward friend, Celine started Fashion with Compassion, a student-run charity event. Her first fashion show raised $5,000 â€“ a check she delivered personally to the receiving charity during her semester in Israel with Milken Community High School.
The second show drew a crowd of 300 and raised $6,000 for Atidim, a program for advancing the underprivileged in Israel, and the third show drew 600 people and raised $10,000 for Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli-based humanitarian project that provides children with heart surgeries.
The runway continues to be a lesson in social entrepreneurship with more than a hundred students participating as planners, stylists and models, and with high-profile companies as sponsors.
It wasn’t easy to get this off the ground, according to Celine: Traditionally conservative Rabbis were concerned that today’s fashions are perhaps a tad racy â€“ and not something Milken High should necessarily want to promote.
Celine’s persistence paid off, however, and, it looks like the event is here to stay. And that’s a good thing: The annual show is the most successful fundraiser in the high school’s history and Celine is already working to implement Fashion with Compassion in Jewish schools across the nation.
Celine graduated from Milken last year and now studies business at Bentley College in Boston.
Zak Kukoff (Thousand Oaks): Fostering Friendships, Tolerance & Learning Among Students
When Zak was in 8th grade, he wanted to figure out a way to help a cousin with autism. She was often misunderstood, and even teased, by other students.
But there were other non-autistic students who wanted to reach out to their autistic counterparts â€“ but didn’t know how.
Zak came up with a program called the â€œAutism Ambassadors,â€ which matches up one student with one autistic student. The non-autistic student ambassador then takes it upon himself or herself to teach the autistic student during each one-on-one session to do one thing a little better.
The program has now gone national; there are lesson plans for ambassadors to follow; most ambassadors report the experience has been terrific. They are building lasting friendships and demonstrating a real-life message of tolerance. 25 schools across the U.S. now participate; a school in Saudi Arabia and Australia recently joined.
Zak lives in Thousand Oaks but attended Temple Isaiah in Westwood. For more information about the Autism Ambassadors, go to: www.autismambassadors.org.
These amazing teens were selected by a panel composed of California educators and community leaders. Eligible applicants were California residents, between 13 and 19 years old, who self-identify as Jewish.
Said Helen Diller, president of the sponsoring foundation that gives the grants: â€œThe Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards began as my simple idea in 2007 to empower five future Californian leaders in their visions to repair the world. Today, it has exceeded my wildest imagination.â€
For more information, or to nominate a teen for next year’s Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.jewishfed.org/diller/teenawards.