Shira Alcouloumre, 16, of Laguna Beach; Emmi Eisner, 16, of Encino and Riley Gantt, 14, of Sherman Oaks, were just announced as recipients of the 2015 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, a $36,000 award that recognizes teens for their commitment to social good and volunteer service.
Alcouloumre began Laguna Friends in Need, a project to support Hispanic day laborers. When a young Alcouloumre complained about having to eat a peach for breakfast, her mother decided to give her some perspective, taking her and her siblings to Santa Ana, where they used their savings to buy and personally deliver groceries to the homeless. The experience inspired Alcouloumre and her brother to look for other meaningful ways to give back, and, ultimately, to create Laguna Friends in Need.
Through the project, Alcouloumre aims to improve the lives of migrant day laborers in Laguna Canyon by creating a safe environment in which they can wait for work and providing meals, clothing, weekly English classes, medical care and holiday presents for the workers and their families. Over the past five years, the team has raised more than $20,000 in cash and in-kind donations to improve the site and services provided, including building a shade cover and installing a water fountain. The team has established a personal bond with the workers, collaborated with the City Council, cut through red tape, and helped break down local prejudices. Alcouloumre ’s ultimate goal is to build an on-site classroom and expand the program to include certified ESL teachers.
Eisner created Play it Forward, an organization that provides underfunded schools with sports equipment. On a field trip at age 11, Eisner visited a school in Los Angeles County with virtually no sports equipment. She was shocked to see that students her age didn’t even have bats or balls at recess – things she took for granted. To address this disparity, Eisner founded Play It Forward (PIF).
Participating schools customize a wish list of equipment they need, and PIF uses funds they’ve raised to buy and donate each school’s key priority items. Building up school’s physical education programs provides far-reaching health and emotional benefits, builds students’ confidence and determination, and promotes teamwork. Eisner also provides reference material to support general-education teachers who cover physical education as well. Since starting four years ago, PIF has raised $80,000 in cash and in-kind donations of sporting goods, provided equipment to serve approximately 10,000 students in 20 schools, and inspired 50 teen volunteers to be part of giving back.
Gantt founded Rainbow Pack, an organization that provides backpacks and essential school supplies to elementary students below the poverty line. Gantt was only 10 when, on a field trip to a lower-income elementary school in Los Angeles, she discovered that many students in the area lived below the poverty line and didn’t have access to basic school supplies. After speaking with a girl whose mother couldn’t afford a small box of crayons, Gantt realized that the lack of supplies inhibited students from doing their homework and left them falling behind in school.
Gantt began speaking with a social worker to learn more about how much basic school supplies can impact a child’s ability to learn, and she set out to do something about it. She began conducting bake sales, garage sales and letter-writing campaigns, rallying more than 50 supporters to establish Rainbow Pack, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Four years later, Rainbow Pack has distributed more than 5,500 backpacks and raised $55,000 in cash and in-kind donations to help close the achievement gap for less-fortunate elementary school students. Gantt’s immediate aim is to raise $40,000 in 2015 to help an additional 4,000 students. She is also planning an awareness campaign to educate communities about students falling behind due to lack of supplies.
Now in its ninth year, the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards have given nearly $2.5 million to 70 Jewish teens who are tackling global issues and creating lasting change through tikkun olam – the vision of Bay Area Philanthropist Helen Diller, quiet force behind The Helen Diller Family Foundation.