Zak became sensitive to students with special needs when his cousin was diagnosed with autism four years ago. Moved by her challenges, he created Autism Ambassadors to not only help his fellow classmates access the right tools to be successful in the classroom, but also help them build lasting friendships and promote tolerance. Zak has seen the simple offer of a new friendship change students’ lives completely, and the ripple effect of kindness continues: Autism Ambassadors has grown into a national non-profit providing more than 1,000 specialized lesson plans that are peer-led in more than 25 schools. It has also given $15,000 in grants to teachers through its fellowship program. Zak continues to lead and expand the initiative and will be releasing his first book, The Autism Ambassadors’ Handbook, later this fall.
Joe was bullied at school and knows how isolating it feels when no one stands up on your behalf. Not wanting others to feel alone or neglected, Joe started Voices Against Cruelty, Hatred and Intolerance (VACHI) to educate teachers, students and parents about the negative effects bullying can have on youth. To convince his administration to take action, he developed a survey illustrating the extent of bullying on his campus. Joe used this information to promote increased solidarity among his classmates, lobby his school board to adopt new policies addressing hate motivated behavior, and create a program designed to educate - not ignore or punish - first time offenders. He then worked with the teachers and administrators at his local high school to integrate tolerance programming into their regular curriculum and even led a community showing of solidarity in support of tolerance. The awareness campaign inspired an additional school to start its own VACHI chapter, and through Facebook it has created an international following. VACHI raises funding through in-kind donations and sales of t-shirts and wristbands Joe designed proclaiming that Hate Hurts. Joe is paying it forward, and continues to work to establish more chapters at surrounding high schools.
Daniel Rosenthal (Santa Rosa): Magic is Medicine Performances Turn “Oy” into “Joy”
As a seven-year-old, Daniel began to perform magic shows for children and adults receiving medical care at local Bay Area hospitals. Encouraged by the joy he was able to share, Daniel started Magic Is Medicine, which matches volunteer magicians with those needing good cheer. Inspired by the service of iconic magicians Harry Houdini and David Copperfield, Daniel has teamed up with magicians and leaders of the world’s foremost magic organizations to coordinate performances in hospitals, schools, and rehabilitation and assisted living centers across the country. To engage and inspire others, Daniel also created student clubs that teach youth simple therapeutic magic tricks. With volunteers all over the nation and a prestigious Board of Advisors, Daniel – who aspires to be a medical doctor – is strategically expanding Magic Is Medicine; this summer he’ll travel to Israel with hopes of establishing his first international branch.
Adam Weinstein (Los Angeles): Archimedes Learning Brings Math & Science to Life for Youth
Adam’s Jewish upbringing instilled in him the importance of helping others and a strong belief that education leads to success, which is why he started a not-for-profit to encourage and stimulate an enthusiasm for math and science in youth. Archimedes Learning engages underprivileged children in Los Angeles public schools with hands-on, creative and fun activities that are math and science-focused. His after-school lessons include creating a submarine out of a water bottle to learn about buoyancy; using paper cups tied together with string to explore how sound travels; and counting M&Ms to understand ratios. An aspiring astrophysicist, Adam has successfully completed competitive internships at UCLA’s Department of Engineering and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His out-of-the-box thinking has transformed fifth graders from unenthusiastic to passionate about subjects that are vital to America’s economic and technological advancement. Archimedes Learning currently operates in three Los Angeles schools with four volunteer teachers, and Adam plans to expand within California and ultimately across the United States.
Celine Yousefzadeh (Los Angeles), Fashion with Compassion Shows Support Israeli Youth
After hearing about the devastation of a high school in the heart of Sderot, Israel – hard hit in 2007 by rockets from the Gaza Strip – Celine 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 – a check she delivered personally 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. 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.
The 2011 recipients were: Gabriel Ferrick (Santa Rosa), Liza Gurtin (La Jolla), Naftali Moed (Pacifica), Casey Robbins (Carmichael), Daniel Sobajian (Los Angeles)