Three L.A. teens win Tikkun Olam awards

Three Los Angeles-area teens each were awarded $36,000 grants from The Helen Diller Family Foundation as part of the annual Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards.

The awards, now in their sixth year, are given annually to five Jewish 13- to 19-year-olds in California with extraordinary social action service records. This year’s winners were announced June 28.

Celine Yousefzadeh, 19, initially founded Fashion with Compassion at Milken Community High School to help victims of rocket fire in the Israeli town of Sderot, which borders the Gaza Strip.

In 2008, Yousefzadeh organized a committee of her fellow students at Milken to help put on a fashion runway show fundraiser. Local and national clothing vendors worked with students to create outfits that students modeled during the show, after which vendors made the outfits available to audience members, with Fashion with Compassion receiving 20 percent of the revenue raised.

After the first fashion show raised $5,000, the project expanded from 25 student models to 38 in 2009 and raised $6,000 — this time for Israel’s Atidim, which helps provide scholarships for underprivileged students. The following year, the show raised $10,000 for Save a Child’s Heart, which helps cover medical expenses for life-saving operations in Israel.

Yousefzadeh, who just finished her first year at Bentley University in Massachusetts, said the next step is bringing the concept to other schools.

“This [project] encourages a sense of entrepreneurship, and I’d like to continue to bring more of this spirit,” she said.

Adam Weinstein, 18, a recent graduate of Brentwood School, is a math and science enthusiast who wants to help foster a new generation of students to share his passion.

Archimedes Learning, an after-school program Weinstein developed in the spring of his junior year of high school, aims to enrich the education of underprivileged students with math and science activities.

“It’s not a tutoring service,” he said. “The purpose is to teach and expand the knowledge of underprivileged students.”

After creating the curriculum, Weinstein started running weekly hour-long after-school sessions with fifth-graders at Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School. A typical session includes an introduction to a science or math concept, group work and a hands-on activity.

This past year, Archimedes Learning expanded to two other elementary schools and added three other student volunteers, whom Weinstein trained.

Weinstein says he hopes to expand the program further. He will enter Princeton University this fall.

Zak Kukoff, 17, was shocked by the ignorance typical students have about their autistic peers, particularly so following the diagnosis of one of his relatives with the developmental disorder. He founded Autism Ambassadors, a now-international program that aims to help integrate autistic students at regular schools with their classmates. Volunteers make a one-year commitment and learn from over 1,000 lesson plans.

“People just didn’t get autism,” Kukoff said. “They didn’t know how to make friends with them and how to include them.”

Autism Ambassadors follows a technique called applied behavioral analysis, where volunteers use Kukoff’s lesson plans for role-playing engagement with autistic students. Kukoff, who will begin his final year at Westlake High School this fall, attributes his motivation to start Autism Ambassadors to a drive to uphold Jewish values.

This year’s five winners will be honored at a ceremony in San Francisco on Aug. 20.

For more information or to nominate a teen for next year’s Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit