Diller Foundation takes teen awards nationwide

The California-based Helen Diller Family Foundation has announced it will expand its Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards from a statewide to nationwide program and will double the number of annual awards to 10, with five of the awards reserved exclusively for Californians. The Foundation formally announced the expansion at an Aug. 20 ceremony in San Francisco honoring this year’s recipients, which included three Angelenos — Zak Kukoff, Adam Weinstein and Celine Yousefzadeh.

The Awards recognize teens who perform outstanding volunteer service. Previously, only Jewish California-based students were eligible to apply for the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. Now in its sixth year, the program has distributed more than $1 million in grants. Each Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner, who is generally involved in a large social or community service project, receives a $36,000 grant that can be applied toward college or reinvested in a service project.

Since the awards began, a number of Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards alumni have chosen to remain involved with their projects and, in some cases, even developed new ones.

Fred Scarf, a 2008 recipient, founded No Worries Now, an organization that hosts proms for teenagers with life-threatening illnesses. Scarf, originally from Sherman Oaks, reinvested his grant into the project and was able expand it to include a new initiative called Prom in a Box, which will allow other cities and communities to replicate similar events.

Scarf said the grant he received from the Diller Foundation has enabled him to grow No Worries Now even years after winning the award.

“One of the most amazing things that’s so unique and special about the Diller Foundation is the amount of trust they give to young people to handle a generous amount of money,” Scarf said.

Another 2008 recipient, Shelby Lane, created, collected and sold jewelry to raise money to provide needy refugees in Darfur with solar-powered stoves. After winning the award, Lane was able to expand her initiative to the East Coast and has fundraised over $100,000 to date.

“The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award has allowed me to provide further funding for the Solar Cooker Project, as well as for Jewish World Watch in order to increase student outreach efforts,” Lane said in an e-mail. “[Receiving] the award has inspired me to think about tikkun olam as a life-long journey.”

Aaron Feuer, a Los Angeles native, received the award in 2009 for his involvement with the California Association of Student Councils. As president of the CASC, Feuer helped coordinate and run more than 60 leadership training and activism events for teachers, student leaders and administrators across the state. Now a senior at Yale, Feuer continues to pursue the improvement of education in California and other states with his startup, Panorama Education, which utilizes feedback from parents, students and teachers to determine changes needed for progress.

“It’s easy to embrace the idea of tikkun olam, but being a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipient and keeping in touch with the Diller network has challenged me to think about what I want my contribution to be,” Feuer said.

“With the award, Mrs. Diller boldly affirms the power of young people — they can take responsibility, and they can make a difference,”  Feuer said.

Helen Diller, the foundation’s president, said she chose to expand the awards because of the potential to broaden participation in tikkun olam projects.

“My motto is that it’s never too early, late or often to give back and make the world a better place,” Diller said. “It’s exciting for me to be able to give back to teens across the country.”

To nominate a teen for the 2013 Diller Tikkun Olam Awards, visit jewishfed.org/teenawards/process.