Los Angeles Teens Changing the World: Tikkun Olam

October 5, 2020

Last year, I was honored to participate as a mentor in The Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grants which are part of the ​Jewish Federation of Los Angeles’ LA Jewish Teen Initiative (LAJTI).  During LAJTI’s 5th year, 42 teens participated in 16 projects. I was even able to TEAM TEEN MENTOR with Jonah Platt and Michelle Cait.

Each teen or group of teens worked with their mentor to develop their project, however, this year they had added challenges of having to adapt during COVID-19. Several of the teens chose to share their progress below:

2019-2020 Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grants

Name: Eliana Kerendian

Grade: Current 10th grader

 School: Shalhevet High School 

Project: Virtual reality with the Elderly 

As we are all quarantined in our homes, many of us first hand experienced the frustrating feeling of isolation and loneliness and the stress of being immobile and stagnated. This is what an elderly person can experience on a regular basis while at a nursing home. After my grandma got to see her hometown in Iran through the virtual reality goggles I thought how great it would be for other elderly people to have the same experience. Virtual reality goggles can take people places meaningful to them, or exotic sights they always wish to visit. I have accomplished doing the technology in one on one situations and developed the process, hardware, and software to do so. I picked the Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grant Program to help me pursue my project so that I can get the resources I need in order to complete my project and to be able to connect with other Jewish teens. My mentor Jerri Werksman guided me to achieve my goals and supported me through the process. Although I didn’t get where I wanted to with my project because of corona pandemics; I am proud to say that I brought smiles and joy to the elderly with the time I had. Even though plans with corona are unpredictable, I am hopeful that when it is safe to do so, I will make my project virtual reality with the elderly a club at my high school, Shalhevet. Through this process, we can bring happiness, create friendships, and connect generations

Name: Georgina Yawitz, Davina Yashar and ​Sama Mohaber Co-Presidents, ​Vice President,​ Talia Davood​, ​Eva Khorsandi​, Secretary, Leah Khorsandi Treasurer

​Grade & School: Current 10th Graders at Palisades Charter High School

Project: LA Kids for Change

 LA Kids for Change is a group my best friends and I conceptualized one day at Sinai Temple to help Foster Care youth. A few weeks later, my parents forwarded an email to me about JBP TIG. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We had already come up with the idea, so we just had to figure out how to execute it. The grant I received from JBP TIG was invaluable to reaching our goals, as was the guidance we received from Alyssa, the mentor who was assigned to us. During our time in the JBP TIG program, our group, high school freshmen at the time, created a club at our school, Palisades Charter High School. We had many members and chose leadership positions based on personal skills. Davina Yashar, Sama Mohaber, and I, Georgiana Yawitz, are the Co-Presidents of LA Kids for Change. Talia Davood is the Vice President, Leah Khorsandi is the Treasurer, and Eva Khorsandi is the Secretary.

In December 2019, we held a holiday drive for Maryvale, a family service center in Rosemead, California. We collected thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts, many of which were donations from Tower Saint John’s Imaging Center in Santa Monica, and our mothers drove us to Maryvale to deliver them. We asked our classmates to write cards for the girls at Maryvale, which we also delivered. While there, we took a tour of the grounds and spoke with the directors about Maryvale and what else we could do to help the girls residing there.

During quarantine, we had to redirect our plans. We had already planned our next event but could not execute it due to concerns about Covid-19. We decided that this would be a good opportunity to expand our social media platforms to encourage safe behavior and raise awareness for our cause. Our club members helped choose our merchandise (black and white shirts, navy and black crewnecks), and many people purchased them through Venmo. We arranged for them to meet at one of our houses to pick up their merchandise, while socially distancing. We also produced informational videos and other posts on our Instagram account. In addition, we held a Corona Kindness Drive with Maryvale. We sent them quarantine necessities, including toiletries, games, stress balls, art supplies, and more.

Our mentor was extremely helpful to us. Before the quarantine, we had been meeting monthly and texted her with any questions. We had great ideas for our project, and she helped us plan them. We will continue our project at Pali High to expand our club. Due to Covid-19, this year we will be focusing on spreading awareness through social media, including our Instagram (@lakidsforchange) and website (lakidsforchange.org). We had an amazing experience with JBP TIG and recommend it to others. We learned so much and we hope to continue with the program.

Name: Gracie Evans

Grade & School: Current Senior at Santa Monica High School

Project: Intergenerational Events

With the TIG, I was able to hold three intergenerational events at the Museum of Tolerance, where I am a teen volunteer. Teens and Holocaust survivors bonded over music, dance, and the arts in general. These events allowed teenagers and Holocaust survivors to build intimate and special connections over common interests and fun conversation.

Before COVID-19, I was planning on holding one more event at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Now, I am currently planning to hold this event virtually through the Holocaust Museum LA Teen Board. I am very grateful that I was able to hold three wonderful events before COVID-19!

I picked JBP TIG to support my project because I knew it would give me the resources and assistance that was needed to host these special events.

My mentor, Elana Samuels,  helped me organize my budget and gave me fresh ideas for future events. She was the one who suggested I do my fourth event at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust! I hope to continue to hold fun and meaningful virtual events with teens and survivors. This year I will be a member of the Holocaust Museum LA teen board and I plan to organize more events through them.  I definitely recommend the JBP TIG to others; I could not have held the successful events I did without their support!

Name: Russell Jacobs Lead Teen, Emma Blankstein

Grade and School: Russell Jacobs graduated from Windward School in 2020 and now attends the University of Michigan 

Project: Holocaust Museum LA Teen Advisory Board: Messages to the Future

As a member of the Holocaust Museum LA’s Teen Advisory Board and its Messages to the Future project for the past three years, I have worked with other high school students devoted to implementing more robust Holocaust education for our peers. Our mission was to interview survivors of the Shoah, document their experiences during the war, and share the lessons they want younger generations to learn from their stories. In my final year as a member of the Teen Board, I and my peers interviewed survivor Ernest Weiss from Czechoslovakia. With the help of Teen Board director Julia Davis and our film mentor,  Michael Cannon, we edited three hours of footage from Mr. Weiss’ interview, to create a fifteen-minute short film titled “Free Again: The Story of Ernest Weiss,” currently on Holocaust Museum LA’s Vimeo page for the public to watch.

I and the rest of the Messages to the Future group were fortunate to interview and film Mr. Weiss almost immediately before COVID-19 drastically shifted the way we interact with one another. Once stay-at-home orders went into place in mid-March, the Teen Board shifted its monthly meetings to Zoom, where all twenty students updated one another on our projects’ development. Our smaller group would hold additional meetings on Zoom to work with a transcript of Mr. Weiss’ interview, discuss with Julia which moments we wanted to include in our short film, while Mike cut clips and edited the full-length interview into a final product.

By connecting teens across Greater L.A. through their shared interest in making change in their community, the Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grant was an invaluable space for the Messages to the Future project not only because it provided the ability to actualize our project via acquiring the logistical means to produce our short film, but also because it created a space where we could converse with other teens in the grant program. This enabled us to gain useful input and unique perspectives from our peers, who were working on different projects, and challenged us to think critically about how we could improve our filmmaking.

The Messages to the Future project was vital because it reinforced the power of storytelling and the importance of commemorating the history of the Shoah. During my time working as part of the Teen Board, I had the privilege to witness three Holocaust survivors who each had remarkably different backgrounds and experiences. Although I have now graduated high school and will no longer be a member of the Teen Board, I am enthusiastic to see where future members take the project, as there remain survivors who wish to tell their own, unique stories for the historical record. With each short film the Teen Board created, we contributed to the growing archive of Holocaust survivor testimony, providing greater access to educational resources that have the power to ensure we collectively live up to the legacy of “never again.”

“Free Again: The Story of Ernest Weiss” can be viewed at the following Vimeo link.

Name: Maya Rosenberg

Grade & School: 12th grade, Homeschooler at Inspire Charter School

Project: Bee Project

I think that the Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grants is a program that is beneficial to teens who are not satisfied with the world. This is one of those programs that realizes that you don’t need to be an “adult” to succeed in influencing pockets of humanity. Here’s my story:

I have always been environmentally inclined, and I decided that I wanted to become more involved in causing improvements on Earth. The JBP TIG helped me do so, and from it, I ended up creating an online resource filled with bee-related information, spanning from Jewish connections to bees and honey through Torah, traditions, holidays, and Jewish laws, to comprehensive information about Colony Collapse Disorder (a disorder that often mysteriously kills off entire beehives at a time), to fun quizzes, facts, articles, and resources to learn about these fuzzy, striped, miracle workers.

In the beginning, the idea was to create mini garden packages that, when grown, would give local bees a little boost through the California heat as well as teach the recipients about some major Jewish connections to our fuzzy buddies. This would be done via an informational pamphlet tucked into the grow container that would additionally contain all of the ingredients for properly growing the provided seeds. The intended audience consisted of people within the Jewish community and various Jewish organizations in Los Angeles. Then COVID-19 rolled around, which naturally forced significant change upon the entire world, not excluding my project. Through the looming threat of this virus and despite the hours already dedicated to planning and revising the initial idea, there was no choice but to change the course of the project almost entirely. Instead of a hands-on project, I created a website database that contains articles, pictures, graphics, and even a buzzing bee sound effect that all bring light to the essential existence of these insects. Arguably, this new edition of the project is more effective given that more people can reach this platform for longer than thought before.

Prior to the whole mess of a pandemic hit, I talked with my two mentors from Shemesh Farms to gain answers to my many questions that would pop up, specifically about the ideal contents of the packages that at the time I was still planning on executing. Through them, I was put in touch with the Valley Hive, and soon enough, I found myself accompanying the owner and his assistant on an adventure to several of their hives to check on their bees. We hopped out of the pickup truck in bright white bee suits, sprinted across a train track, and finally arrived at the destination: a deserted strip of land inhabited with dead grass, stacks of artificial hives, and hundreds of bright yellow, Italian honey bees. This was an experience of a lifetime, and those couple of hours gave me much insight that helped me later on with my project.

My plan is to continue updating the website, beesidethebees.com, to participate in educating as many people as possible about the bees, the surprisingly crucial critter to our human world.

Name: Kayla Hayempour

Grade and School: Current Senior at Palisades Charter High School

Project: Girls Learn International/Pad Project

 Kayla and a sample Pad Kit

The project idea I came up with for the Jewish Federation’s Teen Innovation Grant Program stemmed from my passion for menstrual equity, and my fight to end period poverty.  Period poverty refers to inadequate access to menstrual resources.  This most commonly means a lack of period products, but can also include things such as a lack of clean water, health and sanitation facilities, birth control, and other sexual and reproductive health and rights services.  All these things should be basic human rights, as they are required in order to live with dignity.

When I learned that the Jewish Federation had a program for innovation grants, I knew I had to apply.  I was so drawn to the LAJTI program because it perfectly meshed my love for activism with my Jewish roots, two things that are very important to me.  The Federation and this teen program has been an incredible experience that I do not take for granted.  The adults and mentors in this program have been so supportive, and with the funds, I’ve been able to elevate my project from just an idea, to something more real.  I highly recommend this program to anyone who has an idea, no matter how big or small.

I was initially working to host a film screening of the Pad Project documentary “Period. End of Sentence.” to educate those around me on menstrual equity, and fundraise.  However, COVID forced me to pivot and find new ways to achieve my goal.  I spent the $1500 from the Federation on reusable pad kits, and I am currently in touch with LA City representatives on how I can distribute them to homeless and low income women in need.

I also started my own organization, Petticoats Rule, where I have launched a new project with a more global focus.  Following in the footsteps of the Pad Project and their film, I am trying to raise $15,000 to send a pad making machine to a village in a third world country.  This would generate economic opportunity for the women and girls living there, and keep them in school by providing clean menstrual products.  The money raised will provide one manual pad machine, employ 5-6 workers, produce 100,000 pads per year, serve 500 to 800 women for 1 year, and cover raw materials, tool kits, training programs, and shipping costs and taxes.

Ultimately, pad making machines and period kits will not solve the issue of period poverty.  Everyone around the world must do the right thing and choose to invest in women, in their success, and in their futures.  Women and girls deserve the same opportunity as their male counterparts, and this can only come through education and decisive action in the field of menstrual equity.  Women and girls should be valued equally, and treated equally, and ending period poverty brings us one step closer to achieving this goal.

Stay Empowered. Learn more on her gofundme site

Name: Athalia Meron

Grade & School:  Current 12th Grader at Harvard Westlake

Project: The Self Advocacy Project

I put together a website containing information for teens about how to combat hatred and insensitivity when they encounter it. My project was inspired by an experience I personally had last summer. At an academic program I was attending, a couple of people in my group were using antisemitic language and symbols. I really wanted to say something to them about it, but I really didn’t know how to address it in a constructive way. When I searched the internet for answers, I couldn’t come up with a direct course of action. I knew that I couldn’t be the only one that was facing that issue, so I set out to create a resource guide for students to combat these incidents and publish that guide as a website so that it would be publicly accessible. With the help of a couple of friends, I’ve put together a general action plan, as well as some conversation guides and fact sheets to address different kinds of issues that high school students face. Since my project was already web-based, I didn’t have to do much to pivot for COVID-19. I was able to continue working on my project as it was before the pandemic. I picked JBP TIG to support my project because I’d worked with them before for a different project with Holocaust Museum LA, and I knew how helpful their program was. My mentor was extremely helpful in guiding my vision for this project. She helped me manage my project and connected me with people who helped me develop the content for my site. Even outside of the grant cycle, I’ve continued working with her to grow and improve the site. I’m extremely grateful to JBP TIG for making this project possible. The mentorship, funds, and connections that they provided were amazing, and I loved meeting with the other teens and hearing about their projects as well. Link: https://www.theselfadvocacyproject.org

Name: Hanna Levy, Lead Teen.  Teen Board:  Alex Malamud, Caroline Mendoza, Sara Rosenblood, Andrew Petlak, Meredith Maxwell

Grade & School: 11th grader at Milken Community School (Hanna)

Project:  Museum Impact

My work with Holocaust Museum LA has been incredibly affirming in the importance of preserving testimony and education of the Holocaust. As a Teen Board Member I collaborated with like minded teens once a month to brainstorm how we can help the museum’s outreach to teens and people in the Greater Los Angeles area. One of the things I accomplished with Holocaust Museum LA was deepening my understanding of the Holocaust through other people’s projects and shared knowledge. Our meetings were also insightful in that they allowed us to freely discuss how the museum can foster empathy and tolerance in society. This is incredibly important to me as social justice is one of the major reasons I want to pursue law as a career.

Julia Davis was the Education Coordinator and mentor for Holocaust Museum LA’s Teen Board. She was instrumental in allowing us as teens to feel heard, value our perspective and in guiding us in how to research and provide information in an accurate, education and evidence based manner.

The group that I worked with at Holocaust Museum LA was actively working towards becoming docents of the uprising exhibit room at the Museum. The goal was to meet in real time and engage with Museum staff and absorb and learn as much as we could in order to help the museum’s mission of education of the Holocaust to visitors during weekend hours. However, due to the pandemic, my group’s purpose was divided into researching a powerful figure from the uprising exhibit room. We presented our research and understanding in the format of individual videos.

This made me reflect that while the pandemic curtailed my experience of being immersed in a museum and engaging with staff and mentors regarding the exhibit I would become a docent for, virtual sessions still allowed me to present my findings in an appropriate social distancing manner. That is why our organic matter in pivoting our research to accommodate the social distancing practices of COVID19 did not curtail us teens to teach and learn from each other on how to become virtual docents through videos. This in turn became  an engaging and successful compromise. Unlike with real trips to the museum, videos have a larger reach and extended audience, that in this way can truly help support the Museum. That is why, I feel that the Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grant can continue to support teen made videos that seek to continue the education of the Holocaust and also tie in the importance of tolerance, empathy and being an upstander in society. I hope to be able to continue to participate in social justice and educational organizations that seek to improve our society. Without hesitation, I encourage any and all teens to participate in Holocaust Museum LA, or any organization they find helps promote a more equitable and educated society.

Name: Julia Edelman

Grade & School: previously a 12th Grader at Marlborough on her way to being a freshman at Washington University

Project:  Para Los Niños

Para Los Niños (PLN) is an education, family, and community services nonprofit supporting Los Angeles’s most at-risk children and families. PLN fosters pathways to success through excellence in education, powerful families, and strong communities for children and youth to thrive. I specifically worked with PLN’s charter elementary school, which serves students from transitional kindergarten through fifth grade, providing children and their families with high-quality education and support to reach success in school, work, and life.

PLN ​builds stronger, more stable families and brighter futures for children​ by providing early education, tk-8th grade education, youth workforce services, and student and community services. I am involved with PLN on many fronts. Beginning in the summer following ninth grade, and every summer since, I have been a Camp Harmony volunteer counselor to homeless and underserved children in Los Angeles.

Many of the Camp Harmony campers are also affiliated with PLN and attend the Charter Elementary School. So, I founded the Marlborough Para Los Niños Service Learning Club, which partners with the students from PLN’s Charter Elementary School to perform joint service learning projects during the school year. We have worked with the same group of children for the past three years, and my club members and I have built meaningful connections and mentoring relationships with them.

While it is wonderful that so many people and organizations are willing to support the children at PLN, the children who are being helped are seldom offered a chance to make a difference themselves. However, by doing work together for our shared community, the kids are empowered in knowing that they, too, can give back. I was so deeply moved by my experiences with PLN that when it came time to find a partner organization for my Honors Capstone in Social Justice, I knew exactly where I wanted to be.

I applied for a Teen Innovation Grant in order to fund an educational and service field trip organized by the Marlborough PLN Service Learning Club. I used the funds to support a service learning project in partnership with PLN Charter Elementary School students centered around the importance of urban tree canopy. The service learning field trip to Tree People targeted how we need to protect our environment and what we can do ourselves to help the fact that we need tree canopy, healthy soil, and clean water in our most urban neighborhoods, where the PLN students live. The neighborhoods that these kids live in are the ones most affected by lack of tree canopy, which in addition to having climate consequences, has health consequences for the people who live there.

My project focused on creating a more equitable green city and combating the effects of climate change.

A map of tree canopy in any city in America also shows a map of race, and ethnicity in ways that transcend income. In some cities, maps of income and maps of trees more or less line up. In Los Angeles — they are identical. Low income areas of virtually any city across the country tend to be hotter than their wealthier counterparts. The people who are most likely to not have air conditioning to weather heat waves are ones who live in these areas, and, consequently, have health conditions that put them at greater risk, all stemming from not having the tree canopy they need

My project included a day partnering with Tree People to plant trees with the PLN students that they could bring back to their neighborhoods. Instead of a nonprofit coming into their neighborhoods and planting those trees for them, these kids will be empowered in knowing that they contributed positively to their community. The kids learned about tree canopy, clean water, and healthy soil, and so did the Marlborough students.

My experience working with PLN has ​equipped me with the tools to challenge ​societal infrastructures that perpetuate inequality. Personally, I was not aware of the issues that lack of tree canopy presents until just a few months ago, so it was really meaningful to bring this societal problem to the attention of everyone involved, no matter what walk of life they came from, because this is an issue we all need to pay attention to.

I am so glad my event took place when it did, because, even if it were scheduled for the following weekend, it would have had to have been cancelled, as I know happened to many of the other grantees in the program. The current global crisis has caused me to think even more critically about how I can best make a meaningful difference in improving the lives of those currently suffering economic, educational, and psychological setbacks.

The COVID-19 crisis has been challenging for all of us. For the Para Los Niños families, it has been particularly trying. I have seen firsthand how families at PLN are suddenly unsure whether they can rely on the meals PLN normally provides for their children, the safety and enrichment of PLN’s childcare, or the daily wraparound services that help them stay on track. Now more than ever, PLN children and families are vulnerable to fall behind, or go without.

I have committed to working with PLN throughout this crisis and beyond to continue to provide the much-needed education and safety net that their students require in order to lift them out of poverty and help lead them to a future filled with success.

I learned about the Teen Innovation Grant Program last summer as an intern in the LA Jewish Teen Initiative (LAJTI) Community Internship Program, during which I worked at the Federation in the Community Engagement Department. During my time at the Federation, I also learned about the many wonderful programs the Federation supports. I told my mentors in the Community Internship Program about my proposed project, and they encouraged me to apply. I was excited by both the opportunity to get seed funding for my club’s service learning project, as well as learn and collaborate with other innovative teens as I developed my project.

I was, and continue to be, deeply impressed by the LAJTI’s mission and the numerous resources it provides for teens to enact positive change within their community and world, and I am extremely lucky to have been given the chance to continue to participate in this inspiring initiative. Without the Teen Innovation Grant, my club’s service learning projects would not be possible.

I’d like to thank my amazing mentor, Andrea Sorin, for being a constant resource for me throughout this whole process. Andrea acted as a ​thought partner and offered helpful advice, but she really came through the day of the event and made a huge difference being there. The day could not have run so smoothly without her. I cannot thank Andrea enough for her help in making it happen.

Just next week, I will be starting as a freshman at WashU in St. Louis in the fall. I could not feel more grateful for the time I spent working with PLN and the skills I learned, and I will take these lessons with me as I begin my next chapter. I hope to involve myself in likeminded nonprofits in the area empowering at-risk families and tackling educational inequality, while, of course, maintaining my special relationship with PLN.

The Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grants are part of the Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative (LAJTI), co-funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jim Joseph Foundation, with funding from the Jewish Community Foundation.

Imagine you have an opportunity to do something innovative and exciting…

  • What would you do? Where would you start?
  • How might you make a difference on an issue you are passionate about?
  • How might you impact a community you care about?

Now, as COVID-19 has changed the world around us, we need YOU to change our world for the better! Our Federation’s Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative values how a teen’s passion, talent, and creativity can help shape a community. The Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grants Program allows for all of this and more by encouraging you to take a risk, experiment, and explore something you care about.

LAJTI is a community-wide initiative aimed to enhance the landscape of Jewish LA for teens and provide them with meaningful, personal, and relevant opportunities for engagement in Jewish life.  We value how teens’ passions, talents, and creativity can help shape our Jewish community.

With the guidance of a mentor and a microgrant up to $1500, JBP TIG encourages teens to take risks, develop impactful projects, and create meaningful connections with others.


  • Funds: This program offers awards up to $1,500 to empower you to play an active role in turning your idea into reality.
  • Mentorship: You will be paired with a mentor who acts as a thought partner and can offer guidance as you work toward new goals.
  • Support & Inspiration: You will participate in three workshops during this 6-month program. Our workshops will give you the opportunity to learn, collaborate with other innovative teens, and inspire you as you develop your project.

Read our Online Information Guide to learn more!

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