May 21, 2019

17-Year-Old Wins Grant for Holocaust Survivor Project

Rex Evans and other students in his group interviewed Sam Stone, a World War II veteran. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

A 17-year-old who came up with an innovative way to connect teenagers with Holocaust survivors has received a $1,500 grant for his project from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Rex Evans, a junior at Santa Monica High School, was one of several recipients of a Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grant for his project, Teen-Survivor Connections.

Evans interned at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) over the summer, which inspired him to join its 2018-2019 teen board. But it was through volunteering at the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) with his 15-year-old sister, Gracie, and listening to survivors’ testimonies that sparked the idea for his project: Find ways for teenagers and Holocaust survivors to bond. 

“With the testimonies, you’re just sitting there in an audience,” Evans told the Journal. “The survivor is telling you their story, and it’s not really reciprocal. [Holocaust survivors] have a ton to teach you, and I learn a lot every time I talk to them.” 

Being able to have teens interact with survivors is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he added. “It’s sad to say, but [survivors] are getting older and there aren’t going to be too many opportunities left. [And] for older generations, it’s great to interact with younger generations, especially if they’re lonely and don’t really have a ton of fun activities to do.”

In formulating his project, Evans approached his supervisor at MOT and put together an event in March, which brought teen volunteers and survivors together. This fall, wanting to expand his project, Evans applied for the grant.

“The students have to fill out an application, which describes their project, why they think the community needs this and also their strategic plan,” explained Jordanna Gessler, LAMOTH director of education. 

As Evans’ mentor for the grant, Gessler said, “I think it’s exciting to have intergenerational dialogue. It’s quite remarkable to have Rex stand up and say, ‘I recognize that there’s an opportunity here that’s not being created.’ ”

Evans’ first event, since receiving the grant at the end of September will take place at MOT on Nov. 11. His sister came up with the theme of finding ways for teens and survivors to bond through music. They will begin with asking questions of survivors, including what sort of music they listened to as children and how important music was in their families growing up. Then, teens will perform. Rex plans to use some of the grant money to buy a portable keyboard. He also hopes to upload Yiddish songs on YouTube with lyrics so everyone can sing along. 

Evans has ideas for additional events, including one at LAMOTH that is still in the planning stages. He is toying with the idea of having survivors showcase their art and then working on an art project with teenagers. Other ideas include intergenerational games and puzzles.

“Music night, puzzle night, doing board games [and] art. I think it shows young people that their interests and passions can be reflected in someone who is four times their age,” Gessler said. “One of the beautiful things about history and also passing down tradition is you see that, at the end of the day, we’re all very much the same in what we’re passionate and excited about.”

Gessler added that she hopes that Evans’ project will surprise both the teens and the survivors by showing “how much fun they had or how much they learned, or really drawing connections with one another that go across age, years, countries, [origins], gender and identity.”