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Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards: Not Your Typical College Scholarships for Jewish Students

College can be very expensive with private school tuition costing, on average, $34,000 a year and public schools costing anywhere from $9,000-$25,000 (www.studentdebtrelief.us). Past Diller Teen Tikkun Olam awardees have shared how daunting those numbers can be for both teens and their parents. While the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards are not explicitly college scholarships for Jewish students, many recipients apply their award as a scholarship. While the funding is only one component of the Awards, we are glad to be supportive of a teen’s education for high school, university, or other learning.

What Are the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards?

Tikkun Olam is one of the four components of Jewish giving, which are:

  • Tikkun Olam: repairing the world
  • Tzedakah: providing for those in need
  • Tzedek: pursuing justice
  • Kehillah: building community

Tikkun olam, as Program Director Erica Aren makes clear, is not a “should” for Jews, but a “must.” Tzedek, or justice, is an imperative, rooted in kehillah, community, and a key component of the tikkun olam work so many of today’s teens are deeply engaging in, and leading.

While teens may have a reputation for hanging out on YouTube or wanting to spend their spare time out with friends, many teens, including Jewish teens who recognize tikkun olam as an important part of their tradition, and to some, an obligation, are taking the initiative to help repair the world. The Helen Diller Family Foundation recognizes their incredible leadership.

For Helen Diller, the foundation’s founder, empowering youth was the obvious step to take in order to advance tikkun olam. Her philosophy on tikkun olam and why she started the award program is inspiring. Mrs. Diller recognized the power of the younger generation to bring positive change to the world and founded the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards in order to support and highlight Jewish teen leaders.

Specifically, the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards are for Jewish teens age 13-19 who have a key leadership role at an organization or program centered around repairing the world. Every year since 2007, the Helen Diller Family Foundation has awarded $36,000 each to up to 15 Jewish teens who are making the world a better place. Award recipients have options when allocating their award: use it to further their philanthropic work, make a donation, or use it to pay for college. Many recipients divide the money among these options and use some of the funding to pay for college as a scholarship.

Application Process and Recipients

In order to apply, teens can be nominated (by a rabbi, teacher, counselor, or any non-relative who knows and understands the project/initiative). To directly apply for the award, teens fill out this application form.

To qualify, you need to hold a leadership role in an organization that is making the world a better place. Creating positive change in the world is a challenge. The teens who receive the award have demonstrated how much they deserve it through both their actions and their results.

The process of deciding which qualified teens receive the award is thorough. The decision-making process focuses on commitment and upholding tikkun olam. A volunteer committee, led by three co-chairs, evaluates the applications based on how the applicants have shown leadership and developed their organizations over time, as well as their ability to inspire and involve others through their work. Applicants need to communicate the goals of their organization and how they will stay dedicated to repairing the world over time.

One 2019 recipient, Beatriz De Oliveira, showed her dedication to bettering the world by helping over 10,000 children through her organization, Books for a Change. Now she is writing a daycare curriculum that focuses on fostering a strong relationship with reading at a young age to grow children’s imagination and spread her love of fiction.

Benefits of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards

The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards impact increases every year by supporting new programs and young leaders and by building on these successes year after year. Not only do the awards help teens follow their dreams, they encourage giving Jewishly and repairing the world.

Applicants’ initiatives can be international, national or local in scope. Solomon Olshin, awarded in 2019, founded Shine which makes devices that bring light, power, heat, and internet access to hundreds of homeless people in his native Portland. By ensuring that people without a home can access the internet, Solomon is providing necessary resources to get jobs and increase the quality of their lives. Solomon has also helped develop sustainable showers and laundry systems for the houseless that also irrigate their community gardens with grey water.

2018 recipient Genevieve Liu, whose father died when she was young, created SLAP’D, a social media platform for teens to connect through the grieving process caused by losing a parent. Genevieve has turned her loss into a resource that can help hundreds of people worldwide.

The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards award a wide range of diverse initiatives. Recipients have made a difference for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people globally. The awards recognize leadership and provide financial support to teens who have demonstrated their commitment to making the world a better place. A benefit of the Awards network includes building community and helping Jewish teens connect to their Jewish identity and traditions. Award recipients work together, inspire each other, and reach out to more teens and kids to get them involved.

Resources and College Scholarships for Jewish Teens

In addition to this award, there are other college scholarships for Jewish teens. In California, the San Diego Jewish Teen Initiative offers resources to help Jewish teens learn about scholarship options. Another great Bay Area resource to keep you up to date on Jewish teen activism and ways to repair the world is JBridge.

For more inspiration, check out the work of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards past recipients. If you are looking for a college scholarship for Jewish students and have a deep commitment to tikkun olam, find out whether you are eligible to apply here.