JVibe’s first-ever “18 Under 18” awards were years in the making; the responsibility of choosing these remarkable teens wasn’t taken lightly. We received nominations from March through May from all over North America, and the competition was fierce. Since we’ve never run an awards program before, we didn’t know what to expect. We were floored by the creative and inspiring accomplishments of the young adults who were nominated. From philanthropy to theater to helping the disadvantaged to music, we found the nominees’ talents not only varied but also deeply passionate.
The hardest part of the whole process for us was choosing only 18 teens; every teen nominated was truly inspirational. The winners, listed in alphabetical order, represent those who we felt were most extraordinary in their dedication to a cause or pursuit reflecting Jewish values and an inspiration to other teens. We hope they serve as role models for everyone, and we look forward to seeing the ways in which they make positive change in years to come. At long last, here’s our list. To hear directly from the teens, their nominators and the people they work with, visit jvibe.com/Real_life/18Under18.php.
1. Aaron Feuer, 18, Los Angeles, Calif.
When Aaron wanted to empower his fellow students to improve their schools, he took a grassroots approach. To create awareness among his peers and provide them with access to reforming public education, he ran for president of the California Association of Student Councils (CASC). As president, he led a statewide team of 25 students, who run 60 programs each year and work directly with the government. Aaron personally trained and spoke to more than 6,000 students and teachers across the state about leadership skills and student action, and his new recruiting program for statewide positions led to three times the number of applicants than in the previous year. Under Aaron’s supervision, there’s been an enormous increase in student leadership participation. Aaron was also recently named a finalist in the 2009 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards.
2. Alex Hess, 16, Portland, Ore.
A member of the Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation, Alex didn’t stand by last year when there weren’t adequate funds to allocate to the projects he loved and cared about—JVibe and our sister publication BabagaNewz. Instead of leaving his community without access to these free resources, this youth philanthropist and his older brother, Harrison, personally provided additional funding for a grant for statewide subscriptions. Since then, JVibe has provided nearly 150 subscriptions free of charge to Portland residents, adding to the 18 other grant-supported regions and helping us fulfill our mission.
3. Alexander Gould, 15, Acton, Calif.
From the age of 2, Alexander has been an inspiration as a professional actor. Unlike many of today’s celebrity teens, Alexander’s priorities are his education, participating in social action projects with United Synagogue Youth (USY) and investing his energy in his career. As the voice of Nemo in the 2003 Disney hit Finding Nemo and currently as Shane Botwin on Showtime’s acclaimed series Weeds, Alexander has proved that teens can follow their dreams while living values-based lives. Alexander also appeared on the cover of our November/December 2008 issue and has been a role model for our readers.
4. Allison Novack, 17, Surfside, Fla.
Allison combines her passion for music with writing and leadership by producing teen-friendly concerts with 1308 Productions, a non-profit that she and her family created to bring emerging bands to youth at an affordable cost in the Miami area. The shows have since become officially endorsed by MTV’s Rock the Vote organization and encourage teens to get involved with politics. Not only are rising bands getting great exposure with new audiences, but teens who help Allison organize and promote the events receive community-service credit.
5. Brian Brooks, 16, Miami, Fla.
Four years ago, Brian decided to take his passion for music and DJing and turn it into a charitable DJ business to raise money for his bar mitzvah project. Since then, he’s raised roughly $15,000 for local and national charities. His business also spawned two other organizations: Play It Forward, which collects music equipment for needy school bands, and Teen Jam Night, which hosts evenings of live performances by local teen bands. Furthering his interest in music, Brian wasted no time after joining the JVibe Teen Advisory Board’s writers’ group. He first impressed the editors by snagging an interview with reggae-rapper Matisyahu and, more important, helping us realize its potential as the cover story for the May/June 2009 issue. It turned out to be an incredible fit for our Jewish Diversity theme.
6. Bryna Oleshansky, 17, Knoxville, Tenn.
Camp Tikkun Olam was not only a family creation, but an adventure that Bryna made her own. Taking on a leadership role in the exchange program that’s part of UJC’s Partnership 2000, Bryna has hosted teens from Hadera-Eiron, Israel, on the exchange program with Knoxville for eight years. She recently participated in the program herself, which consisted of four weeks of service in each community. Also the n’siah (president) of her local BBG chapter, a B’nei Tzedek fund holder and member of the J-Serve planning committee, Bryna is devoted to social action in her community.
7. David Schenirer, 17, Sacramento, Calif.
As an active leader in the Sacramento Youth Leadership Program, David founded VIBE, a youth-led safe place for teens in his community that will open next spring. VIBE will be an entirely teen-owned and teen-operated career center and urban lounge where local teens can gain academic and vocational skills, participate in service projects and socialize with one another. The peer-to-peer resource center will offer tutoring, job-search assistance, computer training and more. David also founded Sole Patrol, a program that collects and donates shoes to third-world countries. David was also recently named a finalist in the 2009 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards.
8. Emma Wahl, 14, Pepper Pike, Ohio
After making her Broadway debut in the cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at age 7, Emma has continued acting professionally. On top of her incredible young career, she has found ways to use her talents for tikkun olam (repairing the world). She has organized charitable events incorporating theater, most notably in a show that’s two years in the making, which will bring arts and AIDS education to youth in India, South Africa, New York City and Florida through Artists Striving to End Poverty.
9. Erin Schrode, 18, Ross, Calif.
Erin is the co-founder and spokeswoman for Teens Turning Green and Teens for Safe Cosmetics, two national teen movements. Advocating for policy change and educating her peers and community about healthier choices, Erin also co-created Project Green Prom, a challenge to engage high school students across the country to “green” their proms and prom preparation. She also wrote a chapter in Girls Gone Green, to be published this year, and in June she traveled to Togo in West Africa on a humanitarian mission. Erin was also recently named a finalist in the 2009 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards.
10. Ethan Barhydt, 18, Deerfield, Ill.
Ethan founded Youth United for Darfur, an organization dedicated to ending the genocide of Darfur’s people. Not only does Ethan fundraise, educate and hold rallies to help those in Africa, but he’s also active with Sudanese refugees in America. The Save Darfur organization named Ethan a “Darfur Hero,” and to uphold his commitment to this important cause, he will intern in Washington, D.C., in September at a nonprofit that advocates for the people of Darfur. Later in the year, before heading to college, Ethan plans to travel to Africa to learn more about the conflicts that plague the Eastern region.
11. Jacqueline Rotman, 18, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Jacqueline started Everybody Dance Now! to bring hip-hop dance to the low-income youth of Santa Barbara. She expanded this group over the last two years to serve more than 600 youth with dance programs—an endeavor that required her to fundraise more than $35,000. Jacqueline has organized performances at many community venues, including a hospice-care facility for the terminally ill and a brain-injury recovery center. She coordinates the entire program, including hiring teachers, organizing classes, maintaining her website and writing grant applications. Jacqueline was also recently named a finalist in the 2009 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards.
12. Jake Spinowitz, 18, Woodbury, N.Y.
Jake was born with severe hearing loss and then lost all residual hearing at the start of high school. But after he received a cochlear implant, he decided to do something to help others with hearing loss. He started Lend an Ear Long Island to collect and refurbish hearing aids and provide them to the needy. Jake has also served on teen panels to talk about overcoming a disability. Since his implant, he had to re-teach himself to hear correctly, and even taught himself to play the guitar before joining his school’s jazz band and two local bands. Jake was also recently named to The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36” 2009 list.
13. Julie Zauzmer, 18, Dresher, Pa.
“52 Ways to Change the World” was Julie’s podcast creation. In this weekly recording during 2008, Julie heavily researched and spoke about incorporating social action into everyday life. In the fall, she took a political slant to address the presidential election and encouraged listeners to get informed. Her podcasts have been downloaded more than 10,000 times. At the end of the year, she decided to turn her project into a book, which she’s currently working on with an agent.
14. Michele Pinczuk, 15, Silver Spring, Md.
Michele has been adding publishing credits to her name since she was 13, not only becoming the first-ever regular teen contributor to JVibe, but also freelancing for several publications, including The New York Times. Michele has interviewed many cultural icons for JVibe, including esteemed photographer Annie Leibovitz. In May, Michele made a name for herself as a documentary filmmaker when her first short film, L’Chaim Israel, was shown at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival in France. The film, which is a mix of archival footage and interviews with Holocaust survivors, was also screened at three festivals, including the 2009 Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, where it won a new filmmaker’s award in March, and the Washington, D.C., Jewish Film Festival, where it won the student film contest in 2008.
15. Spencer Brodsky, 17, Potomac, Md.
After learning in Hebrew school about the genocide in Sudan and the lack of help for women and families, Spencer made a DVD about the life of his religious school’s assistant principal, the daughter of Holocaust survivors who was born in a displaced persons camp. He sold this unique DVD to raise enough money for 420 fuel-efficient stoves so families could safely cook their food. Spencer then created Stoves For Darfur and has since raised more than $130,000. When aid organizations were recently told to leave Sudan, Spencer changed his campaign to Stoves For Rwanda. His project was recently selected as one of five candidates by the Disney Friends for Change to receive $25,000 or $100,000, depending on the public’s vote.
16. Spencer Tweedy, 13, Chicago, Ill.
Spencer has been playing the drums since he was 2. He started his first band at age 6 and now plays with the band Tully Monster. Dubbed a “boy genius” by Rolling Stone magazine, Spencer also writes several thought-provoking blogs that show writing talent beyond his years. He’s written about politics, music and social action, among other topics, one of which is called “All About Mitzvah.”
17. Sydney Appelbaum, 18, New York, N.Y.
Sydney has proven to be a remarkable force in teen philanthropy. In the Guest Editor column in the September/October 2008 issue, JVibe spotlighted the Save Sderot club Sydney started at her high school after hearing about the devastating situation firsthand from Israeli teens during her summer at an international camp in Hungary. She decided to design a one-of-a-kind sterling silver necklace pendant in the shape of Israel with the Sderot imprint to sell to raise money. The $90,000 her club raised sent hundreds of kids in Sderot to summer camp in Jerusalem. Sydney is also a member of the JVibe Teen Advisory Board and has published numerous stories on JVibe.com and in JVibe.
18. Zachary Negroni, 16, San Diego, Calif.
Zachary founded School of Surf, where he and other young adults meet with at-risk homeless teens on a weekly basis to surf and bond. Zachary found the funding for this project, as well as enlisted donations from companies such as Quicksilver to provide the surfboards and wetsuits. His philosophy is that surfing can provide teens with a lifetime hobby that’s affordable, all while learning water safety, developing life skills and making friends. Zachary was recently named the NBC San Diego Inspirational Student of the Month. Zachary was also recently named a finalist in the 2009 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards.
To hear directly from the teens, their nominators and the people they work with, visit jvibe.com/Real_life/18Under18.php.