July 19, 2011
Students win Diller prize
When Daniel Sobajian transitioned from Jewish day school to public school, he saw that students were missing something — school supplies. Distraught, Sobajian made it his mission to solve this problem for L.A. public school students. This month, Sobajian was awarded the annual Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award — a $36,000 prize — for his efforts in collecting thousands of dollars in school supplies.
Every year, the Helen Diller Family Foundation, part of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, awards the prize to five Jewish teenagers throughout California, between the age of 13 and 19, who excel in tikkun olam (repairing the world) and leadership. The prize money can be used to further the teen’s service project or pay for college.
When he arrived at Venice High School in 2008 after graduating from Sinai Akiba Academy, Daniel realized he wanted to become more involved.
“Seventy percent of students live at or below the poverty line,” Daniel said. “When I saw that there were so many kids in my community without supplies, it inspired me to take action. I knew someone had to, and I knew that I would do anything to make sure all of my classmates had everything they could to go to school.”
He approached his City Council member, Bill Rosendahl, who then appointed Sobajian as a representative to his Los Angeles Youth Council. From there, Daniel formed the 11th District Los Angeles Youth Council to give a voice to his community’s youth. With Daniel in charge, the Youth Council hosted its first school-supply drive, which reaped almost $3,000 in supplies and has now expanded its efforts to include art supplies.
Daniel headed school- and art-supply drives in a handful of schools, libraries and churches throughout Los Angeles, and he also encouraged students to become more educated about problems plaguing their communities. In the last three years, he has raised more than $12,000 in school supplies for the Westside Children’s Center, the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica and Mar Vista Family Center.
The proactive teen plans to use the $36,000 award money to expand his project by buying more supplies and getting more schools involved.
“My goal is to not only make sure that everyone in this community has all the school supplies they need, but that every student in America goes to school supplied,” Daniel said.
Younger sister Lisa will take over the project when Daniel graduates from high school in 2012. However, he plans to remain a vital part of the project.
Diller Tikkun Olam Award winners Casey Robbins and Gabriel Ferrick also spearheaded their own school-supply campaigns. Casey, who lives in Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento, formed Textbooks for Liberia, a textbook drive focused on reducing the lack of educational textbooks in Liberia. Gabriel, who lives in Santa Rosa, advocated an end to genocide through Jewish World Watch’s Backpack Project by providing essential supplies to students in Chad, raising almost $60,000. Fueled by a love of gardening and the environment, Naftali Moed established the Oceana High School Garden, a community-supported garden in Pacifica, enabling volunteers to learn about gardening, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. By heading the Walk for Water, Liza Gurtin of La Jolla raised more than $35,000 to provide safe, clean water to hundreds of impoverished families in Nicaragua and Tanzania.