Ryan Gurman and Brandon Newberg, both 13, have never met. They live in different parts of Los Angeles, go to different schools, attend different synagogues and celebrated their bar mitzvahs almost a year apart. Yet over the past few months, the young men have shared a common purpose: helping sick and injured children at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
For both of the sports-loving teens, an unfortunate medical incident in their recent past awakened them to the importance of physical health. Ryan and Brandon focused their mitzvah projects not only on supporting a hospital, but also on channeling donations into pediatric care with help from Cedars’ Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center.
Brandon, who lives in Encino, recently completed his project in a traditional time frame — the months immediately preceding his December bar mitzvah. Ryan’s inspiration, however, struck him on the night of his big event this past January. After explaining that he felt too sick to publicly celebrate with his grandson, Ryan’s grandfather suffered a heart attack and was taken to Cedars-Sinai. A close look at the consequences of failing health — and the ability of doctors to reverse that pain — solidified Ryan’s plans for a project.
“I promised myself and my family that if all goes well — which it did, six months later, and after a lot of surgeries — I’m going to focus on making a difference,” the Beverly Hills teen explained.
Ryan went on to create The Children’s Foundation several months after his entry into the adult Jewish world. With a little help, he created the foundation’s Web site along with its Twitter and Facebook pages. Donations are sent directly to Cedars-Sinai, in honor of The Children’s Foundation.
“I just think about a bunch of suffering kids and why they can’t live lives of a regular, healthy kid. I think that keeps me going: to try to get them from suffering to smiling,” he said.
Brandon’s motivation to help the hospital also stemmed from a personal experience. An avid soccer player, Brandon saw the potential for serious sports injuries after he broke a finger and a wrist. Brandon led a soccer clinic with help from the head and assistant coaches on his soccer team, the Guadalajara River Plate. He applied the advice provided to him by Dr. Ryan Kotton, director of pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation at Cedars, to set up three stations: one for learning to safely shoot the ball, one for ball passing, and the last — but most important station — for learning how to head a soccer ball without risk of concussion.
Through the suggested donations for clinic attendees, various checks from family and friends as well as a generous gift from Brandon himself, the Newbergs ultimately donated a little more than $700 to the hospital. Kotton informed the family that the funds have since been used to create educational materials on sports-related injuries for use in emergency rooms.
“I think it did teach him,” said Sharyn Newberg, Brandon’s mother. “It helps him see how hard it is to make money.”
After producing a newfound maturity in both young men, the two projects may lead them in different directions.
While Brandon remains open to the possibility of running another soccer clinic down the road, he seems mostly excited about steering his 10-year-old brother, Austin, in a similar direction for his future mitzvah project. He sees mitzvahs as the center of Jewish life and wants to perform them whenever the opportunity arises.
“He really has changed,” his mother said. “The past year, I think he’s just become more mature and more responsible.”
“He’s got the confidence and I think that shows,” agreed Howard Newberg, Brandon’s father.
And as Ryan tries to promote The Children’s Foundation, he hopes this project is just the beginning of what will grow for years: “I kind of want to consider this more than a mitzvah project,” Ryan said. “I want this to go throughout my life. The Jewish people are all about tikkun olam [repairing the world], so that’s what I’m about. I want to get the Jewish community involved; I want to make the community one big family striving to reach one goal.”
Ryan’s physical health goals extend beyond his foundation. Inspired by the doctors at the hospital where his grandfather was treated and where both he and his brother were born, Ryan has decided to pursue a future career as a surgeon. Although he acknowledges the difficulty of acceptance into Stanford (his top-choice school) and the many years of studying ahead, he feels strongly compelled to fix what is broken.
“I want people to know that anybody can take a stand,” Ryan said. “Anybody can do this to try to repair the world.”
For more information about The Children’s Foundation, visit thechildrensfoundation.org