After a shaky start fighting over a girl they both liked, Joseph Katona, 19, a Jewish Angeleno, and Omar Dreidi, his 19-year-old Palestinian Arab bunkmate, formed a bond that would extend past the two summers they shared at a Seeds of Peace retreat in Otisville, Maine.
Seeds of Peace is an organization dedicated to bringing together and empowering teens from regions of conflict, and in its program high school seniors often discussed what the future would hold for them after graduation. Katona soon realized his friend would embark down a path very different from his own, heading back to a lower-class lifestyle in Ramallah. While Katona lived a comfortable life, growing up in Brentwood, attending high school at Harvard Westlake, not having to worry about how he would afford college, Dreidi had dreams of attending school in the United States, but didn't know where or how it could happen.
Katona, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, thought it only fair that Dreidi have the same opportunities as him. After helping Dreidi put together his applications and soccer videos for colleges, Dreidi received an acceptance letter and merit scholarship from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. Although the scholarship was generous, Katona knew it would only cover half of Dreidi's four-year tuition. Katona then put together the Omar Dreidi scholarship fund with the goal of raising $18,000 to $20,000 per year for Dreidi to continue his studies at Earlham.
The experience has been fulfilling for Katona, but it has also been a difficult.
"Not every person wants to donate money to support a Palestinian," he said. Despite monetary setbacks, Katona has managed to raise $38,000 for Dreidi to stay in school, however, he is short more than half the amount needed for the next two years. He has received donations from $11 to $4,500, and every dollar counts, he said.
Staying in close contact with Dreidi, Katona is happy he is having a great time in Richmond, studying, making great friends and playing soccer on the school's team.
"I have a moral obligation to do this," he said. "It's not a huge sacrifice for people to donate, but would make a world of difference for Omar. Without these contributions, he would not be able to have the full college experience."
Donations go to Earlham College Omar Dreidi Scholarship Fund c/o Joseph Katona, 216 14th St. NW, Apt. 204., Charlottesville, Va. 22903. Checks should be made out to "Earlham College. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (310) 613-6268.
Student Advocacy in Sacramento
For the first time in 20 years, Panim, the Institute for Jewish leadership and values, ventured outside of Washington, D.C., and into the state's capital bringing 40 11th-grade Milken Community High School students to a three-day seminar exploring hunger, poverty and the environment. Panim teaches thousands of students about social and civic responsibility through Jewish Civics Initiative seminars, called Panim el Panim (face-to-face), and worked with Milken to organize the Jan. 27-29 seminar. Students spent hours volunteering at local organizations, such as the Sacramento Food Bank, and met with advocates from the Sacramento Environmental Council and Western Center on Law and Poverty.
"The trip was a great success," said Wendy Ordower, community service coordinator at Milken. Among the tasks the group undertook was handing out toiletries to the homeless with members of Building Bridges, an organization dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV.
"These students are fortunate on so many levels," she said. "I want them to learn the needs of society and how to become the voice of the people."
For more information visit, www.panim.org.
Teen Tikkun Olam Awards Promote Global Healing
Last year, five teens, including two from Los Angeles, received Diller Tikkun Olam Awards through the new National Diller Teen Initiative. Angeleno winners were Erich Sorger, 18, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and Shira Shane, 20, a student at Stanford University.
In its second year, the organization named for San Francisco philanthropist Helen Diller, will select another five Jewish teens from California to each receive $36,000 for commendable participation in community service and social action. Teachers, rabbis and community leaders are encouraged to nominate teens between the ages of 13 and 19 who have completed exceptional community service projects. The awards are to be used for college or causes that will further their work in repairing the world.
Sorger, a student in the Jerome Fisher Management and Technology Dual Degree Program, donated a portion of his award to the DELCO Early Learning Center and organized a carnival for impoverished Philadelphia children with a team of University of Pennsylvania management students.
"The carnival was a great success with pretzels, cotton candy, moon-bounces and more," he said.
Sorger is coordinating with the university's Hillel to promote "Dollars for Dwaynes" in Philadelphia, and is continuing the mission of "Dollars for Dwaynes" during his winter break in Los Angeles, donating an additional $650 in resellable goods.
"I am keeping the balance to put forth toward other philanthropic ventures or my tuition for next year," Sorger said.
Shane plans to donate a portion of her prize money to refugees in Darfur as well as to return to Africa, where she has previously exercised her musical talents in Tanzania. She is meeting with Janice Kamenir-Reznik, the president of Jewish World Watch, who will help her achieve these goals. Deadline for 2008 award nominations is March 11.
Cash Incentive for Summer Camp
The expense of summer camp should not be a deterring factor for Jewish youths, according to the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO). Partnered with the Foundation for Jewish Camping, BBYO is offering a $1,500 campership for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade middle school students who have never attended a three-week or longer Jewish overnight camp.
The Jim Joseph Foundation of San Francisco is pitching in to fund the JWest Campership Program in an effort to increase the number of preteens in the Western United States enrolling in overnight Jewish summer camps. With 150 camps nationwide, JWest is being introduced in 13 states including California.
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