Much has been written about the world’s heroes — big and small — but sometimes making a major difference in someone’s life doesn’t take a single word.
Consider the example of Ruth Maouda, a sterling senior at YULA Girls High School who volunteers for Etta Israel Center, an organization for teens and adults with special needs.
“When she worked at camp, she worked with a young man who is nonverbal and in a wheelchair,” Leah Schachter, who directs the organization’s summer camp, wrote in an e-mail. “When the Jewish music program started, she grabbed the wheelchair and started to dance with him, so that he would feel a part of the program, too. The smile on his face was the obvious answer … he absolutely loved it!”
The child of Israeli parents, Maouda views life with a level of maturity that is well beyond her years. Not only has she managed to maintain a stellar GPA on a demanding honors track, but Maouda approaches each small part of life as a building block of her whole existence — and this is what has allowed her to tackle so much more.
“My favorite motto comes from my mother: You never approach a puzzle all at once, but you start little by little, through all the bits of sky that seem to mismatch and [the] blur of colors that don’t seem to fit anywhere perfectly. You sort out one bit at a time, until the picture is complete.”
With that in mind, Maouda has spent her high school years experiencing as much of life as possible. A member of the varsity tennis and soccer teams for four years, she served as co-captain of both. She also is a pianist who is co-head of the YULA Girls Ensemble. And she’s been involved in numerous groups, including the school’s genocide awareness club, its American Israel Public Affairs Committee group and a school community awareness organization.
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Outside of school, Maouda has been extremely involved in Etta Israel. She helps organize Shabbaton throughout the year, and during the summer she lends a hand at its day camp.
“Etta Israel is the most amazing program I have ever been involved in, so much so that I find it hard to discontinue my involvement after three years. The counselors and campers and participants are like a family,” she said. “I feel like I’m making a difference in not only the participants’ lives, but in my life as well.”
Maouda wraps up every week at Shenandoah Elementary School in a program called SCATCH (Shenandoah Caring Adults Teaching Children How) designed to partner elementary school kids from bad neighborhoods with high school students for help with homework and company until their parents can pick them up from school.
“The goal,” Maouda said, “is essentially to keep them off the streets.”
The 17-year-old may have a lot to be proud of, but she understands that she is just starting to step over the threshold into adulthood, and that there’s still a lot to learn about the world and herself as she prepares to enter Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in New York, where she may pursue her interests in creative writing and psychology.
“I’m most scared of the fact that I will be doing a lot of things on my own and away from my parents, my No. 1 supporters,” Maouda said. “However, I feel that now that the rest of the world is acknowledging me as I enter adulthood, I can come to accept myself as an adult, too, and start to truly find what it is that I’m able to share as a functioning part of society.”