Changing Lives One Case at a Time

Four years ago, I entered high school knowing I wanted to do something remarkable, but was consumed by doubt and uncertainty. In my freshman year, I was introduced to Teen Court—a community outreach program that works to reduce recidivism and juvenile delinquency rates. Teenagers who have committed crimes are diverted from the traditional justice system and given the opportunity to present their case to a jury of their peers. This jury determines the teenagers’ guilt or innocence and subsequent punishment if found guilty. One benefit of Teen Court is that if the minor completes the given sentence within six months, the crime is completely removed from the minor’s record. I am a major proponent of this program because it gives teenagers another opportunity at their future—something that I believe everyone deserves, and gives jurors a “hands-on” experience with the legal process.

My desire to make a difference in the ways teens perceive themselves has grown exponentially since ninth grade and continues to grow today. I started out as a Teen Court member and worked my way up to become president, where I grew Teen Court’s attendance from under 25 members to an average of 140 members. Over the past four years, I spearheaded social media campaigns, hosted club meetings, coordinated field trips, and organized fundraisers in an effort to increase activism and involvement in the Teen Court program and in our impact upon the community.

I have seen firsthand the change that Teen Court has created in many teenagers' lives. It helps lead teens to a path of self-actualization and can completely change their outlook on life. I believe that too many young people are incarcerated for minor offenses that could easily have been prevented. With a 90% success rate of minors not entering the formal Juvenile Justice System, Teen Court has proven to be an effective solution to battling mass incarceration.

I hope to foster a society where we do not conduct studies to determine how many jails to build, but rather implement programs to see how many jobs we can create, and how many lives we can change. Teen Court empowers teenagers to take charge of their lives and face challenges head-on. Through my experiences at Teen Court I have learned that by helping others we not only change their lives, but we change ours as well.

Tikkun olam, a Jewish principle that means repairing the world, has played an integral role in my upbringing and in my experiences with Teen Court. Tikkun olam emphasizes that we must take action against the injustices and adversities that we may face and strive to inspire others to make a real difference in the world.

This summer, I received the honor of being selected as a 2016 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipient, and I am grateful to the Helen Diller Family Foundation for giving me the opportunity to carry on the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam and inspire others to make an impact.

My experience at the Diller Teen Awards two-day program was one that I will treasure for the rest of my life. This program enabled me to make lasting relationships and network with remarkable people who have the same motivation as I do to make a difference in the world. I believe the bonds and relationships I have created will only solidify over time.

That very same day, I entered a new chapter of my life at the University of California, Berkeley. Initially, I was a bit nervous, entering a completely new environment filled with new people, places, and ideas. However, my experiences with Teen Court and the Diller program have inspired my mentality to bypass all mental barriers and forge meaningful friendships. Within twenty-four hours, I knocked on every single door on my floor and found a community with which I could connect and relate.

The Helen Diller Family Foundation, the current and past recipients, and the staff have allowed me to realize the impact that we can make and the change that we have made despite any obstacles and impediments that we may face. The Diller organization has allowed me to see the potential I have within myself, the opportunities I can create, and the change than I can make. Through hard work, dedication, and perseverance, we can be the change we wish to see in the world.

This experience has helped me understand that my potential is defined by the way I see the world and not by the way the world sees me. From spending just two days with the current and past recipients, I was inspired to work harder to make the world a better place and spread the ideals of tikkun olam. I hope this article motivates you to see improvements you can make in your own life and throughout your community. I implore you to ask yourself, “What am I passionate about, what do I hope to accomplish, and what’s stopping me?”

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