Monday, October 6, 2014

Reflections of Jacob Gardenswartz - Recipient of Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award

In high school, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day craziness of being a teenager; homework is never-ending, social situations need to be cleverly navigated, and college applications transform from a distant worry to a daunting reality in the blink of an eye. Like many other students, I often found that the best way to deal with such challenges was to take things one day at a time and to not allow myself to look too far into the future. While it served as a great technique to stay focused and in the moment, I realized that it forced me to suffer from what I’d characterize as a lack of appreciation for my own accomplishments, an inability to see the forest for the trees.

While working on college applications, I decided that I would apply for several scholarships, which I was eligible for as a result of working for some organizations in the past. I figured that if I had to already write ten essays, what were ten more? Initially, I thought that the scholarships would only be beneficial in offsetting outrageous tuition costs and boosting my résumé. However, I didn’t anticipate that the scholarship application process would force me to evaluate my successes and failures, or to drive me to want to do more.

Upon reflecting on my achievements, I realized that I was most proud of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award that I won through the Diller Foundation based out of San Francisco. In addition to the large monetary component, the award included a full-time press agency that helped to publicize my nonprofit organization, impACT on Stage. Moreover, the award was of great significance because it connected me to 14 other amazing students from throughout the country. My first weekend of college at the University of Pennsylvania was not spent at new student orientation, but rather, at a weekend-long conference of social entrepreneurship workshops and business development panels. And, while I was certainly bummed to be missing out on my first weekend as a college student and on school orientation, I felt as though I had undergone an orientation of my own; one that forced me think about why I did what I did and what I want to do in the future. During my time of self-reflection, I realized all of the accomplishments my organization has made along with our unlimited potential to create more positive change well into the future.

ImpACT on Stage is a nonprofit [501-(c)(3) pending] organization with a mission to promote and enact social change through the use of live theater, by students for students. Coming from a theatrical background, I know how powerful live performance can be in communicating a specific message, and therefore, I think it makes perfect sense to apply this concept to a social justice, character education platform. Through the use of individualized school assemblies and specialized curriculum, we start dialogues about issues such as bullying, consent/sexual violence, alcohol/drug abuse, and workplace discrimination, among others. Currently, impACT is only operating in San Diego, but our hope is to grow the program to a national level over the next few years by setting up chapters at universities throughout the country. I want impACT on Stage to be in every major city throughout the country by the year 2020!

I know this is a big goal and that I will undoubtedly face setbacks throughout the process, and that trying to run a national nonprofit organization as a freshman in college may sound kind of insane. But at the end of the day, this is what makes me happy, and I realized that I truly have the capacity to create the change in the world that I want to see. My personal mission and the mission of ImpACT on Stage are in perfect alignment – to establish a culture of compassion and kindness and to foster a community where students feel safe and comfortable wherever they are—at home, at school, and everywhere else. I am proud of the impact I have been able to make in others’ lives and I am appreciative of all of the recognition I have received and continue to receive, as it continues to fuel my fire.


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