The Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors (PMAR) is honored to present the annual Portland Future First Citizen Award and $5,000 college scholarship to Benjamin Olshin, a graduate of Catlin Gable School. PMAR’s Future First Citizen Award honors a high school senior in the Portland metropolitan area who has made an extraordinary commitment to improving the quality of life in their community.
In 2017, Benjamin founded Babies With Books, a teen-led program where volunteers meet with families that have a newborn in the NICU. The volunteers provide these families with books to read to their babies while in the NICU and educate them on the importance of reading for early literacy. Through his work, Benjamin has created partnerships with leaders at local hospitals across the Portland metropolitan area to develop NICU reading programs and has successfully implemented them at Randall Children’s Hospital, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, and Providence Portland Medical Center.
Benjamin also recruited and trained 24 teen volunteers for Babies With Books, and assisted them in onboarding at the hospital and mentored them for their meetings with the families. His work has garnered interest outside of the Portland area. Hospitals in other parts of the United States, Canada, South Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Qatar, and the United Kingdom have requested access to the curriculum so they can create their own NICU reading programs.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and halted in-person volunteering at hospitals, Babies With Books continued to serve families in the NICU by providing them a welcome packet that includes a book and early literacy information. During this time, Benjamin also worked with 39 NICU departments across the world to create the first US-based international read-a-thon, and only NICU read-a-thon organized by teens, to boost morale and continue to support babies and their families. Prior to the read-a-thon only 67% of the participating NICUs had any type of NICU reading program. After, 97% of the participating NICUs are now developing or have developed a similar reading program.
Benjamin is attending Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri to study anthropology, sociology, and public health and plans to earn a master’s degree in public health and attend medical school. His goal is to “learn the tools to help create an improved health care system in which culturally-informed practices best promote health and wellbeing across our world’s diverse communities.”
Traditionally, this award is presented at the annual Portland First Citizen Banquet. Due to COVID-19, this event did not take place in person and the award was presented virtually. More information about the First Citizen Award can be found at pmar.org/ future-first-citizen-award.