Vancouver teen uses science for tikkun olam

Vancouver teen Mitchell Kaiser, a senior at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, was only 11 when he became aware of the issue of clean water. Dismayed at the pollution in local rivers and streams, he began volunteering with StreamTeam, an initiative that improves the health of the watershed. In the ninth grade Mitchell began an intensive program of environmental study that culminated in his designation as a Watershed Steward.

Now at age17, Mitchell is already performing high-level research to improve the environment. He recently participated in SciTech, a prestigious science and technology research camp that pairs talented teens with veteran Israeli researchers to solve world problems. Mitchell’s research, which was conducted at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, involved the development of a quick way to detect bacterial contamination in drinking water. Explains the teen, “In a world where fresh water is becoming more difficult to find, this ability would be invaluable.” Together with other students and a mentor, Mitchell discovered a system that could enable communities to detect contamination within one hour.

Not only did Mitchell gain valuable experience during the program, he forged a lasting connection with other participants. “We grew to feel like a family, and there wasn’t a single dry eye when the program was over and we left,” he says. Visiting Israel for the first time was an amazing experience for Mitchell: “I have always wanted to go to Israel. I feel overwhelmed with pride having seen all the progress we have made in 60 years. I came up a week early to travel around the country and enjoyed every second of it. It’s amazing to think that after nearly 2,000 years of exile, this place is once again our home.” Judaism has always been a large part of the teen’s life. A devoted member of Congregation Kol Ami, Mitchell teaches Hebrew every Thursday at the synagogue. Jewish values like tikkun olam and the performance of mitzvot are “of the utmost importance” to the teen, and he hopes to use his scientific abilities to these ends.

In addition to being a talented researcher and humanitarian, Mitchell is an accomplished filmmaker, visual artist and musician. At the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, he draws and sculpts, performs with a choir, plays guitar, and works as a cinematographer, director, editor and audio engineer. In August, a film he worked on (“The Lone Alpaca”) placed first in Clark County Fair’s Weekend Film Challenge.

Says Mitchell of where he sees himself in the future, “I’m planning to go to college for chemical engineering and eventually earn my doctorate. I have this grand plan of overhauling the nation’s energy economy, but we’ll see how that goes.” He is also working on a three-dimensional printer. No matter what Mitchell does, he is bound to excel.

SOCIAL ACTION GRANTS FOR TEENS
Nominate a socially conscious Jewish teen who is creating change
locally or globally
Jewish teens involved in social action projects are eligible for $36,000 awards from The Helen Diller Family Foundation. Nominations are due Jan. 5, 2014, for the 2014 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, which recognize as many as 10 Jewish teens with $36,000 each for exceptional leadership and visionary actions that are helping to repair the world.

Up to five teens from California and five from other communities across the country will be acknowledged for their socially minded volunteer service. Bay Area philanthropist Helen Diller began a major commitment in 2007 to support California Jewish teens who exemplify the spirit of tikkun olam (repair the world). The prestigious awards program has since expanded nationally, recognizing 40 Jewish teens across the country with nearly $1.5 million to support and further their volunteer service projects and education. Last year’s recipients came from California, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, Missouri and Massachusetts. The Jewish Federations of North America and its network of 155 Jewish federations throughout the country continue to collaborate with the Helen Diller Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, to inspire and encourage Jewish teen volunteer service nationwide. “We are thrilled to once more collaborate with and support the Helen Diller Family Foundation as they so generously empower young Jewish philanthropists across the nation seeking to make a real difference in the world,” says Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA.

QUALIFICATIONS FOR NOMINATION · Teens may be nominated by any community member who knows the value of their project – except a family member – or may self-nominate. · Candidate must be a U.S. resident aged 13-19 years old at the time of nomination and must self-identify as Jewish. · Community service projects may benefit the general or Jewish community locally, nationally or worldwide. Teens compensated for their services are not eligible. To nominate: Complete the simple online form at dillerteenawards.org.
Information: dillerteenawards@sfjcf.org or 415-512-6432.

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