The Teen Heroes column is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit http://dillerteenawards.org.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — She may have been too young to officially volunteer her time but at 14, Arielle Davis found another way to help her local Ronald McDonald House.
“I looked on their website and it said they needed toothbrushes,” said Davis, now 18. “It’s only a dollar a toothbrush, so even a child can afford to donate one.”
But Davis went further than just donating one toothbrush. She contacted every dentist she could find in a 10-mile radius, set up a collection bin at her school and contacted her local newspaper for some media attention. Within six to eight months she had managed to collect 1,500 toothbrushes and 1,000 tubes of toothpaste.
More than four years later, the Ronald McDonald House is still using her supply.
“To this day, people still hand me toothbrushes. I’m the toothbrush lady,” said the native of Mountain View in Northern California.
Davis would volunteer for the organization for the next couple of years. When she turned 16, she could spend time working inside the house. She set up parties, special events and holiday celebrations for the sick children staying with their families.
“Through my time there, I learned to be grateful for my health and not to take it for granted,” she said.
During her junior year at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, Calif., Davis was tasked with organizing the school’s daylong Yom Avodah, or day of service. After surveying her classmates of their interests, she paired more than 150 students and faculty with 15 philanthropic organizations ranging from food banks to Habitat for Humanity, to Jewish Children and Family Services and, of course, to the Ronald McDonald House.
After spending nearly five hours at their locations, the students and faculty returned to the school to debrief and share their experiences from the day. Davis said that many students opted to continue volunteering at their organizations.
For her part, Davis also continued to volunteer a couple of hours a week at the Ronald McDonald House up until the day before she left for Pitzer College late this summer. She said her years volunteering informed her decision to attend the Southern California school, which has a social justice bent.
“I think it’s important to help those who have a disadvantage,” Davis said. “Social justice should help alleviate the injustices that occur in society.”
Davis recently shared with JTA what she thinks are the most important qualities of a hero, a meaningful Jewish experience and what sweet treat she likes to bake.
JTA: What are some important qualities in a hero?
Davis: Courage, both with themselves and others. Confidence in their abilities and confidence in situations that might be uncomfortable.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
That’s a tough one. Hanukkah, it creates a time when my entire family comes together to light the candles, say the blessings and spend time together.
Can you share with us a meaningful Jewish experience that you’ve had?
Going to Israel in April 2013, my junior year. Being in Jerusalem and seeing the historic sites, I thought, “Wow, that actually happened here!”
What do you think you want to be when you grow up?
Because of my experiences helping [with Mitzvah Day and the Ronald McDonald House], I think I want to do social work.
What advice would you give to other teens interested in volunteering in their community?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Don’t be discouraged. Find ways to do your part.
What kind of things do you like to do for fun?
I ice skate and volunteer. I also like to bake really good chocolate chip cookies.
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