WASHINGTON (JTA) — When Lauren Yellen was in second grade, she met a girl with cerebral palsy who was mute. As a bat mitzvah, Yellen decided to raise money for a specially trained dog to help the girl.
The experience, she said, made her “realize the importance of helping people in general.”
Now a high school senior in Farmington Hills, Mich., Yellen serves as a regional president of BBYO and is the driving force behind a BBYO Stand UP drive to help rebuild the city of Detroit. Launched in 2009, BBYO Stand UP is the youth organization’s initiative to empower teens to develop community service campaigns.
“Despite the reputation it may have via the media, we understand that [Detroit] is a city filled with endless opportunities,” Yellen said. “Most of us want to change the world one day and, in the city, every little positive thing has an even greater impact on our larger community.”
Yellen has organized field trips for suburban teens to plant trees in the city, visit the Eastern Market (a four-block farmers’ market), attend Major League Baseball games and visit the only still-standing synagogue in Detroit.
“Seeing the cool things that the city has to offer is important to building a strong Detroit and helping out the community,” Yellen said.
The oldest of four siblings, she plans to attend Northern Michigan University next year and would like to study political science and international relations. When her studies are done, she said, “I hope to come back to Detroit and bring hope back to the city.”
JTA spoke to Yellen recently about her biggest influences, her first time in Israel and one of her favorite community service projects.
Who or what are the biggest influences in your life?
The positive work that I’m seeing in the community is my biggest influence.
What have been some of the most meaningful Jewish experiences in your life?
During my sophomore year, I was able to raise enough money to participate in the March of the Living. That was my first time in Israel. [To experience] the progression of the Jewish people, from the concentration camps to Israel, it was super cool.
What are some of the other community service projects that you are involved in?
I’m involved with a lot. I’m on the special education volunteer club, the “Buddies Program.” We help special-needs kids at school. I recruit volunteers and raise money for the program. We [create] friendship circles, organize trips to the mall, type up notes from class and help with [their] homework.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Lag b’Omer. It brings people together and defines community. I also really like campfires and singing.
If you could have lunch with anyone and tell him or her about your community service projects, who would it be?
Hilary Clinton; I love her! I think she would be interested in the work I’m doing and she works to empower women.
What kind of things do you like to do for fun?
I love camping, nature, swimming in Lake Superior and spending time with people. I also love making bagels from scratch, plain with salt on top.
The Teen Heroes column is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation, which is dedicated to celebrating and supporting teens repairing the world. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit http://dillerteenawards.org. Please tell us about teens who deserve attention by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.