WASHINGTON (JTA) — For her bat mitzvah project, Jenna Lizerbram began writing to a young boy stricken with leprosy at the Rising Star Outreach program in India.
Through her letters and sponsorship, Lizerbram, 17, said, “I saw the impact that I had on him and I wanted to make more of a difference.”
Along with her brother, Noah, 19, she came up with the idea to hold benefit concerts to raise money for music programs to help underprivileged children in San Diego, India and the Congo. Since 2010, YouthJamz, “youth helping youth through music,” has held four concerts, raised $16,000 and reached 900 children with musical instruments, lessons and education.
Now a senior at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, Calif., Lizerbram traveled to Chennai, India, with her family last summer to visit one of the music programs she helped to start. Next summer she plans to travel to the Congo to help launch a music program for children affected by war and conflict in the region.
“Music has an incredible therapeutic quality,” said Lizerbram, who plays the piano, guitar and ukulele. “We get to combine our two passions: music and philanthropy.”
For her work with YouthJamz, Lizerbram was recently awarded The Peter Chortek Leadership Award, which recognizes San Diego Jewish high school students who demonstrate excellence in community service and leadership.
“Seeing how happy the kids were from learning just one song that we taught them, that inspired me to go on,” she said.
As her last year of high school winds down, Lizerbram wants to “enjoy the time I have left.”
She runs track and field and plays on the field hockey team for her high school. In the fall, she hopes to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara or the University of California, Davis and study environmental studies, adding, “I love nature.”
And while Lizerbram may pack up many of her high school memories as she heads off to college, YouthJamz will come with her. Like her brother has done at UCLA, she said, “I’m going to start a club and take it to my college campus.”
JTA caught up with Lizerbram, who spoke about her biggest influences, where she’d like to travel to next and what hip-shaking celebrity she’d like to tell about YouthJamz.
Who or what have been the biggest influences in your life?
My parents, definitely. They got me started and supported me. And the kids that I help, that’s the most rewarding experiences.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
Definitely Passover, I like it a lot. We have a big celebration at my house. It’s great to see everyone.
If you could travel anywhere in the world that you’ve never been, where would you go?
Probably Australia. I want to go to the Great Barrier Reef and go snorkeling.
If you could have lunch or coffee with anyone and tell him or her about YouthJamz, who would it be?
Shakira, I love her! She’s into what I’m doing. Maybe she could teach me a dance that I could teach the kids in Africa.
What do you think you want to be doing when you “grow up” or would like to be doing professionally in perhaps five or 10 years?
I’m starting to figure that out now, but something that involves traveling and philanthropy.
What sort of things do you like to do to have fun?
I go to a lot of concerts. I go to the beach, hang out with my friends, go on hikes. I’m a very outdoorsy person.
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.