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) — Adopted from China as infants, Maxine Harvey and her younger sister, Talia, were taught the importance of giving back by their adoptive mother.
“It was instilled in us at such a young age that I thought it’s what your supposed to do,” said Harvey, 18.
For as long as she can remember, Harvey said her family would collect items at their annual Hanukkah party and donate them to local families in need.
When a close family friend — a social worker who worked for the Department of Children and Families in their community of Methuen, Mass. — passed away in 2006, Harvey decided to help honor her by launching Debbie’s Treasure Chest, an organization that collects, stores and distributes donated items to needy families.
In a local warehouse, Harvey said, the organization currently has 50,000 items — toys, clothing, toiletries, books, home furnishings and all manner of holiday decorations. Social workers and representatives from social services agencies can come and collect items that are needed by families. Harvey said 1,500 families have benefited from the items.
Now a freshman at Clark University, Harvey was awarded the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award in 2014 for her work with Debbie’s Treasure Chest.
“To me, tikkun olam means that you have an obligation to help everyone around you who needs help,” said the intended psychology major.
With her award, Harvey plans to make several improvements to the organization, like installing racks and shelves to “make it more of a shopping experience so it doesn’t feel like charity” and purchasing a computer for the warehouse to help better manage the inventory.
“It is great that a small thing like a toy or a toothbrush can mean so much to someone,” Harvey said. “It is very gratifying to know that.”
JTA spoke to Harvey about what a hero needs to have and do, the traditional food she craves during her favorite Jewish holiday and her advice for other teens starting a community service project.
JTA: What are some important qualities in a hero?
Harvey: The ability to identify a problem and what needs to be done and to have empathy.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
I’d probably have to say Hanukkah because of the food. Knishes are where my family shines. They make amazing knishes and I always look forward to them.
What kind of things do you like to do for fun?
I play board games and card games, and I go to a lot of concerts.
What is the latest book you read for pleasure?
“If I Stay” by Gayle Forman. I read that and the sequel. I liked it, though the premise is a little sad.
What do you think you want to be when you grow up?
I definitely want to be a psychologist, either counseling or a professional who works in testing or research, but I am mostly leaning toward counseling.
What advice would you give to other teens interested in starting a community service project?
Contact as many people as you are able. Always try to get the word out and you’ll always find someone willing to help. You might hit some dead ends, but don’t stop trying.
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