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) — As a sophomore in high school, Joshua Toch parlayed his disability into a platform to speak to others about the effects of bullying on young teens.
Shortly after finishing third at a public speaking competition, Toch, now 18 and born with cerebral palsy, started Mind Before Mouth, an organization that arranges speaking engagements for teens on issues ranging from bullying and peer pressure to dating and mental illness.
Hearing their peers speak candidly about issues that affect them “brings teens hope for the future and a feeling that they are not alone or the only ones going through something,” said Toch, currently a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is studying business. “That’s why [Mind Before Mouth] was created.”
Toch, who grew up in Morgan Hill, Calif., was awarded the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award in 2014 for his work with Mind Before Mouth. He is planning to use a portion of the $36,000 prize to purchase educational materials for the organization and use the rest to help fund his studies.
Though still in its infancy, Mind Before Mouth has already provided speakers for nearly 10 events in the Bay Area and is still receiving requests, Toch said.
“Everyone has a story,” he said. “When I was being bullied, it would have meant the world to me to have heard someone say, wherever you want to go in life, it is possible.”
JTA spoke to Toch about the important qualities of a hero, his favorite Jewish holiday and what advice he would give to other teens interested in starting a nonprofit.
JTA: What do you think are important qualities of a hero?
Toch: A hero is someone who has an image in his or her mind of a better world. They have a goal, and they don’t let anyone stop them from achieving it.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Passover because it is so community-oriented, but my favorite part is the cooking.
What do you think you want to be when you grow up?
I want to go into nonprofit work. I’ve learned such good lessons from running Mind Before Mouth that I want to work behind the scenes helping nonprofits run better.
If you could have lunch or coffee with anyone and tell him or her about Mind Before Mouth, who would it be?
The head of the Department of Education in California [Tom Torlakson].
What kind of things do you like to do for fun?
I go for long runs of an hour or an hour and a half; it helps get my mind off school. I like to play board games on a rainy day, and I love to ski.
What advice would you give to other teens interested in starting a nonprofit?
No matter what you want to start, it will take 10 times longer than you think, but remember to keep your head down and push forward. Everything will happen in time.
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