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.
(JTA) — With the simple act of brushing her teeth one evening, Paige Alenick was inspired to think about those less fortunate than herself.
“I realized how lucky I was to be brushing my teeth and that you can’t take things for granted,” said Alenick, who was then a 15-year-old high school student at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, New Jersey. “And for some people a toothbrush is a luxury item.”
She decided to reach out to Ron Lamb, a dentist who runs the World Dental Relief, an organization that sends dental health professionals on missions around the world to provide care and supplies where little is available.
Alenick learned that there was a tremendous need for toothbrushes.
“You don’t even need toothpaste,” she said. “Just a toothbrush and water gets out most of the bacteria and food particles that cause tooth decay.”
After setting up a website for her project, Donate a Toothbrush, Alenick embarked on a letter-writing campaign to dentists nationwide, toothbrush manufacturers, friends and family asking for toothbrushes. In the four years since she began Donate a Toothbrush, Alenick has collected more than 153,000 toothbrushes.
In addition to providing the World Dental Relief missions with the toothbrushes, she has also donated them to victims of Hurricane Sandy as well as women’s shelters in New York and New Jersey.
Now a 19-year-old sophomore studying applied psychology at New York University, Alenick was awarded a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award in 2014 for her work with Donate a Toothbrush.
She has no plans to stop collecting toothbrushes, either. With her organization recently granted 501(c)3 status, Alenick is hoping to raise enough money to be able to ship the toothbrushes overseas directly to the places where they are needed most.
“I was brought up doing a lot of tikkun olam and knowing the value of community service,” she said. “It makes me really happy to help others maintain better oral health. Donating a toothbrush is so small and simple and easy, but can make such a big impact.”
Alenick spoke recently to JTA about her hero, the latest page-turner that she read and her advise for other community service-minded teens.
JTA: What do you think are the important qualities of a hero?
Alenick: A hero is someone who is compassionate and cares about others. They are selfless and brave.
Who is your hero?
My sister Ashley has been my partner in every community service project that I’ve done. She is really inspirational and I look up to her.
Can you share with us a meaningful Jewish experience that you’ve had so far?
At the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards weekend, we put different Jewish values out on a table, which made us think about our projects. It was a really wonderful way to connect with the [other winners]. I also had the honor of meeting Helen Diller. It was one of the most meaningful weekends of my life, and a very humbling and wonderful experience.
What’s the latest book that you read for pleasure?
“Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult. It was good, definitely a page-turner.
What sort of things do you like to do for fun?
Music is very important to me. I play piano and I sing in a choir. I also like to hang out with my friends in New York.
What advice would you give to other teens interested in starting a community service project?
Try it. No matter how crazy the idea, always give it a try. You never know where it could lead.
Please tell us about teens who deserve attention by sending an email to email@example.com.