Greenville teen wins $36K for her commitment to social good, volunteerism
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By Angelia Davis
A lack of strong, local Jewish organizations to identify with often left Ruthie Perlman feeling a little isolated.
The Greenville teen then realized her potential to be a leader in the Jewish community by starting the Gesher BBYO chapter of the international BBYO Jewish youth engagement program.
Within six months her chapter had 20 members, making it the fastest-growing chapter in the Dixie Council (which covers South Carolina and most of Georgia) and earning the group special recognition at BBYO’s International Convention.
This month, 17-year-old Perlman became one of 15 young leaders nationwide named a recipient of the 2015 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, a $36,000 award that recognizes teens for their commitment to social good and volunteer service.
The award is courtesy of the Helen Diller Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma counties.
The 9-year-old Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards have given more than $2.5 million dollars to 70 Jewish teens who are tackling global issues and creating lasting change through tikkun olam — “the vision of Bay Area Philanthropist Helen Diller, the quiet force behind The Helen Diller Family Foundation,” the foundation’s announcement said.
Perlman was cited for starting the Gersher BBYO chapter, thus “helping previously isolated local teens connect and develop pride in their Jewish community,” according to the foundation.
Perlman told The Greenville News she was “shocked” to hear she was one of the 15 teen recipients of the honor, “and I think my jaw dropped a little bit just because I had read about past recipients and the amazing things they’d done.”
“I was so excited just to be nominated for the award. I never thought I would actually get it,” she said.
Born in Portland, Oregon, Perlman moved to Greenville when she was 2 years old.
According to the foundation, Perlman came across a BBYO chapter that engaged teens and gave them a place to belong. She chartered her own chapter in January 2014.
Through her efforts, Perlman has brought together a community of isolated individuals and provided teens a healthy outlet for commemorating and honoring their identities, the foundation said.
The Gesher BBYO chapter, today, has nearly 30 members, Perlman said.
When the chapter first started, the focus was primarily on its creation, just to get the word out, she said.
“Now we do a lot of community service around town and Judea programming and just things that would be more meaningful for them as they grow and mature.”
Among the Gesher BBYO chapter’s slate of programs, social activities and events are a large Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, Rosh Hashanah apple picking, and volunteer service with the homeless via the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network.
Perlman said she plans to use the $36,000 to set up an endowment for the Greenville chapter. She also plans to use some of the money for philanthropy with charitable organizations such as GAIHN. A portion of the funds will also go toward her college education, Perlman said.