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Aug 10, 2017

Local Teen Receives 2017 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award

Sixteen-year-old Miami Beach teen Oliver Stern is the only Miami recipient of the 2017 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, a $36,000 award that recognizes teens for their commitment to social good and volunteer service. One of only 15 national recipients, and the only one in Florida, Oliver created Our Abilities: a dual-pronged nonprofit program that educates students about disability awareness and provides free hearing assistance to low-income children and their families in Miami.

Born deaf, advocating for hearing-impaired children came naturally to Oliver. “During my time in and out of hospitals and speech therapy, I met many people who didn’t have the resources to receive the basic gift of hearing,” he said. “Often, people hear the word ‘disability’ and they immediately think ‘lack of ability.’ But I want to show them we are not lacking in anything. In fact, we have many other abilities that they may not even know.”

After receiving cochlear implants when he was four years old and undergoing 20 surgeries, Oliver successfully recovered his hearing. But as he grew up, he realized his classmates had a lot of questions. “They didn’t understand how to approach people with disabilities,” said Oliver. He also recognized that it was extremely difficult for low-income families to receive hearing devices. In response, he launched Our Abilities when he was in 5th grade. The educational initiative works with the principal and teachers at North Beach Elementary to host guest speakers and raise awareness around disability issues. Since its inception in 2010, the program has educated more than 900 students.

The second component, Oliver’s Hearing Aid Bank, was a Bar Mitzvah project. Working with the University of Miami’s Otolaryngology Department, where Oliver has been a patient since he was a toddler, the Bank loans aids to children until theirs arrive. Previously, in many cases, children had to wait months for a hearing aid to become available, which became detrimental to their developmental growth.

Since beginning the program seven years ago, Oliver has raised $60,000 and helped more than 60 children. In addition, Oliver was appointed by a Miami Beach commissioner to serve on the Miami Beach Disability Access Committee. So where does he go from here? “I’d like to become a politician or lawyer when I grow up so I can advocate for people with disabilities,” Oliver said. “I definitely plan on taking the program with me wherever I go. For now, there is so much demand that I plan on using the award money to continue to expand it to different hospitals.”

Now in its eleventh year, the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards have given more than $3 million dollars to 99 Jewish teens who are tackling global issues and creating lasting change by demonstrating the spirit of tikkun olam, a central Jewish value meaning, “to repair the world.” Recipients were selected by committees of community leaders and educators, including committee members from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

Through its belief that supporting Jewish teens today creates future generation of strong Jewish leaders, the Helen Diller Family Foundation also created the Diller Teen Fellows Program, an international leadership program for Jewish teens offered locally through the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE), is a subsidiary agency of Federation.

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