By Rachel Chasin
Seven high school students became published authors this year, earning a collective $20,000 to help pay for college through the B’nai B’rith Diverse Minds Writing Challenge.
Since 2006 B’nai B’rith International has been promoting tolerance and diversity through this program, which asks high school students to create children’s books that educate young people on the importance of accepting other people’s differences, cultures and ideals.
The student author/illustrators tackle tough topics that resonate with them and hopefully will encourage younger students to be more open-minded, tolerant and accepting.
At the Washington, D.C., award ceremony, on June 7, illustrator Shadra Strickland addressed the finalists and spoke about her professional journey and how perseverance is the only way to achieve one’s goals.
“The dream doesn’t always look the way it does in your head, but trust your gut, believe in yourselves, and keep living the dream,” said Strickland. “Live the most inclusive life that you can. As hard and painful as it is to create, it is also one of the greatest and rarest joys that most people never experience.”
The contest, with the help from outside sponsors, was held this year in four areas along the East Coast: Washington, D.C., New York, South Jersey and the Delmarva Peninsula. First place winners in each city received a $5,000 college scholarship and had their book professionally published.
B’nai B’rith prints thousands of copies of each winning book and donates them to local schools, libraries and places such as Boys and Girls clubs. Winning books are also accessible on iTunes and Amazon as a free download. The books can also be found at the B’nai B’rith website: bnaibrith.org/diverse-minds.
Winners are chosen by a panel of judges from the worlds of education, business, the arts and government, in addition to B’nai B’rith International leaders.
“For the last nearly 30 years, I have traveled the world on behalf of B’nai B’rith, and I have met with world leaders, peoples of all cultures, backgrounds and beliefs, and the worst of what I have seen always stems from a foundation of intolerance, bigotry and narrow-mindedness,” said B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin. “So, it is always heartening to see the idealism, hope and conviction of this next generation and the young people who participate in the Diverse Minds Writing Challenge. It is needed now more than ever, and it is why we at B’nai B’rith are so committed to this program and the substance that it conveys.”
The winning students’ teachers each received $1,000 to use for classroom or organizational materials, and the schools received $500.
Second-place winners received $2,000 college scholarships, and those who placed third received $1,000.
“Since its inception, the Diverse Minds Writing Challenge has given talented students a unique opportunity to spread the message of diversity and inclusion through their own personal lenses and has allowed them to capture the subject in a way that can inspire the younger generations that follow,” said Donna Cooper, region president of Pepco, the electric utility, a subsidiary of Exelon, which sponsored the Washington, D.C., contest.
Ariya Feng, a student at Thomas Wootton High School in Rockville, Md., won the Washington, D.C.-area competition. Her book, “What Makes Me Beautiful,” chronicles a class of children assigned to find a trait that celebrates their unique identities. One child speaks of her dark curly hair. Another talks about his Asperger’s syndrome. A student named Bill tells his classmates that he’s proud that his mom is Mexican and that his dad is Chinese. In the end, the children learn that everyone shines in their own way, and that it’s great to be unique.
“I want to promote tolerance [and] diversity to influence the younger generations, especially because they are going to be our future,” Feng said. “I just really hope that my book shows that race, religion [and gender] shouldn’t be an issue, and everyone should be treated the same. I hope that when people read this they feel like they belong wherever they are.”
Yingchao He and Trinh Nguyen, who wrote and illustrated “I’m Going to Be Me,” were honored with the top prize in the New York contest on June 21 at an award ceremony at the Actors Temple Theatre in Manhattan. In their book, a student named Ralph must make the brave decision to be himself, despite one of his peers teasing him for wanting to dress up as a ballerina for Halloween. Soon, all the children in Ralph’s class learn that they can be whatever they want to be, as long as they are staying true to themselves.
The New York ceremony included a panel discussion. “These Diverse Minds: Tolerance & Inclusion Practices for the Next Generation” focused on equal rights, inclusion and justice and ways to promote these ideas in schools, homes and communities. The panel was sponsored by First Data, a payment technology company; the New York City-area contest was funded by an anonymous donor.
For the Delmarva contest, Carly Palkon and Alexa Scotto, students from Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del., were recognized at the Delmarva Conference Center on June 5 for their book “Cami’s Secret Talent.” Delmarva Power, a subsidiary of Exelon, sponsored this leg of the contest.
In Palkon and Scotto’s book, a lion named Cami excels at climbing, jumping and swimming, but she is mediocre at running. Cami becomes anxious when she discovers she will have to take a skills test at school that includes running. Eventually, Cami, with the help of her friends, realizes that it’s okay not to be good at something, as long as you try your best.
“Neat and Orderly,” written and illustrated by Naomi Amadoro and Brianna Groch, won the South Jersey contest, which was sponsored by Atlantic City Electric, a subsidiary of Exelon. The authors, who attend Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill, N.J., were honored on June 6 at Atlantic City Electric’s regional headquarters.
In their story, classmates Avery and Noah can’t seem to get along. Avery finds Noah annoying and doesn’t understand why he has to have things a certain way. One day, Avery accidentally knocks Noah’s pens onto the floor, which upsets Noah deeply, and Avery doesn’t understand why. Their teacher intervenes and asks Noah to explain to Avery why he needs to have his pens placed perfectly on his desk. Avery soon understands that her classmate has obsessive compulsive disorder, and she becomes more accepting of other people’s differences.
“We believe that it’s very important to accept everyone, both with outward appearances, and also any unseen characteristics such as mental facility,” the authors said.
“With this story, we hope to raise the awareness of mental disorders and help children to understand and accept others for all that they are.”
Since the 2006-2007 school year, B’nai B’rith has published 37 original children’s books (including one in Spanish), awarded more than $300,000 in college scholarships and grants and donated 42,000 books to public schools, libraries and community organizations across the country, including to the TODAY Show’s holiday toy drive.
Submission details and deadlines for next year’s contest will be posted this fall at www.bnaibrith.org/diverse-minds.
By Felice Caspar
During the spring and summer of 2017, golfers around North America have been enjoying events that benefit both B’nai B’rith and their communities. Some have been not-to-miss annual events for decades; others are relatively new. But all are success stories with great, innovative elements and beneficial partnerships in these five communities: Washington, D.C., Detroit, Toronto, Chicago and Denver.
For several years, B’nai B’rith has been proud to be one of the sponsors of “Shot in the Dark,” hosted by the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind (CLB). The fifth annual Shot in the Dark Golf and Dinner Classic was held at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., on May 9, with financial support from corporations and organizations, and enthusiastic involvement by local government leaders and media personalities. In addition to the tournament, the event includes an auction, award presentations and a longest-drive contest. But what sets this event apart is the opportunity for golfers who are blind or visually impaired to participate in a golf clinic hosted by nationally renowned blind golfing champions Phil Blackwell, Mark Arnold and Bruce Hooper.
Mark D. Olshan, B’nai B’rith associate executive vice president and Center for Senior Services director, plays in the tournament and also is a member of an interfaith coalition formed by the CLB. Working with other organizations, the CLB offers informative programs on eyesight-related challenges to residents of local senior communities, including B’nai B’rith Homecrest House and nearby Leisure World.
“These programs and especially the golf clinics demonstrate that people with vision loss can overcome obstacles and remain active and independent—and even excel in ways they had not dared to imagine,” said Olshan.
Next on the calendar, on June 5, was the Great Lakes Region B’nai B’rith Annual Golf Classic, which the B’nai B’rith community in suburban Detroit has sponsored for 35 years. Golf Classic chairman David Lubin welcomed the 90 golfers, first thanking overall event sponsor, MJS Packaging, and the 32 individual sponsors. Great Lakes Region President Sid Roth recognized local community leaders present, thanked the B’nai B’rith event committee and B’nai B’rith Program Coordinator Bobbie Levine. “Big Al” Muskovitz, a local radio personality, served as the dinner emcee. Rick Sherline and Ilene Lubin, two of the Scholarship Committee chairs, presented Danielle Silverman, Rachel Pesick and Jason Jubas with the 2017 B’nai B’rith Great Lakes Regional College Scholarships.
Proceeds from the tournament fees, silent auction, raffles for a cruise and other prizes, and the festive dinner, which attracts still more participants, are used to support B’nai B’rith International, local BBYO and Hillel, and scholarships.
In just its second year, the B’nai B’rith Canada annual Charity Golf Classic was held on June 13 at the Lebovic Golf Club in Aurora, Ont. The event attracted more than 100 golfers and included an 18-hole tournament and tests of skill, a luncheon buffet, Scotch and beer tastings, and the chance to meet celebrity guests Toronto Maple Leafs star Zach Hyman and NHL greats Rick Vaive, Gary Leeman and Marcel Dionne. The post-tournament dinner was emceed by NHL great and renowned comedian Dennis Hull.
Proceeds from the Golf Classic support B’nai B’rith Canada’s affordable housing and seniors programs, as well as its advocacy efforts fighting racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination in Canada. “It was a great day of golf in support of B’nai B’rith and all the human-rights initiatives we’ve launched across the country,” said B’nai B’rith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn. He also thanked staff, committee members, event sponsors and “countless volunteers” for putting together the event. The event was co-chaired by B’nai B’rith Canada leader David Berger and Marty York, chief media officer.
Mostyn spent most of his day on the “Beat the CEO” hole, where golfers had the opportunity to win prizes if they could outshoot him. A two-year lease on a 2017 Lincoln Navigator provided by the Twin Hills dealership was the much sought-after prize for the hole-in-one contest. But no one left empty-handed. All Classic participants received free golf shoes, courtesy of Footjoy.
Zach Hyman received an exceptionally warm welcome. A former participant in the B’nai B’rith Canada Sports League, NHL rookie Hyman is now a star player for the Maple Leafs. A graduate of the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, Hyman is a proud member of the Jewish community.
NHL Hall-of-Famer Marcel Dionne explained why he supports the Golf Classic. “It’s the fact that B’nai B’rith is involved with so many different charities and is very proactive with seniors. I’ve got a lot of Jewish friends, and they do a lot for the community, so it’s my pleasure to be here,” he said.
Two other golf events were scheduled for this summer. The annual B’nai B’rith Sports Lodge Bill Stein Memorial golf outing was to be held on August 14 at Hawthorn Woods Country Club, in suburban Chicago. “The Bill Stein Memorial golf outing is our signature event of the year,” said Brad Adolph, chair of the tournament and a member of the B’nai B’rith Executive Board of Directors. All proceeds go to college scholarships for Chicago-area students—well over $2 million since1964. “We welcome over 100 players each year and welcome many of our past scholarship recipients to the event,” Adolph said.
B’nai B’rith Denver also planned once again to co-sponsor an annual golf charity tournament with JCC Denver and the Denver Jewish Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 28. The event was to be held at the Valley Country Club, in suburban Centennial. William “Bill” Berger, B’nai B’rith Board of Governors member and Denver Lodge leader, serves as chair.
By Mark D. Olshan
Associate Executive Vice President, B’nai B’rith International
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt invisible. In my professional life, I’ve been noticed, if not always admired; integral, if not always appreciated. I was lucky as a young man to have had a successful time in school, to meet women I liked and who actually liked me. I served in the military in an area that was relatively safe and fascinating.
I’ve been lucky to be a mentor, a friend, a son, a husband, a father and now a grandfather, and yet, I have never really been what you would think of as a caregiver. I have never known what it is like to bear that burden, to try to balance the competing needs of my job and a loved one’s needs. I am lucky that my parents haven’t needed that kind of attention.
But I do know people who have taken on these challenges. When I offer my admiration, they often confide that they feel invisible.
It’s strange how we let that happen, because we see the impact of family caregivers everywhere, every day. We all have friends who rush from work to visit an elderly parent before cooking dinner for their own kids. We know parents who have had to re-imagine their lives when confronted with the truth that a child may never be able to live independently.
I have friends who have had to rethink their own lifestyles when confronted with the illness of a spouse, a parent, or even worse, both parents. I know of women (who still do most of the family caregiving in this country) who have taken care of their own parents and their in-laws, while still working and raising their own kids.
I see them, and I admire them, and, yet, they often feel invisible.
For years, I have been part of a senior advocacy community that has focused (though never enough) on family caregiving without myself really ever having to perform those tasks. I suppose I experience some of it as I begin to watch over my father, making sure he has a way to communicate in case of emergency. But, frankly, it seems like very little compared with what I’ve seen some of my friends go through.
The Perfect Arrangement … Until
Take for instance a good friend, who I will call Barbara. She is a middle-aged woman with three young children. For the first few years of her children’s lives, her parents lived with her, helping to take care of them. It seemed like the perfect multigenerational arrangement—her parents were thrilled to have 24/7 access to the kids, and daycare was essentially free. Basically, her parents were the ones doing the family caregiving.
Then, over the course of one year, both parents became incapacitated by illness and, in the case of her mother, severe dementia. Abruptly, gone were the carefree days of on-call babysitters, replaced instead with paperwork, medical worries, hospitalizations, juggling the competing needs of both kids and her parents!
Barbara looks more or less the same, but she says she feels much older.
Luckily, her job is flexible, allowing her to visit her mother in the nursing home on days when she can work from home, or to await hospital discharges for her father. She often feels as if her life is consumed with worry and care, and more worry. And, I dare say, she is one of the “lucky” ones. She had the knowledge and the wherewithal to access the right tools at the right time. Additionally, she didn’t have to take any unpaid leave, and her spouse has been engaged and supportive.
But I wonder what it would be like for her without the support of her spouse, employer and friends. And yet, many people in her situation simply don’t have those advantages.
The Burdens of Uncompensated Care
AARP estimates that uncompensated care provided by family members for older adults, or for disabled or sick kids, would cost nearly half a trillion dollars if we had to pay other people to do it. Whether we know it or not, as a country, we still rely on families to do this work. But people do this work out of love, and most wouldn’t take money to do it, even if we had it to offer. Yet, they often have other needs we can, and should, be meeting.
So, why is caregiving so hard?
Family caregivers are usually short on time. Many are women in their middle age, which just so happens to be their prime earning years, who often also have children at home (demanding their time) or in college (demanding their money).
Something has to give when there are so many needs and limited time. We do know that it’s the health of the caregiver that most often gets lost. And research shows that caregivers are more likely to become physically ill during the course of the year.
The stress on caregivers is intense.
In addition to being asked to do more in a day than one person possibly can, caregivers experience a range of emotions—from grief to resentment—and they often don’t even think to reach out for support for themselves.
Walking in Barbara’s Shoes
If you have never been in Barbara’s shoes, think about your daily responsibilities and stresses at work and running your household. Then imagine the situation has changed overnight. Now you are overseeing another to-do list of errands and home maintenance, paying a second pile of bills, and scheduling, re-scheduling and driving to umpteen more medical appointments. Yes, there are many businesses eager to assist, but vetting and booking these takes time you don’t have, and funds that may be scarce. Or, picture a loved one with mobility challenges that demand reconfiguration of their two-story home—or maybe a spare room in your home must be transformed from your sanctuary to a bedroom.
Are you stressed out yet?
In polling women I know who have found themselves wishing they could be cloned to be in two or three places at once, they offered some advice on how friends and family can help. We are all quick to ask, “Is there anything I can do?” But these superwomen don’t relish asking for a helping hand and really don’t want to ask for a favor and be told no. If you offer, follow your expression of concern with a specific idea or two, be it helping with transportation, paperwork, accepting deliveries or assembling or re-arranging furniture. And, be realistic about what you really can do to ease the burden.
Not helpful is when empathy veers into a long conversation about the well-wisher’s own experience in handling these burdens. Or when healthcare staff assume there are other siblings or adult children available to help. In today’s world with smaller families whose members may live far apart, we need to recognize the need for support systems.
If the resources are there, we know that family caregivers can be less stressed and more effective. But resources are spotty and elusive. So we know how to help as family and friends, but what more can we do? As advocates, we can:
But, most of all, we can talk about it. Don’t let family caregivers you know…remain invisible.
Mark D. Olshan, who holds a doctorate in psychology, is the Director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services as well as Associate Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith International.