Diller Family Foundation
The Diller Tikkun Olam Awards recognize 15 Jewish teens each year for their extraordinary community service work. Tikkun Olam, which means repairing the world, is exactly what these teens are doing - showing incredible innovation, creativity, and leadership in their communities and around the world. Kveller is proud to partner with the Diller Foundation to share their amazing stories.
Sara Blau, 17, grew up on Long Island playing softball, basketball, tennis, and soccer. She’s convinced that being part of a team shaped her both on and off the field. As she says, “Playing on a team is extremely rewarding and fun. I get to feel like a part of a greater whole.”
Sara also recognizes that team sports are a privilege not everyone can afford. Cleats, shin guards, bats and balls, even sneakers can be prohibitively expensive.
So Sara created Game Changers New York, a non-profit whose mission is to “empower youth around the world by providing the means and opportunity to become athletes.” GCNY collects and distributes sports equipment to children as close as Long Island and as far away as Nairobi.
Already, GCNY has given out more than $100,000 worth of sports equipment, and Sara was given the Gold Medal for the President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Obama, the Good Deeds Award for Long Island Teens, as well as a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award for her charitable work.
We call that a home run.
Which is your favorite sport to play?
Softball. I love that it’s in spring and it’s always nice outside. We have a really great team — we were the league champions for two years in a row.
And your favorite book?
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. It’s a really great story. It also taught me so much because it’s about a man who’s a quadriplegic and it really made me want to help people with disabilities.
You grew up on Long Island. Do you think you noticed an income disparity among kids in your hometown?
Definitely. When I was in ninth grade, I became a co-chair for UJA-Federation of New York’s “Summer’s Not Done Aqua Run” event, which raises money and awareness for people living in poverty on Long Island. After that, I became aware of so much poverty right there in my own backyard. I realized there were many people not getting the opportunities I had. And I wanted to give back.
Where was the first place you got to distribute your sports equipment?
We gave our first sports equipment donation to an organization called K.E.E.N. New York — which stands for Kids Enjoy Exercise Now. And their program teaches kids with disabilities how to play sports. Because if you’re a child with disabilities, you may not have the opportunity to play with sports equipment at school or at home. They have trained specialists to teach sports to these children — it’s an amazing organization.
How do you solicit your donations?
We have sports equipment collection bins, and we also have fundraising events where people bring in sports equipment to donate. And our volunteers — they’re so helpful. They do anything from sorting the equipment to delivering it. If we didn’t have a base of these great volunteers, we would not be a functional organization. I’m really grateful for our volunteers.
What would you say is the hardest part of running Game Changers?
We get so many sports equipment donations that sometimes it’s hard to manage it all. We have 15 partnering organizations in three different countries, so sometimes it’s just hard to decide which organization should receive the donations. Every organization is uniquely wonderful, and everyone could benefit from a donation. So, it’s just hard deciding who gets what.
The most rewarding part?
When we get to see the children, or even see pictures of the children receiving their sports equipment — the looks on their faces are amazing. They’re running around, having so much fun. They’re not thinking about any other issues; whatever is going on at home or in their personal lives. They’re just having fun — whether it’s kicking a soccer ball or having a catch.
How do you balance founding and running an organization with being a teenager in high school?
I’m learning different skills like becoming a national non-profit, leadership skills, and team-building skills. I’m learning all these real-life lessons that I feel like a lot of people don’t get to learn until they’re older. And it’s amazing. I’m so grateful.
What’s next for the Game Changers campaign?
We will continue to add people to our teen advisory board so that teens will always be involved. We want to expand the organization to other states in the Northeast of the U.S as well.
How about you? After high school, any plans?
I’ll be attending college and I want to take a gap year in Israel.