The Challenge: There are currently about 46 million people in the United States still living below the poverty line. Many of them are teenagers who just want to fit in and study with their peers.
The Solution: The Strengthen Our School Program.
The Teen Hero Who’s Making This World A Better Place: Liesl Eibschutz, who grew up in the relatively affluent city of San Luis Obispo, California and was shocked to learn that many people in her high school were dealing with homelessness, foster care, and/or severe financial strains. Liesl decided to face this threat head-on by forming the Strengthen Our School program, also known as SOS.
Since Liesl started SOS in 2012, she has helped raise funds for teenagers throughout the San Luis Obispo community. The SOS Program helps with important everyday expenses like clothing, groceries, gas, school supplies, and promwear. It also provides much needed emergency financial assistance and college scholarships. Most of all, SOS has opened up the idea of looking around our communities and seeing how we can help our neighbors.
Liesl is currently studying at Duke University. She is so thankful for the support and commitment of the Helen Diller Family Foundation. Liesl won a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award for her passionate work.
We got to ask her a few questions on a much-needed study break. (Liesl is pre-med!)
What is your favorite book?
“I am Malala.”
Your favorite song?
“Stronger” by Kanye West
Your favorite thing to do with free time?
Play beach and indoor volleyball with friends.
What’s an “average” day like in the life of Liesl Eibschutz?
Currently, at Duke, my days are filled with endless studying.
Tell me about that day in 2012 when you found out about the disparities in your high school. How did that happen?
For years, I’ve been working at our County’s Christmas Dinner for the Homeless. I was shocked in 2012 to discover the presence of classmates amongst the large crowd of homeless guests. In speaking with them, I learned that they weren’t all technically homeless but they were all living with serious financial difficulties. In speaking with my guidance counselor, I learned that resources on our high school campus were virtually non-existent for these peers. This led to the formation of the SOS Program.
And what were the first supplies you were able to give out? How did the recipients react?
The first items that were distributed were gift cards for teen clothing, gasoline, groceries, sporting goods, restaurants, and school supplies. Additionally, school sweatshirts were given out. As a rule, SOS members do not personally disperse any items to the students who need them out of respect for the student. Everything is discreetly distributed by High School guidance counselors who know which students have the greatest needs.
What’s been the biggest reward from the SOS project?
The biggest reward for me came in May of 2015 at our Senior Showcase. I had the pleasure to watch numerous students be awarded SOS College Scholarships. It felt like years of hard work culminated into that one very emotional event. Additionally, right before I graduated, a lot of the SOS recipients sent me thank you notes. This was an unanticipated and unquestionably emotion-filled surprise.
What’s the biggest challenge for you and the SOS project?
At the start of my senior year, I announced to the SOS officers my intention to raise $20,000 in college scholarships that year. Not only were my officers non-believers, a staff member said that I was being unrealistic and should instead aim for maybe $2,000.
I raised $20,000.
If you could have lunch with anyone and tell her/him about SOS, who would it be?
I would like to have lunch with the President of the U.S. (either President Obama or future President Clinton) in order to gain support for taking the SOS program nationally.
Who’s your biggest hero?
I’m not much of a hero worshipper but I have tremendous respect for anyone who is brave enough to take a stand against an injustice and anyone who witnesses a need and then makes a concerted effort to ameliorate it.
What’s next for you? For SOS?
I’ve put together a detailed program manual to enable the SOS Program to continue at my high school. If I can find the financial backing, I would very much like to take the SOS Program to the national level. As for now, I plan to soon begin working in the local community here in Durham and I will continue working diligently at Duke in hopes of earning my way into med school.
Anything else you’d like to say about SOS or your Tikkun Olam award?
I am very appreciative for the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award and the opportunity to meet other students actively committed to community service. Thank you!
This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.org