Dynamic teens rewarded for extraordinary work

Recycling, turning off lights and using reusable shopping bags weren’t enough when it came to Jason Bade’s idea of green alternatives.

So the 19-year-old decided to take things to the next level — in a big way. He spearheaded a $30 million project to install solar panels at every high school in the San Mateo Union High School District.

“Solar panels could save our local schools millions in electricity costs,” said Bade, of Foster City. “Of all the projects I’ve worked on, I’m most excited by solar.”

Kyle Weiss with African boys participating in a FUNDaFIELD soccer tournament.

That dedication to eco-efforts is one reason why Bade was selected as a recipient of a 2010 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award and given $36,000, which he can put toward his college costs or continuing to make the world a better place.

David Schenirer of Sacramento and Kyle Weiss of Danville also received the accolade, in addition to two teens from Southern California. Last year, only one of the five winners (Erin Schrode of Ross) was from Northern California.

Each year, up to five California teens who are dedicated to bettering their communities (and beyond) are given the award from the Helen Diller Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Endowment Fund.

This year, 175 teens applied — the most entries the contest has ever received.

David Schenirer stands next to the VIBE logo.

Bade won for his efforts to make his high school, hometown and greater community aware of sustainability. While attending Aragon High School in San Mateo, Bade launched the Environmental Impact Committee, chaired the Aragon Recycling Club and held leadership roles with the Foster City Environmental Sustainability Task Force.

He also co-founded the Green Youth Alliance, an organization for high school students interested in environmentalism and sustainability.

“I have always been an environmentalist, albeit to various degrees,” Bade said. “My family instilled a heavy sense of moral and religious obligation to care for the earth. When I was young, that only translated to an appreciation of the outdoors and wildlife. It wasn’t until middle school that I got into recycling and annoying my family about whatever they weren’t recycling properly.”

But Bade went beyond recycling when he attended Aragon. He was “dreaming big,” he said, envisioning solar panels wedged into the ceilings of his high school. That idea expanded to wanting solar panels in every school within the school district.

“I sold it to the schools in terms of money,” Bade said. “Using less energy could mean saving money for textbooks, or not laying off a teacher.”

Jason Bade

In spring 2009, Bade pushed the district to get the project off the ground, and then worked on a team selected by the deputy superintendent to write an official proposal. Late last year, the school board OK’d the funding, and now the project, which Bade said will take approximately two years to complete, is in the permit phase.

Now a sophomore at Stanford University, Bade wants to change the way fellow students look at garbage. His goal is to get “recycling” and “nonrecycling” labels placed on all campus trashcans.

“Trash is a catch-all,” Bade said. “If you want to recycle, you can. But there is no mental penalty for putting something in the trash. I’m not infringing on anyone’s freedom, just trying to present a more rational decision.”

Weiss, a senior at Monte Vista High School in Danville, is “greening” the world in a different way.

In August 2006 he co-founded FUNDaFIELD, a nonprofit now run by more than 30 students nationwide that provides soccer fields and equipment to youth in Africa. FUNDaFIELD also partners with groups that have made it their mission to provide food, medicine, shelter and education to students in developing nations.

Visitors to the organization’s website can purchase $1 squares of a future soccer field, and they can have their initials in the squares.

“Our ‘big picture’ is made up of thousands of these $1 squares,” said Weiss, 17, a member of the East Bay Jewish Community Teen Foundation. “We ask everyone to buy squares for themselves and everyone they know. It has been successful since most people are willing to give $1 to help kids help other kids.”

Weiss said the original goal was to sell 100,000 squares, thus raising $100,000. A few months ago, FUNDaFIELD surpassed that goal and set a new one at $200,000. The organization has raised $110,000 so far.

When Weiss was 13, he and his family attended the Angola vs. Iran match in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. The passion and energy emanating from the stands stayed with him, and he never forgot what some of the Angolan fans told him: that in an unstable and impoverished country, soccer is the thread that holds people together.

FUNDaFIELD held its first soccer tournament in 2008 at Mdlulu High School in South Africa, with 16 teams and a playground packed with kids eager to play. A year later, the nonprofit organized another tournament, this time in Uganda. A third tournament, the Village Cup, attracted 250 players this past June in South Africa.

“When children have no water, no plumbing, and no means of dealing with garbage and irregular food supplies, the last thing parents are concerned about is whether their child is happy,” Weiss said. “Yet when these same children are running on a soccer field or playing in a tournament, you would look at their faces and think they had all the wealth in the world.”

David Schenirer of Sacramento has turned his attention toward kids a little closer to home — with a 3,000-square-foot space for teens called VIBE.

Inside there’s a place to study, play and mingle. There are couches, computers and games. Planned activities include SAT prep classes and open mic nights. Every aspect is there to foster a sense of inclusiveness for students who attend both public and private high schools. A soft opening of the downtown Sacramento space is planned for the fall. 

“There’s a big divide,” said Schenirer, 19. “I’ve gone to public school my entire life, but all the kids in my neighborhood went to private school. There was no real school pride at my high school, and no sense of community. That’s why I created VIBE for everyone.”

Schenirer said inspiration for VIBE stemmed from the deterioration of a high school friendship. He said his best friend, a “victim of boredom” in Sacramento, turned to drugs and alcohol — and Schenirer didn’t want that to happen to anyone else.

Three years ago, he and his business partner, Julian Nagler, realized VIBE could be the answer. The duo created a timeline, hoping to have VIBE up and running in six months. But it didn’t happen.

“I learned great things take time and patience,” Schenirer said. “The more struggle, the better the outcome. I had no idea it would take so long, but the process taught me so much.”

VIBE is teen-owned, developed and operated. Even though Schenirer leaves for American University in Washington, D.C., later this month, he’s got a board of teens ready to keep VIBE going.

“For me, it goes back to Judaism,” Schenirer said. “Judaism has provided a community that loved and supported me no matter what. I want that for all the Sacramento teens.” 

For more information or to apply for the 2011 awards, visit www.sfjcf.org/diller/teenawards