The power of a teen’s $25 to change a community

Growing up in the Jewish community, I learned about the importance of tikkun olam, repairing the world. I was also taught that mitzvot, good deeds, were not only the responsibility of adults. 

And yet, there are so few opportunities focused on mobilizing teens to make a significant impact in our community, particularly through philanthropy. There is a false assumption in the world of philanthropy that teens’ impact is limited and localized, often left to small, one-time fundraising events for organizations selected on their behalf. 

Today’s teen leaders shouldn’t wait for adulthood to provide opportunities for us to give and to lead. We understand the power of combining resources and are among the most engaged in working toward social change.

Four years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, I noticed that challenges faced by many in my community – including food insecurity, homelessness and domestic violence – got worse during the pandemic. It was overwhelming to witness and, as a 15-year-old, my potential impact on these issues felt limited. 

It was during this time that I saw firsthand the efficacy of 100+ Women Who Care Tucson, a local branch of the international organization. My mom, grandmother and aunt are members, and I realized that this model of combining the resources and expertise of women to make a greater impact than one person can on their own would be ideal for teens seeking to make a difference in their community. I met the local branch’s founder, Desha Bymers-Davis, who welcomed the meeting and guided and mentored me as a teen leader. 

At 15, I launched 100+ Teens Who Care to empower individual high school students to make a collective impact in their community by each donating $25 at quarterly meetings and then deciding together on a charity or charities to support. I started this effort hoping to give teens from across Tucson, Ariz., the opportunity to engage in collective philanthropy. When more than 100 students participated in our first meeting, I knew that we were tapping into an underutilized resource.

Since that first meeting, our organization has grown into an international movement, with teens around the world having a real impact on so many communities. With 25 chapters worldwide, teens have donated more than $120,000 to date in their local communities from Treasure Valley, Idaho, to Paris.

Like Bymers-Davis, who continues to support 100+ Teens Who Care by mobilizing sponsors to increase our participation, the Helen Diller Family Foundation also recognized the importance of teen philanthropy and empowering teen leaders today. In 2023, the foundation selected me as one of 15 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipients. The awardees come from different parts of the country, from Arkansas to New Jersey and Washington to Virginia. We are united by our commitment to tikkun olam and the belief that we don’t need to wait until we’re adults to make an impact. Spending time with these other teen leaders over a Shabbat retreat in California provided a unique opportunity to share ideas, learn about each other’s experiences, hear from past awardees who served as mentors and grow as Jewish teen leaders (and make new friends).

Lily Messing (second from left) with fellow Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winners during a Shabbaton retreat in California in August 2023. Courtesy/Diller Tikkun Olam Awards

I emerged from the retreat with a clear mission and message: If you are a philanthropist or nonprofit leader, empower the teens around you; and if you, like me, are a Jewish teen looking to impact your community for the better, know that your opportunities are limitless. Especially now, when our collective Jewish community faces a unique set of challenges both new and old, robust philanthropy is integral to the solution. 

And when people ask how much lasting change costs, I can personally attest that the answer is just $25.

Lily Messing, a high school senior in Tucson, Ariz., is the founder of 100+ Teens Who Care and a recipient of the 2023 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award.