Palm Beach County students bring hope to struggling families in NOLA

Joshua Berkowitz, Spencer Linkhorst and Andrew Taylor collect and sort canned goods at Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans. The second annual community service opportunity for Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County’s Project Tikvah (Hebrew for “hope”), is aimed at making a lasting impact by serving those in need. Submitted photo

Twenty-one Jewish teens from Palm Beach County rolled up their sleeves to serve as they were immersed in the culture of New Orleans this week.

RELATED: How a trip to South Carolina gave Gardens teens a lesson in gratitude

Beignets were on the menu, but so too was packing food for the 1 in 6 hungry families in the area served by the Second Harvest Food Bank. The teens sorted donated Mardi Gras beads that will be sold by the Arc of Greater New Orleans to benefit its programs for people with intellectual disabilities. They worked on a building a house.

Palm Beach County high school students volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans as part of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. Submitted photo

Hope Lerman, a 16-year-old junior at Dwyer High School, was inspired by meeting a woman who was helped by the home-building organization and told the group about the suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina, even 12 years later.

“It made our work very meaningful,” Lerman said.

The experience taught her to be content with what she has and make the most of it, she said.

It’s the second year for Project Tikvah, a hands-on service program named after the Hebrew word for “hope.” The teens’ trip was organized by the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County’s Jewish Teen Initiative and new Jewish Volunteer Center, according to a news release.

Evan Josza, a 16-year-old junior at The Benjamin School, said he enjoyed sorting the thousands of pounds of donated Mardi Gras beads. The Arc also pay people with disabilities minimum wage or more for their work sorting and reselling the beads.

“I thought that was really impactful, because not only did it give those people jobs, it benefited their organization. All the money just keeps coming right back,” Josza said. “It helps them grow.”

The group ate at Cafe Reconcile, which helps young adults ages 16 to 24 learn hospitality skills. The fried oyster po’boy with spinach artichoke aioli, fries and bread pudding were a hit with Zachary Jacobson, a 16-year-old junior at Wellington High School.

Sorting the food at the food bank was Jacobson’s favorite service project. He proudly sported a sticker with the words, “I fed someone today.”

“I’ve learned not to take things for granted,” he said. “It really puts things into perspective.”

Thriving Meyer Academy student with autism stars at TEDx event

Benji Gans, a seventh-grade student at the Meyer Academy who is excelling despite autism, spoke at a TEDx event at the Benjamin Middle School last week. Photo courtesy of Belen Woods/SBS Agency

Benji Gans didn’t say a word until he well past his toddler years.

His parents were told he would never speak. But on Friday, Benji, a seventh-grade student at the Arthur I. Meyer Jewish Academy who is on the autism spectrum, took the stage in front of a room full of people at a TEDx conference to talk about how he’s succeeded. He was one of the keynote speakers.

RELATED: How a Meyer Academy student succeeds with autism

It was hard for him to learn to write, throw a ball or do anything that required him to use his hands, he said, according to a summary. Debby Gans, his mom, never gave up and worked to provide him with the speech, occupational and physical therapy that he needed.

Benji and Debby Gans pose for a photo at his TEDx talk at The Benjamin Middle School in North Palm Beach. Benji is a seventh-grade student at the Arthur I. Meyer Jewish Academy in Palm Beach Gardens. Photo courtesy of Belen Woods/SBS Agency

SEE ALSO: Palm Beach Gardens woman turns sweets into work for adults with autism

He put in a lot of hard work, and now his challenges are less than they used to be, he said. The therapies teach his body and brain to cooperate with each other. Spirituality, though, comes first, he said. Prayers bring him happiness and make him calm.

His advice for helping people with autism is simple: Always be patient. Share schedules and plans.

“Your brain processes a lot faster than mine does, so just be patient,” Benji said, according to a summary of his talk.

As a very young child, Benji expressed his discomfort with constant crying. He was paralyzed with fear. Routine sounds and everyday life bothered him. Debby Gans said she and her husband were told Benji’s social skills were severely impaired, so they should keep their expectations low and love him instead of spending money on unproven therapies, according to a summary.

She was undeterred. It paid off.

Benji even has strong foreign language skills. The principal at school once heard him speak Hebrew and mistook him for an Israeli, he said. He encouraged people to think of his story if a doctor ever tells them their child will never walk, talk, run or read.

“Hope is everywhere…Keep trying,” he said.

 

VIDEO: Palm Beach Gardens storm damage: What you need to know

After a night of fierce winds and strong thunderstorms, northwestern Palm Beach Gardens is waking up to damage. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Eastbound Donald Ross Road was closed at Alternate A1A because of downed power lines. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office citizens patrols were helping direct traffic. Workers were using the railroad alarm to alert drivers from the closure. Florida Power & Light trucks lined the road.

    Eastbound Donald Ross Road was closed at Alternate A1A because of power lines that came down in the storm.
    Eastbound Donald Ross Road was closed at Alternate A1A because of power lines that came down in the storm.
  2. Benjamin High School and William T. Dwyer High Schools were closed Monday because of the storm damage. Teachers, students and parents were discouraged from checking out the damage at Dwyer High. A police officer stood guard at the front gate of the school.Mangled metal from both schools’ sports facilities was strewn about. A piece of the bleachers from Benjamin High School appeared to be in the median of Central Boulevard just south of Donald Ross Road. Workers were surveying the damage early Monday morning. A small section of sidewalk near the school was closed near Grandiflora Road.

    Benjamin High School was closed Monday due to storm damage. The sports fields were damaged, and a piece of the bleachers ended up in the median of Central Boulevard. (Sarah Peters/The Palm Beach Post)
    Benjamin High School was closed Monday due to storm damage. The sports fields were damaged, and a piece of the bleachers ended up in the median of Central Boulevard. (Sarah Peters/The Palm Beach Post)
  3. About 740 Florida Power & Light customers west of Florida’s Turnpike were still without electricity as of 8:30 a.m. Monday. A restoration specialist will be dispatched as soon as possible, according to FP&L. Power should be restored by about 10:30 a.m., according to FP&L. Check for updates on the company’s outage map. 

Palm Beach Gardens High students clean up at annual education awards

The Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce held its annual Education Awards breakfast May 11 at the Palm Beach Gardens Marriott. (John Bisognano/Palm Beach Post)
The Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce held its annual Education Awards breakfast May 11 at the Palm Beach Gardens Marriott. (John Bisognano/The Palm Beach Post)

The end of the school year means award season for high-achieving students and teachers, starting with the Pathfinder Awards Tuesday night and continuing with the Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce’s Education Awards Wednesday.

The chamber recognized 2016 Teachers of the Year from each public school and private school that is a member in the 10 communities it serves at its Business Before Hours breakfast at the Palm Beach Gardens Marriott. Five students earned the John C. Giba Student Leadership Award, named for a Tequesta businessman who wanted to invest in young people.

The students were chosen for their leadership in school and community activities. They are:

Alison WettermannThe Benjamin School

Samantha KanachPalm Beach Gardens High School

Danielle LaBonte – Palm Beach Gardens High School

Kelly ChasePalm Beach Gardens High School

Marisa SalvadorPalm Beach Gardens High School

PEOPLE highlights local teen’s candle-making to help mentally ill

Alexis Kauchick, of North Palm Beach, was featured by PEOPLE magazine for her support of mental health agencies Courtesy photo
Alexis Kauchick, of North Palm Beach, was featured by PEOPLE magazine for her support of mental health agencies by donating proceeds from the sales of soy candles she makes. Courtesy photo

The tragedies in a North Palm Beach teen’s life have only fanned the flame of her desire to help others.

Alexis Kauchick, 17, started the Eternal Essence Candle Company in 2012. After her half-brother and best friend both died from mental illness, she decided to use the profit from the sale of her soy candles to raise awareness.

PEOPLE magazine featured Kauchick, a senior at The Benjamin School, and her efforts in a story Thursday. Her late half-brother, Todd, is the one who taught her his candle-making tips during camping trips in the Smoky Mountains, the magazine reports.

She used his hand-written notes and equipment to get started.

Todd Kauchick fought alcoholism and died of an aortic aneurysm in 2011. It wasn’t until much later that Alexis realized his addiction was likely caused by a mental health problem, PEOPLE reported. In 2014, her close friend who had bipolar disorder killed himself.

That’s when everything changed for Kauchick.

“When Asher took his own life, people talked about him like he died. But he didn’t die, he killed himself,” she told the magazine. “And that’s when it hit me. We need to have a conversation about mental illness, because people don’t understand what it is.”

She’s made more than $70,000 and last month gave $30,000 to the Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation, PEOPLE reported.

Read the full story here.