Oliver Stern

Oliver SternCommunity Contributor

Oliver Stern, 16, established a program that educates students about disability awareness and provides free hearing assistance to low income children and their families called Our Abilities.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Meet the Miami Teen Empowering Hearing-Impaired Children

I was born deaf, but after receiving cochlear implants and undergoing 20 surgeries, I was able to recover my hearing. As I grew up, I realized other children with disabilities were not as fortunate as I am. In response, I launched Our Abilities, which has educated over 900 students at North Beach Elementary School about issues concerning disability advocacy.

Living with a disability is hard. Children especially face a series of challenges every day, that make living a normal life a near impossibility. Everything ranging from lacking the resources needed to address their disability adequately to not being socially accepted by their peers makes disabled children feel inadequate, uncomfortable with themselves and powerless to pursue their dreams.

Being born deaf, I fully understand the immense difficulties these children face. Our Abilities is helping to solve these problems by promoting disability awareness and providing loaner hearing devices to low-income children in South Florida.

Our Abilities is a two-part program, the first of which includes an educational initiative called “One World Many Abilities,” which coordinates with the school’s teachers and principal to bring in guest speakers and raise awareness. The second component of the project is “Oliver’s Hearing Aid Bank,” which provides equipment and services to the hearing impaired. Thus far, $60,000 has been raised and over 60 children have been helped. In addition, I was appointed by a Miami Beach commissioner to serve on the Miami Beach Disability Access Committee.

Having attended a school for disabled children for part of my life, I’ve dealt with the lack of disability awareness firsthand, and painfully watched many children be unable to afford a replacement hearing device when theirs breaks. My personal experiences drove me to create Our Abilities so that South Florida can become a community in which no disabled child ever feels unequal or of lesser worth compared to a child without a disability. To date, Our Abilities has raised over $60,000, helping to provide loaner hearing devices for over 60 children while also educating over 900 students about disability awareness.

It is an immense honor to be selected as a 2017 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipient, and I’m so grateful to the Helen Diller Family Foundation for allowing me the opportunity to further my vision of helping others. Receiving this award is more than an honor, it’s also a validation of the importance and potential of my work. This award allows me to carry on the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, meaning repairing the world, and to inspire others to make a real difference.

I truly believe that youth activists and youth community organizers are radically changing the world for the better, but we rarely hear about their work. Foundations such as the Helen Diller Family Foundation greatly encourage youth volunteers to continue pursuing their work. They give youth a sense of validation that their work matters.

With this award, I will be able to expand my project’s reach in order to impact more lives and communities. It will allow me to sponsor programs in more schools and hospitals in different areas of Florida, and maybe even the country, to make sure that no disabled child ever feels worth less in our society.

If you are interested in helping Our Abilities change more lives, please visit our Facebook page and contact us so that we can help you make a positive impact as well.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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Meet the Miami Teen Empowering Hearing-Impaired Children

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