When Elizabeth Parks lost her brother in the tragedy of Spetember 11, 200, the Long Island high school student responded in a way that people many years her senior would do well to emulate. Parks became actively involved in community service, helping the disadvantaged in her neighborhood, and stepped up her volunteer work with the Fire Prevention Program at the Floral Park Fire Department in Long Island.
“Elizabeth uses her youthful energy to turn her tragedy into a triumph,” says Rabbi Anschelle Perl of Chabad of Mineola, Long Island. “That kind of passion is an inspiration for all of us.”
Tonight, Elizabeth and 44 other Long Island teenagers are being honored at Chabad of Mineola’s Good Deed Reception at the Supreme Court in Mineola. A Lag B’omer tradition of nine years standing, the Good Deed award singles out local teenagers for their efforts at making the world “a brighter, better, kinder place,” says Perl.
“This is not an IQ award,” he notes. “We are recognizing these kids for outstanding community service, selflessness, kindness, and all the qualities in today’s young people that make our future look bright.”
With school shootings an unfortunate reality and rampant teenage crime, people often despair of a future made bright by tomorrow’s leaders, he says. But Perl is convinced that for every kid teetering on the brink of disaster, there are five more practicing kindness and enhancing the lives of their families and communities, and promising a future far brigher than the present.
In 1994, he decided to acknowledge that. The Good Deed award, along with the Leadership award, honors deserving high school students of all races, religions and backgrounds in a grand ceremony that has become a hallowed Long Island tradition, attended by a virtual cross section of communities of various faiths.
Over 500 Long Island teenagers have been honored over the years by Chabad’s unique project. Nominated by their principals, teachers, and guidance counselors, and then selected for the award by a panel of local judges, the honorees represent the courage, determination, and vision that make ordinary people into leaders, Perl says.
Take Danielle Alexander, for instance. Last year, Alexander, a student at Bellmore/Merrick Central High School, raised $5000 in a few short weeks to assist a fellow student with emergency medical treatments. Or Lincy Thottathill, who donated her own hair to Locks for Love, a service that creates wigs for children with cancer.
Thottathil, a student at New Hyde Park High School, and Alexander, are among tonight’s honorees. Also recognized at tonight’s ceremony will be US Navy Officer Jack Tufarelli, a Long Island resident who recently returned home from 10 months of service on the USS Abraham Lincoln. “The Torah says that saving one life is like saving an entire world,” says Perl.
“Tufarelli’s commitment to protecting our nation is representative of that.” Tufarelli’s award is also a way of thanking the US armed forces, he says.
Perhaps one of the most important elements of the Good Deed Award is the way it brings together people of various backgrounds, affiliations and beliefs and unites them in support of the good in today’s young men and women, Perl observes. “We all share this commitment to goodness and kindness,” he says. ‘Highlighting it in our youth is one way to make sure it continues.”