GLEN ELLYN — In May, Glenbard West High School senior Loni Cohen will be recognized for her efforts to improve the lives of other young women in the Chicago suburbs.
Cohen, 17, won the 2013 Violet Richardson Award presented by Soroptimist International of Suburban Chicago for her work with the Chicago region of the North American Federation of Temple Youth, an organization uniting Jewish teens across the area.
“We definitely work to give teens what they need,” said Cohen, who serves as programming vice president of NFTY.
To be considered for the award, Cohen crafted an essay about the various projects she and her colleagues at NFTY have undertaken on behalf of Jewish youths in the Chicago suburbs. Cohen is also in the running for a regional award from Soroptimist International. The youths work with rabbis and other community leaders to explore various themes impacting Jewish teens.
Last year, Cohen said the group undertook a campaign to produce viral videos as part of an anti-bullying campaign. They also created a program called “Redefining Beautiful,” which focused on how social media defines beauty and how individuals should define beauty.
While the programs have a universal appeal, Cohen said they’re geared for Jewish teens. An event set for April will examine the age-old question of “Am I my brother’s keeper?"
“We’re asking, ‘What’s our responsibility to others locally and globally?'” Cohen said.
The NFTY members will use lyrics from classic Beatles songs, including “Yellow Submarine” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” to create their own anthem of what it means to be responsible for others in the community. The new song will examine how the youths should interact with the Jewish and non-Jewish communities as well as responsibilities to adults, she said.
Cohen said her time in NFTY helped show her the importance of taking a vested interest in her community.
“I spend my time like any normal kid, but I found this organization. ... It brought me out of my shell. I found this community, and it made me into the person I am today,” she said. “I want others to have this kind of opportunity, too.”
After graduation this year, Cohen will have to step down from her role in NFTY, which is aimed at high school students. But before her time is up, she hopes to train as many young people as she can to continue to work for the betterment of their communities.
Although Cohen said she does not yet know which college she will attend in the fall, she said she will continue to serve her community through volunteer efforts. Cohen said she hopes to major in nursing after her volunteer efforts taught her the importance of helping others.
“I think that’s just a natural extension,” she said.