Benny Lande, Grade 10 Milken student, was recently awarded the Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grant through the Jewish Federation for his project proposal called “Friendship Delivered.” Taking inspiration from the social limitations caused by the pandemic, Benny is developing a program that builds connections between volunteers and the elderly who are particularly likely to be experiencing prolonged periods of isolation. His goal is to build a service that benefits the most vulnerable members of our population through greater social interaction and hopes to spread awareness about the serious health consequences connected to isolation and loneliness.
A Miken staff member recently sat down with Benny to learn more about his project, his inspiration, and how he became passionate about giving back to the community.
Jennifer: Congratulations on receiving the Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grant! What is “Friendship Delivered?”
Benny: My project idea, “Friendship Delivered,” which is still in the development phase, involves connecting the elderly with volunteers who simply want to build relationships with members of the community who are vulnerable to loneliness and isolation. I’d like to have the volunteers deliver gift baskets which include some kind of interactive activity, like a puzzle, that can be used as an ice-breaker when connecting over facetime, Zoom, or on the phone. Doing an activity together, even if it’s through a screen, is still a great foundation for building a friendship.
Jennifer: It sounds like the negative rippled effects surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have inspired you to take positive action. Tell me more about your inspiration for this project.
Benny: The idea was inspired by my grandparents and the isolation they have been experiencing during COVID. My grandparents are relatively lucky because they have each other and are in frequent contact with family members by phone and FaceTime, but there are so many others who are totally alone. I learned that loneliness can have physical consequences and shorten life span. I am hoping to help combat loneliness for older people or anyone who is lonely by starting conversations, delivering small gifts to their homes, and teaching them how to use technology to connect with others.
Jennifer: This is a fantastic idea. I think the component about teaching technology to older folks is especially important considering that’s the primary way we are staying connected to each other and our loved ones these days.
Benny: Exactly! I’ve been trying to call my grandparents everyday and they always tell me how much they love the call and how much they love hearing from me. My grandma is not great with technology but I taught her how to use zoom so that’s a new way we are able to stay in touch.
Jennifer: You sound like a good teacher!
Benny: My sister helped with the teaching as well! I really felt fulfilled by helping my grandma out and checking in on her and making sure she was okay. That made me think about other people who don’t have extended family, kids, or grandkids who they can talk to and get help from.
Jennifer: This sounds like a service so many people need and would benefit from. How did you find out about this grant opportunity and what made you decide to pursue a service project at all?
Benny: Over the summer, I did the computer science class at Milken and when that ended, I was going to the beach a lot, surfing, and playing tennis. I was a little bit bored so I wanted to find something meaningful to do. It was actually my mom who came across the innovation grant from a pamphlet and suggested it to me. I was intrigued by it and after learning more about the program on their website, I came up with the idea for “Friendship Delivered” and applied for the grant.
Jennifer: It sounds like you had a very well-rounded summer! So, how does the teen innovation program work?
Benny: Based on your project, the program matches you with a mentor. The mentor assists you throughout the development of your project by discussing your ideas, helping you to come up with new ideas, providing feedback, and figuring out logistics. I have only recently started meeting with my mentor so I’m sure my project will evolve over time. Right now I am still in the brainstorming and planning phase.
Jennifer: Awesome! Best of luck with this phase of the project. So I know you mentioned that you recently learned about how loneliness can manifest negative health consequences. Tell me more about that.
Benny: The fact about loneliness is that it can actually be deadly and can potentially be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. I don’t think people really know the horrible facts about what loneliness can lead to. I think “Friendship Delivered” has the potential to uplift people and bring a smile to someone’s face, but it’s also an advocacy program to spread awareness about the truth of loneliness. This has been an unprecedented time and there’s been so much isolation for older people. I want to do what I can to combat this crisis.
Jennifer: This is such a serious issue that the pandemic has only exacerbated. It’s commendable that you are developing a program dedicated to creating human connections for those in particular need. Building the skills to be change-makers and a force for good is fundamental to Milken’s teaching philosophy. How do you think your experience as a Milken student thus far has prepared you to take on initiatives that affect the greater community?
Benny: While I have always enjoyed helping others, I do think that it’s important to get experience and learn the steps it takes to develop a program that can bring about positive change. I think Milken has helped me develop some of the strengths to figure out these types of challenges and has given me leadership skills that I used to start the program. At Milken, there is always this attitude of “we’re here for you,” so that support is very meaningful as well.
Jennifer: Thanks so much for taking time to chat with me about your project, “Friendship Delivered.” I wish you great success with this program and can’t wait to see the results. Please keep us posted about your progress along the way. The Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grant through the Jewish Federation is a program that offers awards up to $1,500 to empower youths to play an active role in turning their ideas into reality. Participants are paired with a mentor who acts as a thought partner and can offer guidance toward new goals. Students participate in three workshops during this 6-month program. These workshops give opportunity to learn, collaborate with other innovative teens, and inspire through the development of the project. For more information, please visit the Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grant website.