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Meet Your 18 Under 18 Honorees: Spencer Schwartz, Ben Gerstein, Kelly Kogen, and Colman Adams!

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Springboard Social Media Intern, Maddie Brim, interviewed some of our 18 Under 18 Honorees to hear a little bit about why they were selected, what leadership means to them, and what advice they would give for those looking to get more involved in their communities.

Spencer Schwartz

Spencer Schwartz is a current senior at Niles North High School. She is the president of both her student government and Hebrew National Honor Society, and is a member of her school’s dance marathon executive board. She has been involved with the Diller Teen Fellows program for two years, serving as a junior counselor during her senior year to help participants through their own Diller experiences. As a StandWithUs high school intern, Spencer works to enhance Israel's image in the eyes of the world. She recognizes the importance of her Jewish identity and feels obligated to express that aspect of herself with her community.

She has worked as a leader in the Jewish community in order to inspire other leaders and community members. Spencer continues to empower those around her, including friends and classmates, by connecting with the broader world. Spencer uses Israel advocacy, the most prominent aspect of her Jewish involvement, to educate herself and teach others accurately about her Jewish homeland, which she calls her home. Spencer says, “When looking for new opportunities do not be intimidated, and recognize that there are so many aspects of the Jewish community to be involved in. The beautiful thing about the Jewish world is its multifaceted nature. Each person has a place, whether in advocacy, summer camp, prayer, etc., and each personality type is strengthened through the Jewish peoplehood. You become an integral part of a wonderful Jewish masterpiece.”

Ben Gerstein

Ben Gerstein continues to advocate for a better tomorrow for the Jewish community.  He is the founder of Deerfield High School’s pro-Israel club, a Write On for Israel fellow and a freelance Israel-related columnist for the Huffington Post, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel. He manages his own political site,, which aims to introduce a new perspective on pro-Israel issues. Ben has even lobbied Senator Tammy Duckworth, encouraging her to speak at the Jewish National Fund's Yom Ha'aztmaut Celebration. He believes that supporting Israel is a pressing issue in today’s society, and he wants to help prepare and train high school students to be strong supporters of Israel in college. Ben’s passion allows him to succeed in getting his opinion heard. Ben suggests others search for a subject, issue or cause that speaks to them and capitalize on that desire, and he hopes to inspire his peers to create amazing change.

Kelly Kogan

Rather than give up after being diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Kelly Kogen uses her persistence to prove the world wrong about the ability of those with special needs. Kelly attends Glenbrook North High School, though her school work isn’t all that keeps her busy, as Kelly is also a cheerleader at school. Her favorite part of cheerleading is how fun the atmosphere is at the games. Kelly has also been involved in theater, as she absolutely loves being on stage. When it comes to her involvement in her Jewish community, JCC’s Apachi Day Camp was where Kelly first found her fit within the Jewish community. She is still an avid camp-attendee, but she is also now a helper at her synagogue’s Sunday school as well. Last summer, Kelly participated in the Staff in Training program at Camp Chi, a place very near and dear to Kelly. By being fully included in all of the camp activities, Kelly is able to do all of the things that her peers do at camp, which she really loves.  

When Kelly first started spending her summers as a camper, she also started taking Sunday school classes during the school year.  She was in a typical class with all of her friends at school, and when she got to eighth grade, she was able to have her Bat Mitzvah, right alongside her Jewish friends and classmates. Being able to do what all of her friends did and to be able to do it right alongside them was a life-changing experience for Kelly.  Kelly continues to be a leader because she loves helping other people, and giving them the same loving feelings she has gotten through her own inclusive communities. If any of her peers want to get involved in the Jewish community, Kelly strongly believes that they should go for it because it is such a truly a place where everyone belongs.  Everyone she has come into contact with has been so accepting and understanding of who she is as a person. If the whole world acted the same way as everyone Kelly has met at camp and within her community, Kelly believes the world would be a better place. 

Colman Adams

Not being afraid to be himself is one thing, Colman Adams, a senior at Lane Tech High School continues to promote as a leader in his community. In a room full of people, Colman describes himself as “the person making a fool of themselves” because he believes leaders can’t be afraid. Being self-confident, and able to speak his mind are some of the many leadership qualities Colman continues to uphold as an outstanding teen in the Chicago area. Of course, he knows that there are times when he has to be serious, and in that kind of situation he enjoys being a leader who truly listens to those around him.As a junior counselor for the Diller Teen Fellows program, and previously as a fellow of the program, Colman has learned how to mentor others and help them to further their own accomplishments. Colman also works as the current Vice President of Religion and Education for his chapter of USY, serves as the co-president of his school’s Jewish Student Connection club, participates in his school’s orchestra, managing the girls softball team, and sits as the sole student member on his school’s local student council, which is involved with making decisions on the school's budget and principal selection. Loving to make others laugh and helping other people have a good time is what Coleman truly loves about being a leader. Even if it’s 7 am in the morning and nobody wants to be awake, Colman is the person yelling his head off and being silly.

Colman’s advice to those looking to get more involved in the community would be to come to a variety of events or programs and then pick what is right for you.  When Colman’s parents dragged him to his first USY event, he begged them to pick him up early due, his old youth director, named Rabbi Russo, made a huge came up to Colman with a huge smile, made him feel welcomed, and made a difference in Colman’s experience from then on out with USY. After he then was introduced to the other teens at the event, Colman felt included. From that point on, Colman has continued to help others find their fit, especially when it comes to USY or to Diller.