When he was a teenager, Yoni Kalin was enjoying a meal at his favorite steakhouse when he noticed colorful crayons on the table. He asked the waitress what happened to them when diners were finished eating.
“She told me that any that touch the table – even if they’re in an unopened box – are thrown away.”
Kalin, now 20, thought about the thousands of crayons that end up in landfills every year and he started to see red. And blue, green and yellow. He thought: Why not recycle those crayons?
“It’s a very simple idea,” said the Washington, D.C., native, who went on to found Color My World in 2010. The nonprofit encourages teens to collect crayons that can be donated to shelters, schools and refugee camps.
Kalin’s project landed him a $36,000 prize as one of 15 recipients of the Helen Diller Family Foundation’s 2014 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. The awards acknowledge winners “for their visionary actions.” The prize may be used to further their philanthropic work or their education.
Kalin is one of two Washington-area winners. Katie Hamelburg, of Potomac, was awarded for her Operation 18,000, an initiative that connects teens to volunteer opportunities and helps them measure, track and publicize their efforts.
Hamelburg’s goal was to motivate members of the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth (USY) to volunteer for 18,000 hours during 2013. The results were almost twice what she expected: Some 600 teens volunteered a total of 32,686 hours.
To connect teens with local projects that interest them, the University of Maryland student, with help from USY, developed an online platform that could also measure, track and publicize their collective efforts.
“By making these volunteering efforts individualized and unique to each participant, every teen involved developed projects meaningful to them, making each of them inspired to take action on their own,” she wrote in an email from Israel, where she is participating in several programs. “This created a cycle of volunteering, with teens passionate and charged to volunteer in their own communities for causes unique and important to them.”
The $36,000 prize from the San Francisco-based foundation, which supports education, science and the arts, as well as Jewish teens, is “a lot of money,” Kalin said.
With the money, he plans to “be giving back to the organizations that helped me” and invest in Color My World. “Our most expensive cost is printing coloring books” that are donated with the crayons.
To date, Color My World has donated 300,000 crayons and 800 coloring books to destinations including Haiti and Syrian refugee camps in Turkey. Twenty-one restaurants in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland are participating.
The project, which Kalin uses to enlist other teen volunteers, aims for more than saving crayons from the landfill.
“We’re trying to create a new way of thinking – reusing and repurposing materials,” he said.
Hamelburg will use her prize “to support both USY’s Tikkun Olam fund and charities in Israel that I have worked with and am passionate about. I also will use some to help pay tuition for my university, as well as to save toward a trip to come back to Israel in the future.”