Erin Schrode hasn’t even begun her coursework at New York University, but already she’s talked to the school’s coordinator of sustainability initiatives.
That kind of chutzpah is second nature to Schrode, 18, who has dedicated her adolescence to educating her peers about why they should care about green alternatives.
Being eco-conscious “is who I am and how I live,” said the resident of Ross. “Sometimes I think I live in this little green bubble, but I really believe in it.”
The teenager’s dedication to eco-efforts is one of the reasons she was selected as a recipient of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award. Now in its third year, the award recognizes five Jewish California teenagers who have initiated a social action project that aims to repair the world and make it a better place.
For Schrode, those projects were Teens for Safe Cosmetics and Teens Turning Green, both of which she helped to found and has helped lead for the past four years.
The five award winners, including Schrode, were chosen from 135 applicants. Each will receive $36,000 to fund future social-action projects or their higher education.
“It needed to be a significant award [monetarily] to show how strongly and passionately Helen Diller feels about recognizing teens who are doing amazing, off-the-charts work in tikkun olam,” said Robyn Carmel, project coordinator for the award at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. Diller founded and backs the award through the Helen Diller Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the JCF’s Jewish Community Endowment Fund.
Schrode was with her mom, Judi Shils, when she got the phone call informing her that she won the award. Mother and daughter screamed when they heard the news.
It was a relief for Shils, a single mother and director of a nonprofit, Search for the Cause (formerly the Marin Cancer Project), who worried about paying for her daughter’s college education.
“Erin got a partial scholarship, but I still thought I’d need to get two more jobs” to pay for college costs, Shils said. “So for me, it is such a gift — and a relief that she can go to college and I don’t have to worry.
“It’s also such an honor that my daughter is being recognized for the amazing work and commitment she’s done since she was born,” she added.
Shils was a few months pregnant with Schrode when she cleared out the house and replaced everything — food, cleaning supplies, decor — with organic alternatives.
The lifestyle “wasn’t something [Erin] chose, but as soon as she was old enough to understand and embrace it, she took to it,” Shils recalled. “You could hear her as a little kid educating people about why they should eat organic tomatoes.”
When Schrode turned 14, started high school at the Marin Academy and began using cosmetics, she and her mom started Teens for Safe Cosmetics with Schrode’s friends.
“The best education is peer to peer,” Schrode said. “If teens know the facts, then they’ll change. We all want to do right by our bodies and the planet, but we don’t always know why or how.”
Their first meeting was at Shils’ kitchen table. In four years, the grassroots, teen-led group has grown beyond California, with chapters in New York, Dallas and Connecticut.
It has also changed its name to Teens Turning Green to reflect the group’s broadened campaign — for safe cosmetics, green personal care and home products, and clean school environments (using eco-friendly products).
In the past four years, Schrode has also helped launch Project Green Prom and Project Green Dorm, both temporary shops in the Village at Corte Madera where people can purchase organic and recycled products.
She worked with Whole Foods Markets to launch a beauty product line (also called Teens Turning Green). She even testified in the California State Assembly about the harmful chemicals (such as lead) in lipstick. The bill that would have banned lead from lipstick fizzled in committee.
“It was a major frustration for Erin, but what it did was give her energy to go back to the table again, and she did,” Shils said. “She’s seen at such a young age what an enormous impact a person can have on our planet and other people’s lives. It’s made her a very powerful, motivated, incredibly articulate young woman who doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Other award recipients’ projects included providing disaster awareness kits during California’s wildfires; an interactive hip-hop dance troupe for at-risk urban kids; musical fundraisers that paid for the education of seven Kenyan orphans; and a statewide initiative that empowered students to call for policies to improve their schools.
The awards will be presented at a luncheon Aug. 31 in San Francisco.
“I cannot wait to meet these people I’ve been hearing about and reading about,” Schrode, the only Northern California Tikkun Olam award winner, said of fellow recipients. “I have so much respect for them and what they’re doing.”
For more information about the Diller Tikkun Olam Award, go to www.sfjcf.org/diller/teenawards.