Born with a congenital cataract, Lillian Pravda, 13, underwent her first eye surgery to restore sight in her left eye when she was just 9 weeks old.
Today the eighth-grader plays on the basketball team at the Ramaz School in New York where she also lives with her parents and younger sister, Maxine.
But the experience of being a patient as a young child made her sensitive to the fear many children have of being in a hospital. At 9, she began collecting toys to distribute to children staying in pediatric wings. One day she told her ophthalmologist about “my idea for children to help other children.”
Vision For and From Children is Pravda’s nonprofit organization that raises money for eye surgeries for children in need. They have sent teams of ophthalmologists to places like Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in addition to bringing children to the U.S. for surgery. To date, the organization has helped more than 24,000 children.
“Every person helped is an achievement,” said Pravda, who added that for her, satisfaction comes from the realization that “I helped give someone sight.”
This past October, Vision For and From Children launched a “One Million $1 Bills” campaign. Pravda said she plans to use the funds raised to build state-of-the art ophthalmology centers in regions around the world “where they have no access to such care.”
Despite a heavy course load at Ramaz that includes history, math, science, English and Gemara, Pravda said, “I love school!” Pravda said that she loves to speak publicly about Vision For and From Children, but she added that it also depends on the week how much time she is able to spend raising money and awareness for the organization.
Recently, Pravda spoke to JTA about the special people in her life, her advice to other service-minded teens and the one place that she is really hoping to visit someday.
Who or what are the biggest influences in your life?
My family, my sister and my parents, and definitely, my bubbe. She is the most positive person. The glass is half full; that is how she looks at life.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Rosh Hashanah. Because it is a ritual in my family, with my bubbe and all my cousins, after shul we eat a big meal, and we’re all together.
If you could go and visit anyplace in the world, where would you go?
I have never been to Israel, but I really want to go!
What kind of things do you like to do for fun?
I love eating guacamole and chips and hanging out with my friends and sister. I also dance — ballet, a little tap — and I love jazz and theater.
What advice would you give to other teens interested in launching a service project?
Find something that you are passionate about and use your power of one to get the word out. One person can spark a chain of events.
What do you think you want to be doing when “you grow up” or think you’d like to be doing professionally?
I’m not sure but I hope to continue to make a difference.
The Teen Heroes column is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation, which is dedicated to celebrating and supporting teens repairing the world. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit http://dillerteenawards.org. Please tell us about teens who deserve attention by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.