La Jolla student earns community service award

By Patricia B. Dwyer

At the youthful age of 17, Liza Gurtin has already dedicated quite a few years to serving her community — and anyone else in need around the world. She was recently recognized for her works with the sizable sum of $36,000, as one of five recipients of the Hellen Diller Family Foundation Tikkun Olam Award.

The award is presented annually to California teens who have taken initiative for the betterment of communities in need. Gurtin won for her fundraising efforts to bring clean water to those who need it across the globe. A Chicago transplant to La Jolla, Gurtin is no newcomer to helping others.

“I have been involved with community service for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I was always helping the homeless, and once I got to California, I did a lot of work with Sudanese refugees.”

It was her fundraising skills for the San Diego Walk for Water that led to the Tikkun Olam Award, which is based on the Jewish concept of “repairing the world.” Gurtin has only been a part of the Walk for Water’s board for two years, but has already managed to revamp the fundraising aspect of the event and collectively raise $40,000 during her time there.

Three San Diego schools run the event — La Jolla Country Day, Bishop’s and Francis Parker. Gurtin is a student at the later. The event is a 5-K walk, during which participants carry a bucket of water.

“In countries like Tanzania, where people don’t have access to clean water, the women and children spend their days walking five to six miles to find water,” Gurtin said. “They carry the water back in buckets, sometimes carrying one each arm, with one on their head, and kicking one, too.”

The Walk for Water helps raise awareness for this cause that affects over a quarter of a million people. The proceeds are used to build wells in Tanzania that will provide sanitary water to the population.

Gurtin is so attached to getting clean water to those who need it that she decided to donate all of her award money to a “water” cause in Ethiopia. Her contribution to the Emergency Flood Project completed the project’s funding toward the goal of bringing clean water to Ethiopia, where water sources were recently contaminated by a large flood.

A luncheon was held Aug. 29 in San Francisco to honor Gurtin and the other award recipients.