“‘Spider-Man is a person.’ Avrom’s eyes beam with pride as he masters the art of identifying nouns, one Marvel reference at a time. Out of context, grammar practice doesn’t sound like the most invigorating activity, but as mentor, co-founder, and co-executive director of Bridge to Literacy for the last two years, I have worked to unite 150+ mentors and students across six continents and 17 countries around their zeal for language and cultural connections.
“My journey began with the Scripps National Spelling Bee. As I poured over dictionaries with new friends and gushed over the German etymology shaping words like gemutlichkeit (friendliness), I couldn’t help but realize that, while we were being granted the experience of a lifetime, millions of other children around the world were without opportunities such literacy competitions solely because of their geographic location and financial status. I co-founded Bridge to Literacy to reimagine education, encouraging children to take the reins in their language-learning experiences through hands-on curriculum.
“In my role at Bridge to Literacy, I communicate with the heads of educational partners – such as the Malawi National Commission for UNESCO and We Love Reading, a UNICEF-sponsored educational nonprofit based in Jordan – to discuss ways our organizations can collaborate to serve students’ needs, while also building connections with fellow changemakers to create initiatives that uplift today’s youth. Additionally, I’m in charge of writing grant proposals to secure funding for technical resources to increase educational access and more unorthodox, engaging initiatives.
“I’ve also mobilized in-person and remote literacy events alike, collecting 2,000+ kilograms of books, including $20,000 worth of electronic devices. Between mentoring students, delivering presentations on the intersection of art-centered innovation and volunteership to 600+ students, and building relationships with nonprofits and fellow changemakers alike, Bridge to Literacy renews my faith in the promise of a community founded on empathy-driven leadership and dynamic, one-on-one mentorship.” – Elizabeth Shvarts, Yale University ‘26
Elizabeth Shvarts is a 2022 recipient of the Handeli First-Year Student Scholarship from Hillel International. Learn more about Hillel scholarships for Jewish students.