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Jefferson Award Winner Helps Marin County Middle School Students Build Community

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Laura Talmus (left), Jefferson Award Winner. (CBS)

Laura Talmus (left), Jefferson Award Winner. (CBS)

MARIN COUNTY (KPIX 5) — One of the worst things you can feel as a middle school student is isolated. This week’s Jefferson Award winner works with teenagers to make sure no one has to feel that way.

Jordan Chavez knows what it’s like to feel left out.

“It’s being invisible, people just passed me, not saying ‘hi,'” she explained.

But today, Chavez helps make sure no one feels forgotten, thanks to Beyond Differences, a nonprofit founded by Laura Talmus.

“We create an inclusive community where everyone feels accepted,” Talmus said.

Talmus’s inspiration: her own daughter, Lili, who was born with a cranial facial anomaly.

“It was typical that I would get a phone call from Lili at work saying, ‘I’m hiding in the girls’ bathroom. Could you please come and pick me up?'” Talmus remembered. ‘I said, ‘Honey, I can’t.’ But I felt terrible and my heart was breaking for her everyday.”

In 2009, Lili suffered complications from her disorder, and died in her sleep at age 15. The next year, Talmus started Beyond Differences so no one would have to feel as invisible as Lili.

More than 120 teenagers lead middle school assemblies and clubs for Beyond Differences, welcoming new students and urging others to reach out.

Student leaders run a program called No One Eats Alone, building relationships with lunchtime games and conversation starters. And they encourage students to perform random acts of kindness in a social media campaign called Be the One.

Marin County Schools Superintendent Mary Jane Burke has high praise for Talmus.

“Laura’s legacy is her stick-to-itiveness, her passion, her inspiration, and her vision that it is possible that every school can be a safe place for every kid.”

Jordan Chavez has changed, too.

“If someone’s sitting there, I used to just sit there.. (now I) just say, ‘Hi’ or ‘Good morning,'” she said.

It’s a tribute to a mother and her daughter.

“What we’re doing today honors (Lili), but makes a difference to everybody else,” Talmus said.

So for building a culture of community in Marin County middle schools, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Laura Talmus.

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