By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Teenager Jake Galant is working to change the world for the better. Entrepreneurship is the key.
In the words of his peers, Galant continues to offer the gift of understanding to less fortunate youngsters — instructing them in advanced levels of computers and technology.
In 2012, the 17-year-old Dallas resident and St. Mark’s School of Texas rising senior created TeraByte Outreach, a special nonprofit summer video game creation camp that teaches computer programming skills to low income youth. It was inspired by the “for-profit” camp TeraByte created by his older brother Zach.
Jake Galant’s efforts to help the less fortunate, which include teaching these programs at DISD elementary schools for the past three summers, did not go unnoticed — or unappreciated. He was one of 15 youth this summer who received the $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award — which recognizes teens for their commitment to social good and volunteer service.
The 2015 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards are the vision of Bay Area philanthropist Helen Diller, “the quiet force” behind The Helen Diller Family Foundation, officials said.
The awards recognize teens for their commitment to social good and volunteer service — and have given more than $2.5 million to 70 Jewish teens “tackling global issues and creating lasting change through Tikkun Olam,” according to reports.
The accolades didn’t stop there for Jake Galant. He also was named a Distinguished Finalist in the 2015 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program.
Impressed by what the young entrepreneur is trying to achieve, Texas State Rep. Jason Villaba, R-Dallas, and his colleagues in the Texas House of Representatives of the 84th Legislature issued Galant a legislative “high-five” in the form of House Resolution 918, which lauds these accomplishments.
“He is a source of inspiration to all who are privileged to know him,” State Rep. Villaba’s resolution states.
Galant, who was in Israel this week, said during an email interview that he is humbled by the honor. When he first learned that by the year 2020 there will be over 1 million unfilled computer programming jobs in the United States, he had the idea to introduce economically disadvantaged children to programming and help them get a start in a field that will have lots of opportunity.
“To me being Jewish has always meant helping other people, particularly those less fortunate,” Galant wrote. “Whether it has involved community service work through my synagogue or a food drive at Yom Kippur there has been this emphasis. The day after my bar mitzvah, my friends and I made one thousand sandwiches for a homeless shelter. We even had fun organizing ourselves into sandwich makers, people who put them into bags and people who boxed them all up. So it was just a normal thing for me to want to help kids who would otherwise never have the chance to learn to make their own video games or to attend a camp like mine.”
Galant said as a Jew he has always valued the importance of learning and education.
“While creating video games may not sound the same as learning math, science or literature, it is a skill that involves planning and then writing the commands that run the game,” he wrote. “It can also set the stage for kids to be interested in programming. We know that so many jobs nowadays involve using computers that even if kids don’t want to be programmers, these skills will be valuable, almost no matter what field they choose.”
Galant’s ultimate goal is to teach students critical thinking skills, interactive storytelling and the basics of computer programming in a real “camp experience,” with T-shirts, daily snacks, and a closing celebration.
Galant also involves family members in this learning journey. His mother Shelley said in an email that Galant brought his cousin Anya Zimmerman-Smith with him to Israel as a counselor.
“She is specifically helping with custom design and animation of background and characters for the games,” Shelley Galant wrote.
In the process of teaching low-income kids to create video games using basic programming concepts, Jake Galant has reached as many as 170 kids in Dallas and 20 more in China. He has managed 10 teen volunteer teachers, trained three of them to be his camps’ site directors, and spent his own earned money for the subsequent expenses.
“I have gotten to go to so many enrichment classes such as Chinese immersion, debate, creative writing, foreign exchange, computer, and destination imagination,” he wrote. “I feel that, to succeed, all kids need those opportunities but many cannot afford them. I feel badly about that. It does not seem fair. I realized that I had a skill which I could use to help those kids.”
In an evaluation posted online, Dallas-area parent Leslie Carr offered Galant’s camp very high praise.
“TeraByte Games is a must for any child who is interested in computers or video gaming — and, doesn’t that, by definition, rule in most adolescent boys?” she wrote. “The Camp Director, Jake Galant, does a wonderful job of inspiring and engaging all his students. My two boys couldn’t stop talking about the games they created all summer long. What a fantastic, fun week. Thank you!”