Jennifer Zwilling, 17, of Brookville, N.Y., a senior at Jericho High School in Jericho, founded and implemented the Youth Ambassador Training Program of the National Tourette Syndrome Association, a nationwide program that trains teens to educate other young people about Tourette Syndrome. Jennifer was diagnosed with the neurological disorder at the age of 7. "Although my mom and I attempted to educate my school, I found that people were not as tolerant, understanding or knowledgeable regarding TS as one would hope," she said. She soon discovered that other kids with TS had the same experience, and decided something had to be done.
She began helping local families of children with TS advocate for themselves, and started speaking in schools. When requests for her presentations grew too numerous to handle, Jennifer contacted the National Tourette Syndrome Association to see about launching a program that could train other young people to replicate her activities. Jennifer developed a training manual, presentation handouts and a PowerPoint presentation on a DVD, and began recruiting teens to be trained as youth ambassadors. So far, she has trained more than 100 teenagers from all over the U.S., spoken at 56 schools, and traveled to Washington, D.C., four times to speak at Congressional briefings and receptions and to visit individual members of Congress. She estimates that more than 3,000 students, teachers and academic advisers have received accurate information about TS through her program. "I have learned from experience that knowledge is power," she said. "Knowledge about TS gives classmates the power to accept, understand and be supportive."