Girl inspired to advocacy by Anne Frank
Teen wins scholarship for writing, charitable project
Sixteen-year-old Michele Pinczuk calls Anne Frank her "kindred spirit." Both have overcome isolationFrank in an attic, Pinczuk in a hospital bedto enjoy life through a shared love of pop culture, writing and human-rights advocacy.
Now, Pinczuk's connection runs even deeper. She has achieved her goal of seven years, becoming one of two Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Student Award recipients this year for her commitment to the ideals of her heroine.
Much of those seven years have been spent lying in a hospital bed, Pinczuk, of Silver Spring, said. As a patient suffering from an inflammatory bowel disease, Pinczuk has written articles for the New York Times and JVibe Jewish magazine, created two short filmsone of which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in Franceand established a charitable program that gives makeovers to teen girls with illnesses.
"I've been given so many opportunities, I just thought I should give back," she said, noting that passion and compassion for human struggles drive her actions.
"You wouldn't believe that one week ago, she was on a PICC [intravenous] line and had a feeding tube," her mother, Jane Pinczuk, said. Michele Pinczuk was recently released after a month-long stay at the Children's National Medical Center, where she has spent numerous stints since age 9 for Atypical Crohn's Disease.
When the bubbly teen is forced to stay in a hospital bed, she said she always brings along the "Diary of Anne Frank," a book she's read more times than she can remember. She even calls Anne Frank her best friend.
"I can definitely identify with the isolation [she went through], having my disease. "I can identify with having to be isolated from your peers. ... She had to go through so much, but underneath it all, she's still just a teenage girl."
This frame of mind is what inspired one of Pinczuk's most recent ventures, "Beauty and Quality of Life", a charitable project which brings teen girls with illnesses to Bloomingdale's for a day of makeovers, shopping and girly gift bags.
"Teenage girls, when they have an illness, there's already so much to focus onrelationships, school," she said. "This project is really focused on bringing back enjoying being a girl."
Pinczuk is working with Starlight MidAtlantic Children's Foundation and Bloomingdale's to organize the first event, which will take place April 11. She's currently working on securing donations to fill the gift bags with cosmetics, magazines, iTunes gift cards and clothes.
A couple weeks ago, Pinczuk's work in the public sector was recognized when her mother received a call from the Anne Frank Center saying she won a $1,000 scholarship and recognition through the Outstanding Student Award. Her "Beauty and Quality of Life" project, as well as her dedication to writing, made her an outstanding candidate, according to Maureen McNeil, director of education for the center.
"She's really used words in the same way that Anne has," McNeil said of Pinczuk, who plans to attend Montgomery College in the fall. "These words become a legitimate power. That has happened with Michele, which is pretty amazing. In spite of her health crisis, she has been able to reach out to other girls who suffer from illnesses."
Despite illness, isolation and sometimes bullying, Pinczuk continues working to inspire teens, she said. She recently completed writing "Sparkle," a story about a New York City girl dealing with illness, a story she said is inspired, though not based on, her life.
"Throughout these tribulations, she continues to sparkle, just like the city she lives in," she said. "Managing to sparkle is being a superstar no matter what."