Noah Guthman
Photo credit: Erick Gibson

The Altruist

Michele Pinczuk

Freshman, Montgomery College, Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus

What sets her apart: At 9, Michele Pinczuk was diagnosed with a rare and chronic autoimmune disease requiring lengthy hospital stays and recovery time. “One of the hardest things about being a tween or a teen girl and fighting a life-threatening illness is being left out of the things you see your friends doing,” the 17-year-old Silver Spring resident says.

Prompted by that realization, she started Beauty & Quality of Life in 2009. Aimed at teenage girls battling serious illnesses, the charitable organization has donated more than 400 goodie bags to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., containing everything from lip gloss to iTunes gift cards. Among the donors: actress Fran Drescher, who endured her own bout with serious illness.

Michele’s goal is for girls to “feel pretty and not feel bad about being bald from chemotherapy or being overweight from steroids.”

Other accomplishments: Her young adult novel, Sparkle, will be published by The Ciletti Publishing Group this spring; her documentary, L’Chaim Israel, was screened at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2008 and won a new filmmaker’s award at the 2009 Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival; she won the 2010 Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Student Award; she writes for JVibe magazine and The New York Times.

What others say: “She’s the type of person who can inspire others,” says Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation, where Michele is a member.

What her future holds: Michele will major in journalism this fall at the University of Maryland. She is working on her second novel, and aspires to write for Seventeen and The Source.