Eric Zwilling is a student, a writer and a volunteer -- but, most importantly, he's a buddy.
Zwilling, a senior at Jericho High School, founded a Buddies program for the Tourette Syndrome Association's (TSA) Long Island chapter that allows children in its monthly support groups to "buddy up" with Jericho high schoolers for games, conversation and mentoring.
His interest in the field stems from his older sister Jennifer, who at age 7 was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. She later launched a TSA Youth Ambassador Program that trains teens nationwide to discuss the neurological disorder at schools.
"Some kids have severe cases [of Tourette Syndrome] and it's hard for them to make friends -- so in some cases we've become some of their best friends," said Zwilling, 17, who is seeking to expand the Buddies program to other chapters.
At Jericho, Zwilling is also founder of a Tourette Syndrome Awareness Club that educates the school community about the disorder at district events and provides volunteers for the TSA Buddies program. Zwilling said word of his club spread through the national organization and resulted in "a handful" of other U.S. schools starting their own awareness clubs using his as a prototype.
"Putting a smile on someone's face and making their day better is something I love to do," he said.
In addition, he is one of 30 teens in the United States and Canada on the Youth Advisory Council of DoSomething
.org, a social advocacy nonprofit. One recent project, he said, saw the council coordinate with iTunes to "gift" a Rihanna song to people who wrote a letter speaking out against domestic violence.
Zwilling also won a $20,000 scholarship this spring as a National Coca-Cola Scholar, is a writer for the technology blog Tech Trakr, and volunteers at bone marrow donor registration drives with Team Lindsay, a nonprofit created in honor of a Duke University student.
Zwilling is undecided about a major, but plans to attend Duke University this fall.
"Eric has a zest for life, learning and the human race," said his guidance counselor, Candy Barko. "He epitomizes all that is good in today's youth."