She just had to do it.

That is how Haworth teen Micaela Mangot explains an incident that took place when she was a little girl, distributing food and toiletries to the homeless in Washington, D.C.

“My family was always big into philanthropy,” said the 16-year-old, a student at Northern Valley Regional High School in Demarest. “They taught me good morals and values – that you should always help people and treat them as you want to be treated.”

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Micaela Mangot and her father, Dr. Jonathan Mangot. The teenager says she works as hard as she can to make a difference. Courtesy jfnnj

“I was around 7, and we were in Washington, D.C.,” remembers Micaela. “There was a lot of poverty there, and I got very upset. I saw the homeless standing above the subway grate for warmth. I went back to the hotel and took the candy and toothbrushes and soap and conditioner and gave them to them in pillowcases. I had to.”

“She’s so passionate about social justice,” said her mother, Allison Mangot, recalling the event. “Every year we have to go to Washington…and to this day she’s still doing it. Some people would be scared going into tent cities, but not her,” said Mangot. “She’s a good kid. People see it and know it. I’m very proud of her.”

Michaela said she “definitely educates her friends” on the issue of social justice. She is also part of a like-minded group of teenagers “that have the same ideas I do.”

The Teen Leadership committee – run by Judy Nahary, director of children and teen services at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, and Liz Corsini of the Bergen Family Center – has given Mangot an outlet for her passion.

The group, which meets every Monday, is planning its annual March conference, where each member will talk about a different issue or bring in a speaker to address a particular topic.

“I chose suicide,” said Micaela, explaining that she had lost a cousin to suicide and feels that the issue needs to be better understood. She is trying to find a speaker, but is not certain she has sufficient funds.

She has, however, been able to pull together a program on another topic – one about which she is passionate.

Last summer, on vacation with her mother in Westhampton, the two viewed a documentary called “Crime after Crime,” detailing the case of a domestic violence victim who was, says Micaela, “wrongly incarcerated.”

The film tells the story of Deborah Peagler, tracing efforts to free her from prison 20 years after she was connected to the murder of the man who abused her and forced her into prostitution.

Micaela was deeply moved by what she saw and resolved to do something about it. “I was determined to show it to my friends and raise awareness,” she said. Thanks to that determination, the film will soon be screened at the Kaplen JCC.

Said Jason Shames, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ), “According to Micaela’s mom, [she] pushed her parents to purchase the documentary and sponsor free viewings. This has resulted in a public awareness campaign to educate people about the warning signs of abusive relationships.”

Pointing to California, which several years ago became the first state to adopt a law to help incarcerated survivors of domestic violence win their freedom, Micaela said she would like to see a “snowball effect” here in New Jersey. She has already spoken about this with State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who is the Senate majority leader, and with attorney Warren Sutnick, who will be participating in a panel following the JCC screening, together with Rabbi Raffi Bilek, of Project Sarah.

Micaela also has been a frequent volunteer at JFNNJ’s Super Sunday fundraising event. “My father took me when I was 7,” she said, noting that she has graduated from helping with the paperwork to making calls herself.

“I raised over $10,000 this year,” she said. “Basically, I explain why people should be giving more than ever, despite the economic crisis. One woman I called told me she didn’t have enough money herself, so I referred her to JFS.”

Micaela also participates in the Kaplen JCC’s Teen Philanthropy Institute, working with other teenagers to select organizations for targeted donations. “I want to give the money to Debbie’s Campaign, to win freedom for the wrongly incarcerated,” she said. The group, inspired by Peagler’s story, works to end domestic violence, sex trafficking, and wrongful incarceration.

Whatever she does, said her mother, Micaela gives it her all.

“I work as hard as I can,” said the teen. “If enough people do that, you can make a difference.”

Save the date
What: Screening of Sundance documentary “Crime after Crime”

Where: Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Tenafly

When: Sun. Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m.

More info: (201) 408-1426 or www.jccotp.org