The youngster has earned his place in Mercer Island history. And he said there’s more to come.
Nineteen-year-old Avi Schiffmann thought it was cool to witness his portrait in Mercer Island City Hall alongside the myriad winners of the city’s prestigious Community Member of the Year award.
“They’re all like older distinguished people and I’m like this young guy with like his laptop in the picture, so that’s pretty funny,” said the Mercer Island High School graduate, who is currently taking a break from his studies at Harvard University to work on his own projects.
At the Sept. 6 city council meeting, Schiffmann received his award about two-and-a-half years after building the nCoV2019.live website, which became one of the most popular information hubs tracking COVID-19 cases around the world. Last March, he collaborated with Harvard classmate Marco Burstein to launch the Ukraine Take Shelter website, which connects Ukrainian refugees with potential hosts in neighboring countries.
The city has been bestowing the honor upon outstanding community members since 1990, which is 13 years before Schiffmann was born. He is now one of them.
“It’s definitely a lot for a 19-year-old, but for me it doesn’t really feel like that much yet. I’ve got much bigger plans to work on — bigger things. Only just getting started,” said Schiffmann, who is in the process of devising a “more professional” nonprofit for internet activist projects, including his own. He plans to head to Lisbon, Portugal, soon to work with more people in the technology world.
Schiffmann, who began developing websites in early elementary school and sold video games in middle school, said he thrives while working on immense projects that can have a huge impact on the world. He likens his work to art and wants people to stroll around the gallery and check it out. His goal is to make web sites for hundreds of millions of people to utilize.
The Islander is driven to succeed, no matter what birth year is typed onto his driver’s license.
“I just kind of like doing my own thing a whole lot more. I guess I am only 19, but that doesn’t really stop me from doing anything. A lot of people didn’t even realize there was a teenager running a lot of these websites, like the COVID one and everything,” he said.
Added Mayor Salim Nice: “Avi hopes his work is an inspiration to other young people and shows that they, too, can make a difference, Through Avi’s innovation and drive to problem-solve, he has positively impacted the global community.”
While working on the Ukraine site, Schiffmann said he received copious stories from families who benefited from the site and he gained motivation to do more.
“I was just thinking, maybe one of those kids will grow up to become Einstein or something. You never know,” said Schiffmann, adding that Mercer Island has been ideal place to live and benefit from the opportunities and resources that are present locally. It’s like an incubator and accelerator all in one, he said.
At the meeting, Schiffmann drew laughter from the councilmembers while telling a very non-tech story about what occurred during his high school ceramics class. He made a Godzilla figure that found a home in the library, which signifies that Schiffmann has left his mark all over the Island.