While Paul Mekler excels in his work as a junior at Northeast High, the Russian immigrant can admittedly use a hand prepping for his SATs, filling out college applications and writing entrance essays.
And as part of the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service's Tuttleman/Lasko Youth Summer Internship Program, he receives such assistance free of charge. The internship is part of an outreach program to assist promising Jewish students who may not be able to pay for college-prep services, or first-generation American students whose immigrant parents aren't conversant enough with English to help their kids commandeer an application.
"We want to relieve the family of that stress, and help them through that process," says Penny Kardon, director of JEVS career strategies.
Mekler also gets a mentor — Dovi Meles, a sophomore at New York's Yeshiva University, who interns with JEVS' Franklin C. Ash Summer Internship Program.
"He's a cool guy; he answers questions about college, and he's nice to talk to," attests Mekler.
As part of these different internships, both Mekler and Meles help out within the professional Jewish community — Mekler works at Federation Housing teaching seniors how to use computers, and Meles interns at the Philadelphia chapter of the Zionist Organization of America.
Although they work at separate endeavors, the two have met at certain JEVS activities over the summer, and have even participated in a mentoring retreat. The mentors provide advice on going away to school and the importance of Jewish life on campus, and also provide information about what majors to pursue.
While the college interns finish up their seven-week program this week, they've been encouraged to keep in contact with their high school counterparts, who intern from July until they're accepted into college.
Lisa Apple, a sophomore at Drew University, really enjoys mentoring high school senior Kate Shoykhet: "We've been talking about everything — what we like to do for fun, to school, to time-management, to classes."
The JEVS program further serves as an introduction to professional work within the Jewish community in the hopes that both sets of students may choose such a career in the future.
Jaclyn Link, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Pennsylvania who's interning with HIAS and Council Migration Service of Greater Philadelphia says the position has indeed increased her Jewish identity.
"I'm Jewish, but I haven't had a very strong Jewish experience in college, and this has really helped me get back in touch with my heritage," explains Link.
Both JEVS groups took time out of their busy schedules recently to conduct a mitzvah project at the Samuel Tabas House in Northeast Philadelphia. The students got together with seniors at Tabas last month to help them plant a memorial garden in the courtyard of the building.
With the wooden frames and soil already in place — courtesy of Federation Housing employees — the seniors donned straw hats and worked with the students to plant lavender, geraniums, dahlias, zinnias and salvia.
JEVS picked the garden project because they "thought that an intergenerational experience would be positive," says Kardon.
After the dedication, each student teamed up with a resident to learn about his or her partner's life. They heard of childhood memories, and of how the residents now spend Shabbat. Notes from the interview sessions will be compiled in a booklet and distributed to the seniors.
"They need to have our experience, and we need their young blood," declares Tabas resident Elizabeth Kolodny, "so it was a great combination."