"Sharon and my good friend Stanton Moss had met with Jay Spector [JEVS president and CEO] about a gift for me," said Ash, "and they decided on something they knew I would really like - a gift for the Jewish community. My friends joined together to surprise me with a $2,500 gift to create the Ash Internship Program for college students, to be administered by JEVS."
For six years, the Ash Family Foundation has financed the six-week, summer learning and work experience program in a number of Jewish community agencies in the five-county area. Interns are given responsibilities and projects that help them with career exploration and have a mentor who helps them make the connection between Jewish values and the work place. Students receive a $1,500 stipend for the summer.
"The gift from my friends is one that keeps on giving," exclaimed Ash. "Last year, they had 25 applicants for 10 spots. In all my charitable endeavors, I've never been so excited. Sharon and I are so proud of the interns and enjoy the opportunity to interact with them."
In addition to the internships, the students are introduced to the many services and resources of Federation and its partner agencies, and the Jewish community. During weekly Friday gatherings, at places such as the Jewish Community Services building and Ash's office, students share their experiences, discuss Jewish identity and meet key figures, both professional and lay, from various Jewish organizations. One Friday session is set aside to discuss each intern's mitzvah project, such as packing and delivering groceries for the Jewish Relief Agency.
"Students are not only there to learn, but to give their own skills to the agencies and to the program," explained Ash. "Mentors enhance their experience and it's a win-win situation."
For example, a University of Pittsburgh undergraduate, formerly from Ukraine, learned about fighting anti-Semitism when he worked at the Anti-Defamation League. Another worked at Philadelphia's National Museum of American Jewish History and was called back during the year to work on special projects. Many of the mentors told JEVS that they hoped their interns would come back and work at the agency after graduation.
An outgrowth of the program will begin this summer with the Tuttleman/ Lasko Youth Summer Internship Program. It gives at-risk Jewish high school juniors, mentored by students in the college program, the opportunity to participate in community service internships.
"We're happy about the way the program is growing," said Ash. "JEVS is also getting feedback that it's being noticed around the country."
Ash, born and raised in Wynnefield, credits his father "for teaching me to give back to the community." A graduate of Lower Merion High School, he earned an undergraduate degree from Penn State University and spent two years in the U.S. Navy. He and Sharon have been married for 40 years.
The parents of two married sons, whose wives will give birth soon, the couple is really looking forward to being grandparents, said Ash.
"The best thing we can do for our children is set a good example," he said. "Don't lecture because what you do matters much more. Our kids are industrious and want to succeed.
"Along with their accomplishments and success, there's one thing more I think the interns learned, and at the closing lunch I put it in the form of a quotation from Anne Frank: 'No one need wait one more moment to improve the world.' "