Teens Transformed by Community Internship Program

“I felt like I contributed in some way to the awareness and teachings of Israel.”

“I finally made an impact.”

“I’m actually making a difference in my community.”

These were just a few of the inspiring words of the seven teens who gave speeches during last Friday’s Community Internship Program commencement ceremony. A part of our Federation’s Los Angeles Jewish Teen Initiative (LAJTI), the internship kept teens busy for four weeks as they learned real-world skills at Jewish nonprofit organizations throughout Los Angeles including Jewish World Watch, the Jewish Journal, Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) and The Jewish Federation, among others.*

In total, 40 rising high school juniors and seniors completed their internships during a meaningful ceremony — and there wasn’t one person who left the event untouched by their heartfelt words of thanks.

Parents, mentors, internship supervisors and teens all enjoyed a catered lunch before the program began. LAJTI Director Jessica Green reiterated that the Community Internship Program was the first program launched as part of the LAJTI and thanked the Jim Joseph Foundation for their 1:1 sponsorship that funds the program. She also acknowledged Art and Dahlia Bilger, whose visionary leadership and generous support spearheaded the creation of this internship program and will keep it alive for many years to come.

Art Bilger spoke about how he and his wife Dahlia were able to create internships for their three children through their involvement with Jewish nonprofit organizations. “We saw what the experience did for them in so many respects,” said Art. “To see and hear this room buzzing the way it is, is fantastic. We could not be more delighted.”

For four weeks, interns have done everything from packing uniforms for Maccabi Games to inputting information on spreadsheets to taking photos of kids at Jewish summer camps to briefing a court case — a task usually reserved for first-year law students. In many instances, the teens admitted they were surprised that their supervisors treated them as adults and gave them as many responsibilities as they did.

Emma Erenmark was given the challenging task of making the complicated terminology on a Power of Attorney for Health Care form more user-friendly for adults with disabilities. Said Emma, “I was lucky enough to be able to find an effective and easy method to discuss this topic without alarming the client. I got to present my idea at the Transitions Coalition meeting…I felt like I helped solve a problem for not only the employees at Bet Tzedek, but for the clients who can now more easily understand the important form they are about to sign.”

Daniel Felton was pleasantly surprised by his internship duties. “Before I took my first steps into the Israel Levin Center, I thought I was going to be sitting behind a desk filing papers,” he said. “But now that today is our last day, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else…I saw this as a chance to make the world a little better. I believe my involvement with senior adults really made a difference in their lives and mine.” He described becoming emotionally attached to several of the elderly clientele. “These people are not my grandmas and grandpas,” he said, “they are young souls in older bodies.”

Daniel Chocron thoroughly enjoyed his internship with StandWithUs, but noted that his favorite part of the experience was coming together with the other interns on Fridays for workshops. “One of the workshops that really stuck with me was the very first one with Stacey from Innovation Protocol, a marketing company,” he said. “Stacey talked about branding ourselves and how everyone has their own perception of us the second they meet. I will use this [knowledge] when I go to my first interview, my first day at work, or meeting someone new.”

Following the interns’ speeches and a montage of videos they made in their workplaces, each participant was presented a certificate by Art and Dahlia Bilger. Mentors and supervisors cheered, even waving pom-poms, to show their support.

It was an inspiring event that made an impact on all who attended and shows the power of our Federation’s mission to ensure the Jewish future and to transform the landscape for Jewish teens in Los Angeles. Some of the teens expressed interest in continuing their involvement in the Jewish community and with the nonprofit organizations for which they worked. There’s no better measure of LAJTI’s early success than that!

Art Bilger said later that his vision for the program stemmed from his memories of a summer internship he had on Wall Street at just 16 years old. “That experience, that summer, was what opened my eyes to what ultimately became the early part of my career. It had dramatic impact.”

He expressed great pride in how the Community Internship Program has grown and explained why it is so important. “We must open up the world, the real world, to these high school students,” he said, “so that they can see what is out there, know the real world they are living in, and hopefully [they can] become greater contributors to it.”

For more information about the Community Internship Program, read our previous Community Internship Blog, e-mail Jessica Green or call (323) 761-8343.

A program of the L.A. Jewish Teen Initiative, co-funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jim Joseph Foundation with seed funding provided by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. Special thanks to Dahlia and Art Bilger, initiators and funders of our Community Internship Program.

*The full list of participating nonprofit organizations is as follows: American Jewish University School of Nonprofit Management, BBYO, Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), Beit T’Shuvah, Bet Tzedek, Creative Community for Peace, Friendship Circle, Friends of IDF, Hillel 818, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Jewish Family Service – Israel Levin Center, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, Jewish Journal, Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), JQ International, Jewish World Watch, Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Skirball Cultural Center, StandWithUs, USC Hillel, Westside JCC and Zimmer Children’s Museum.

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