re·un·ion – rēˈyo͞onyən/ (n) – an instance of people coming together after a period of separation; a social gathering; the act or process of being brought together as a unified whole
Recently, the Lasko College Prep Program was pleased to host a homecoming reunion of sorts for alumni of the program. After all, as it begins its 13th summer of providing college guidance, SAT services, internship placements and mentoring for Jewish high school juniors, it felt like a good time to take stock of the impact the program has in helping to shape the development of more than 200 youth in our region – and now, beyond.
“The Lasko team really helped me make a decision,” said Matthew Brenner,’08, who now operates his own martial arts studio in Cinnaminson, with additional focus to students with special needs. “I interned at Orleans Technical Institute – now College – and I had a few options for life after high school. They played a key role in the realization that my initial goal should be to ultimately complete my education at Temple, but to really work toward a career that would prove to be not only fulfilling, but helpful to others.”
The desire to fulfill goals but also to create a life of service is ingrained in Lasko participants. Of the more than 200 young adults served since the program’s inception, 96% matriculated to college, more than 60% have continued specific involvement within the Jewish community, and a full 90% have a willingness to give back to a program that has given much to them. Danielle Haim (’08) is no exception.
“With Lasko, I was a volunteer at a day camp,” she said. “The college students who were my Ash Program mentors and the staff at Lasko made a huge impact on my life – and also encouraged me to be open about what I was learning I didn’t like!”
For Haim, this meant a career not focused in childcare, but still providing education as part of a global energy management corporation. Working with Lasko program staff Sue Bilsky and Rhonda Cohen, Haim was able to pursue scholarships and complete her degree at Penn State, recently returning to Philadelphia to continue her goals. The constant desire to learn and give back is something intrinsic to the program, according to Lasko Foundation Trustee Michael Dvorak, who spoke at the reunion.
“I could go on and on about how proud Vivian and Oscar (z”l) Lasko, and the Lasko Family Foundation are of each of you,” said Dvorak, whose own daughter mentored a Lasko student as part of the Franklin C. Ash Summer Internship. “But the real measure of value is how each one of you has taken Ozzie’s advice to achieve your dreams, and learn to fish (so to speak) so you could teach others to fish.”
“I thought I wanted to be an actor,” said Levi Mulladzhanov (’07), MD, now a 3rd year anesthesiology resident at Cooper Health. “But with Sue (Bilsky), we toured different colleges, and she helped me with the application process and reviewing for my SATs…I realized I wanted to stay local, which made my family happy.”
As the evening wore on, hugs and contact information was exchanged, and members prepared to return to their original lives – as cancer researchers, civil engineers, law school students, business owners, human resource professionals, nonprofit administrators and more – each reflected fondly on the brief, but meaningful way that Lasko helped shape the trajectory of their lives.
“The program is a great way to remember your roots,” said Mulladzhanov. “It’s a reminder that without support and guidance, people can find themselves in very different places.”
“Last summer, I was able to learn about my heritage and prepare for college, while gaining work experience,” said Jackson Goldberg, ’16. Looking to the future and the past all at once, he noted, “I couldn’t have spent my summer doing anything more constructive or valuable.”