JVS scholarships encourage college students to give back

Max Goldstein was 15 years old when he hopped on a plane to Caracas, Venezuela, to spend his sophomore year of high school as an exchange student. He had never left the country before, nor had he been away from home for an extended period of time. 

While he was growing up, Goldstein’s family went bankrupt and lost their house. He looked forward to escaping the financial instability at home and having new experiences by going abroad. His host mother in Venezuela was a doctor, which inspired him to pursue a medical degree at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. 

Now 29, Goldstein told his story to an audience of more than 200 people at the Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS) Scholarship Awards ceremony on July 17 at Sinai Temple in Westwood. 

The JVS scholarship program, founded in 1972, provides financial aid to Jewish college and university students who have lived in Los Angeles County for at least three years. Students must demonstrate a strong financial need to qualify for the program. Each year, the awards ceremony celebrates current students and donors.  

Goldstein, a second-year recipient, was one of 10 students who received a $10,000 scholarship for the upcoming academic year — the first time that individual awards have exceeded $5,000. During the past academic year, he received approximately $4,000. 

“It’s so important because if you look at any records anywhere, you’ll see what the student loan debt is these days,” JVS scholarship program manager Patricia Sills said. 

According to The Institute for College Access and Success Project on Student Debt, the average student in the U.S. graduates with approximately $26,000 in debt. The total student loan amount is more than $1 trillion.

The JVS program has been awarding aid every year since its inception. For the upcoming academic year, 2014-15, 169 recipients received awards (96 of which were renewals) ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, totaling $582,000. A record number of 435 students applied for aid, as compared to 394 in 2013. 

“It’s a really amazing way for people to give back to students who are in a time of need,” Goldstein said. “When you’re going to school with loans, it’s kind of a little boost from the organization. … It makes you feel really committed to giving back.” 

To date, the program has awarded more than $6.5 million through 4,000 scholarships. The money comes from donors, including individuals, family foundations and Jewish organizations, and from fundraising events throughout the year.

“The longitudinality of the scholarship makes me feel a part of a community, and I think that’s very unique to JVS,” Goldstein said.

Fellow award recipient and event alumni speaker Julia Greenberg shares Goldstein’s enthusiasm for JVS. She spoke of her family’s struggles in the United States after they emigrated from Russia when she was 9. 

Julia Greenberg  Photos by Karina Pires

Greenberg received JVS scholarships throughout her four years as an undergraduate at Stanford University. She recently completed an MBA in marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and will soon begin a job utilizing her degree at Toyota. 

During her speech, Greenberg, like Goldstein, both lauded and thanked JVS. 

“It’s amazing that there are people out there [who] really believe that education is a great equalizer that gives people, who come from backgrounds where they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to go to school, the chance to pursue [their] goals and to become educated … [and] as a result of that, be able to give back to the organization and continue to invest in the future of our community,” Greenberg said. “It’s very empowering and really beautiful.” 

Greenberg has received approximately $20,000 from JVS over the course of her education, the majority of which was provided through the Simms/Mann Family Scholarship Fund.

Donors in attendance included Susan and Fred Kunik, Maxine and Gene Froelich, and Joyce and Larry Powell. The donors are enthusiastic about the work of the organization and about the students they support. 

“There are a lot of charities, and they’re all good, but this really goes to the core of people’s lives,” said Fred Kunik, a donor and JVS board and scholarship committee member who became involved four years ago through a friend. “And the fact is that everybody needs a job, and that’s the mission of JVS. … What’s better,” he said, than “to help someone get a job [through] an education?”