June 26, 2019

Class Pres and Special-Needs Advocate

While Jake Schochet volunteers with a variety of organizations, he said ETTA was his “gateway drug” that led to his involvement with other groups. 

Four years ago, the 17-year-old Valley Torah High School senior began volunteering with the nonprofit that provides a spectrum of services to people with autism, Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. He is the president of the ETTA youth board and spends his summers at Summer@ETTA, which offers recreational activities to intellectually and developmentally disabled people.

Schochet said the people who attend the summer program learn valuable independent living skills and he has come to know that the special needs community is capable of much more than is widely believed. 

“It just shows me that everyone has so much potential,” he said. “A lot of people think, ‘OK, they can’t necessarily do certain things, we’ll help them out,’ but you can have real conversations with them, and it just showed me everyone has so much potential and it’s sad they’re not necessarily given the opportunity to express it and to find themselves.”

Schochet also volunteers with Chai Lifeline, which works with children battling cancer and other serious illnesses. One evening a week, he spends time with the sibling of a Chai Lifeline child because parents cannot always give these siblings the attention they need. Schochet visits a family’s home and hangs out, does homework and talks with the sibling.

“When I see something that is not necessarily right and there should be a change, I’m not afraid to step up and try to make a difference.”

As the head of the North Hollywood chapter of Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth organization, Schochet promotes positive relationships between Israel and his peers. In March, he will take part in the Jerusalem Marathon on Team Shalva, raising awareness for the Israeli organization that serves people with developmental disabilities.

Schochet also is a blood drive coordinator for the American Red Cross. He has helped organize blood drives at his school and at Shaarey Zedek synagogue in Valley Village. 

“I think it is very important to give back to everyone because you never know who is going to need to give back to you one day,” he said.

At his school, Schochet is both class president and the founder of the Chesed (kindness) club. In 2017, he led an effort to ship toothbrushes, shampoo and toiletries to Hurricane Harvey victims. 

Next year, he plans to study at a yeshiva in Israel. Afterward, he will attend college and is considering a career as an early-intervention therapist for young people with developmental disabilities.

The youngest of five siblings, his mother is a teacher at Gindi Maimonides Academy and his father is an administrator at an assisted living facility. He grew up enjoying Friday night dinners with his family and taking surfing lessons with them in Santa Monica. 

Schochet credits his father, a certified emergency medical technician and a volunteer with the Jewish emergency response organization Hatzolah, and his grandmother, a former nurse, with instilling in him the importance of giving back to others.

“When I see something that is not necessarily right and there should be a change,” he said, “I’m not afraid to step up and try to make a difference.”

Read more about our 2019 mensches here.