Peer Corps

by Vivian Henoch

Born in the late 90’s, barely out of high school, they are coming of age today. Tech-savvy, app-happy and connected – a generation raised in the era of smartphones and Snapchat – they are smart about their choices, committed to real and meaningful work in their community, passionate about Detroit and here to make a difference.

Beyond their notable academic achievements and extra-curricular activities, Emily (Emmy) Lulkin, Maya Goldman and Will Shulak have participated as mentors with PeerCorps Detroit, a year-long program in partnership with Federation, Repair the World and area congregations, inviting Jewish teens, B’nai Mitzvah students and their families, from all denominations, to build deep relations with one another through community-based work in Detroit.

Kids today, young leaders tomorrow

How has their service to PeerCorps influenced Emmy, Maya and Will and what are their dreams for the future? Here, in a recent interview with myJewishDetroit, they share some of their thoughts:

Meet Emmy Lulkin: in short

Emily Lulkin

“Loves camp and kids, and wants to make the world a better place. Only 5 feet tall, but #shortgirlsdoitbetter.”

From Bloomfield Hills, a junior at Groves High School, Emmy has been elected President of Student Council for her senior year. This summer, she has chosen to continue her work as a mentor in a PeerCorps pilot summer program for 6-12th graders.

Meet Maya Goldman: world traveler

Maya Goldman

“A student/camper/reader/traveller/optimist looking for adventures and ways to help out in Detroit and the broader world.” 

From Farmington Hills, a graduate of North Farmington High School, captain of her cross-country team, involved in Model U. N. and writing for her school’s literary magazine, Maya will attend the University of Michigan in the Fall. A world traveller (literally), at 13, Maya spent a year with her family circling the globe. As a counselor this summer, Maya will complete her 10th year at Tamarack Camps.

Meet Will Shulak: actor, singer, writer

Will Shulak

“Excited to bring his skills in people-to-people interaction to build meaningful experiences to Detroit and to college moving forward.”

From Huntington Woods, a graduate of Berkley High School, Will is headed to the Residential College of the University of Michigan in September. Actor, singer, comic-book enthusiast and sometimes stand-in help for produce sales at the Eastern Market, Will plans to pursue his passion for performing arts, journalism and community building through his college studies.

On PeerCorps experience

myJewishDetroit: Why PeerCorps? What draws you to volunteer service?

Emmy: I had been looking for more meaningful work in the community. This program seemed to be a perfect fit of grassroots and genuine. I really liked that it was Jewish.

Maya: My sisters were mentees in the first years of PeerCorps, and they certainly influenced my own decision to become a mentor. I wanted to work in Detroit, where my grandparents grew up – to have that kind of connection —and to get to better know the city. I also liked the idea of the program running all year long so I could build relationships and invest myself in the work.

Will: A friend of mine was a second year mentor, so I heard about all the great experiences he had in the program. My mom and her siblings also grew up in Detroit, so my family always has had a connection to the city. Though I had worked at the Eastern Market a little before joining PeerCorps, I really valued the cohesive experience I gained in the program.

What were your projects?

E: I worked with the Eden Garden Block Club, associated with the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (IADS). Eden Garden is really a beautiful place, fighting blight in a neighborhood on the east side of Detroit. Food grown in the garden goes to neighborhood volunteers and Shabbat dinners at IADS. Over the winter months, we worked in the Downtown Synagogue to help organize their newly renovated kitchen. We also painted planters for volunteers in the garden to plant seeds.

M: I worked with kids in the basement of the Church of the Messiah, which they have turned into a youth and job program they call the Mt. Eliot Maker Space. It’s been an interesting year working with them in their wide range of activities. It can be gardening one week, bike repair another or just playing with the kids who show up each week. It’s taught me a lot about planning, creativity and communicating.

W: I worked at Voices for Earth Justice at the Hope House, in Brightmoor, a neighborhood with a lot of blight, similar to the area Emmy described. Working with Naim Edwards, program manager and a garden designer, I was part of a mentoring program for youth with a focus on interfaith networking and environmental and science education.

On lessons learned

What have you learned from your experience with PeerCorps and how has that changed your view of the city?

E:  Before PeerCorps, I thought of Detroit as a place with nothing going on for me. Today,  I think of Detroit as my city, and I love showing friends who visit all the cool things going on here.  And I like to take pictures!

M: I think PeerCorps has shown me how wide the scope of the city is.

W: What PeerCorps has taught me: Don’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve learned that you have to dig deeper to really understand a place and that the connections you establish get more meaningful over time. Working at one site over a year, learning the balance of the challenges and really good things going on, has been great experience.

M: I agree completely with Will on that point. A huge part of my experience has been communication – the real work of becoming part of a community, entering it respectfully and mentoring kids in ways to learn and make friends.

E: There are so many opportunities to learn and to do this kind of work in the city. There are girls I’ve met working in the garden – we’re so similar, and yet, we live worlds apart in the same city. I feel so lucky to have the opportunities I’ve had.

On leadership

What is your definition of a leader?

E: A leader is someone who sees the best in other people and can bring them together through enthusiasm and passion.

M: A leader is a person who takes their ideas and runs with them, regardless of the obstacles that stand in their way, and helps others do the same.

W: A leader is someone who puts the whole before the self and is a judicious thinker.

Hopes and dreams

E: My hope is to use all the opportunities I’ve been provided to give back to others around the world. After college, I want to move to Africa to learn about different cultures and help people peacefully coexist.

M: At the moment, as I look forward to college, I want to find a field of study I really love and run with it.

W: I want to live in a world that is safe, heathy and prosperous . . .

Reading now

E: The Girl in the Green Sweater: A Life in Holocaust’s Shadow by Krystyna Chiger

M:  The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

W: Marvel’s Civil War by Mark Millar

Fun facts

E:   I love Channing Tatum and the only way I’ll watch an action movie is if he stars in it.

M:  I can ride a unicycle!

W: I played a rock in my first theater production ever.

Got an amazing teen to recommend for our next article (or are you one yourself?) Please send your name, your note or your story to – Vivian Henoch, Editor and Writer, Federation’s