2015-09-02 / Local News

Jewish values lead teen to a summer of helping others

Voice intern

FAMILY: Mother, Susan; Dad, Ian; Brother, Jake (20)

SYNAGOGUE: Temple Beth Sholom


FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM: Philadelphia 76ers


Many Southern New Jersey teenagers dream of spending their summers in a tropical destination. Cherry Hill High School East senior Drew Meklinsky did just that, but while helping others. Meklinsky took part in Rein Teen Tours’ Project Ecuador, a community service based trip to Ecuador, the Amazon jungle and the Galapagos Islands. Along with 31 other teenagers, aged 14 to 17 and four members of the Rein Teen Tour staff, Meklinsky explored cultures that he never knew existed.

“The main reason that I chose this trip was the community service aspect. I wanted to enjoy my trip while also giving back in some fashion. Also, Ecuador is completely different than the world we live in, so I thought it would be interesting to experience a different lifestyle and a different culture,” said Meklinsky.

During the 25-day program, Meklinsky and his fellow volunteers made their first stop in Quito, Ecuador. For a week and a half, they volunteered at a daycare center for young children that provides meals, educational lessons and fun activities for the kids. The children were very grateful to the volunteers.

“It was awesome to see the joy on these kids’ faces when we spent time with them. The parents of these kids work very long hours and struggle to make enough money to even feed their own children, so it felt great to help…Just playing with the kids at the daycare center and seeing how happy they were to be with us made me realize that you can be happy no matter what life throws your way,” said Meklinsky.

The second community service part of the trip was in the Amazon jungle. For a week, the volunteers helped plant trees, build shelters and pick up litter with an indigenous tribe. Although this part of the trip entailed more manual labor than the part of the trip in the daycare center, Meklinsky said that he still enjoyed working with the tribe.

Meklinsky credits his Jewish upbringing for his desire to take part in a community service based trip.

“Through my Jewish upbringing, I learned about the overall idea of giving back and helping those who are less fortunate. Growing up, I have noticed that the Jewish community as a whole is always looking to give back and help others. On this trip, I look at it as us giving back and helping others as well,” said Meklinsky.

Not only did Meklinsky want to go on the trip because of the community service aspect, but he also wanted to see more of the world than just Cherry Hill.

“I wanted to experience a lifestyle and culture that is completely different than that of a teenage boy living in Cherry Hill. Working with underprivileged kids, living with an indigenous tribe, and touring the Galapagos Islands opened up my eyes to a different world,” said Meklinsky.

While the main focus of the trip was the community service aspect, the volunteers were also given the opportunity to experience Ecuador, the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands from a tourist’s point of view. The volunteers toured the sights in Ecuador, went white water rafting and caving in the Amazon and went swimming with sea lions and sea turtles in the Galapagos.

“It was the perfect combination of community service and the experience of a typical teen tour,” said Meklinsky.

The participants spent one week in the Galapagos Islands. Meklinsky said that he found this part of the trip most interesting because he could connect what he learned about Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution and the Galapagos Islands during high school to his time on the islands.

“Going to the Galapagos Islands is not something that most people can say they have done in their lifetime. Not to mention the years I spent studying Charles Darwin and his theory on evolution in high school and how it really began at the Galapagos Islands,” said Meklinsky. .

Return to top