FloridaJewish Super Student

Jennifer Ruben

2011/5771 was a chaotic year for many local teens, with excessive academic and extracurricular demands. This year was also an extraordinarily demanding one for Longwood teen and high school Junior, Jennifer Ruben, still in the recovery process from a long term illness, while facing the same academic and collegiate challenges as her peers.

Two years ago, in September, just around the kickoff of High Holiday Season 2009, Jenny contracted the common teenage virus, mononucleosis, which ran an atypical course. Before long, this active teen and recent graduate of the Orlando Jewish Academy, where she had joined her eighth grade classmates on a Spring trip to Israel just months before, climbing Masada, and kayaking along the Jordan River, became wheelchair bound. This fall “New Hope” has entered Jenny’s life through the organization, appropriately named “New Hope for Kids”, along with their “Children’s Wish” Program.

Jenny is now a student of Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which allows her to complete her classes online, according to her own schedule. This academic flexibility accommodates Jenny’s monthly IV infusions at All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete, which help supply her with strength and stamina. Jenny often says that her illness does not define her, and this is evident in her academic record at FLVS, where she has fully caught up to her present grade, never receiving less than an “A”, and has recently become a member of the English Honor Society at the recommendation of her AP English teacher.

Assisting others has helped Jenny heal emotionally and physically along the way. 15 year old Jennifer spent the summer of 2010 as in inpatient at the Northwestern university Hospital Rehabilitation Institute (RIC), where she befriended another teen, Balei Chinski, also re-learning to walk after a long illness. Jenny and Balei bonded as two teens, who both ambulated with “walkers”, but beyond that, were typical 15 year-olds, giggling about movies, fashion, and friendship. Jenny left Northwestern with two gifts; she had graduated from a wheelchair to a walker, and had found kinship and self-confidence through her new friendship with Balei, who proudly adorned her walker with pink boa, giving it teen style and sass.

Sadly, in December and January of 2010, Balei became gravely ill. Jenny reached out to her friend and the Chinski family, who were in Chicago, 1200 miles away, by holding a fundraiser in Balei’s honor. Tragically, Balei passed away on January 18, 2011, two days before her own fundraising benefit. Jenny continued her fundraising efforts, which had now become a memorial service, held with the family’s blessing. Jennifer raised thousands of dollars to help cover end of life costs for her dear friend, and found comfort in sharing Baleis’s story with approximately 50 friends and neighbors in Orlando. Jenny also began to adorn her own “walker” with a pink boa in honor of Balei.

Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel covered the story, compassionately stating in her online blog on January 21, 2011, “At a time in her life when she (Jenny) might have been engulfed in her own problems and pain, she instead mustered the energy to help a friend. …Jenny Ruben is just a 15-year-old kid fighting to walk again. If you need an inspiration for compassion and generosity, it’s tough to find a better example.”