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Photography by David Michael Howarth 

Shot on location at Paws Discovery Farm in Mount Laurel 

 

Some South Jersey kids just amaze us with all they can accomplish before they even graduate high school. We took some of these awesome achievers to Paws Discovery Farm for some down-home fun on the farm. After all, they may have incredible success stories (already), but we know they still want to have fun!

Eric Schubert, 17
Medford

Eric Schubert’s friends joke he’s the “world’s oldest teenager,” and after a conversation with the teen genealogist, it’s easy to see why. When the Shawnee High School senior isn’t juggling his class work, applying to colleges or volunteering, he’s helping people connect the dots in their family trees, often helping adoptees find their long-lost families.

“My parents say I can talk to people triple my age better than my own age,” jokes Schubert, whose dive into genealogy started years ago with his own family tree, until he realized he had a knack for it and could help others.

“Right around when I decided I could make something out of it, I learned my grandmother was adopted,” says Schubert, who spent over a year researching his grandmother’s biological parents – one of his longest cases to date – before cracking it with DNA. “That’s when I realized I could help those who’ve been adopted, and it snowballed from there.”

Since launching ES Genealogy, Schubert has taken on about a thousand cases, and he’s had his share of odd ones. He’s had to break the news to sometimes angry clients they weren’t related to a famous person after all, and some cases have had happy endings. Others, he says, have been absolutely heart-wrenching.

“I had to tell a woman I was working on an adoption case for that her biological father killed her biological mother, then shot himself,” he says. “I have to sometimes tell people that their birth parents don’t want to be contacted.” But when they end well, they’re the most rewarding.

“I’m always happy for everyone,” he says. “Sometimes it does  hit me that I just helped three dozen people connect with their family members. It’s very humbling for me. People I’ve helped will check in with me saying, ‘Oh, I went to the Phillies game with my brother,’ or ‘I went to the Art Museum with my mom,’ – it’s just fun for me to know I’m helping people like that.”


Sianni Wynn, 10
Camden

When 10-year-old Sianni Wynn isn’t shattering national records (seriously), she’s dreaming up her bid for the three Olympics in a row she’ll run or the kind of Nike shoe they’ll name after her (neon yellow and lime green, to be specific). Yes, she’s really that ambitious – and she’s earned it.

In late July, Wynn swept all three of her races during the National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships and completed the 400-meter dash in 58.7 seconds – effectively breaking the national age group record of 59.8 seconds. The last time the record was broken was in 1994 by U.S. gold-medalist Monique Henderson.

Wynn’s shattered record almost didn’t happen, when a sidelining foot injury this spring caused her to miss almost five weeks of the season. She pushed forward and almost broke the 200-meter dash record, missing it by 0.1 seconds. Since then, the Willis/Camden PAL Track runner has been featured in national media outlets, including “Good Morning America.” So it might be surprising to know she didn’t always love running.

“We ran these 20-minute runs, and I didn’t like it. But my brother also ran track, and we went to this indoor track meet and I saw him run. It looked so fun,” says Wynn. Now? She’s laser-focused: “Sometimes, I start running, and I can’t even see until I get to the last 150.”

Despite being a serious competitor, Wynn is the kind of kid, her dad Eric says, who is always talking to people at track meets or the kids she’s racing against and congratulating them whether she wins or loses. Ask her the secret to being a good athlete, and she says without pause: “Being a good person.”


Aaralyn Anderson, 9
Clayton

At 9 years old, Aaralyn Anderson’s resume was already impressive: She’s starred in commercials since she was 2, appeared on “The Good Wife” and “Access Hollywood.” Now she can add Netflix star to the list.

The young actress recently starred in the new Netflix limited series “Maniac,” alongside famed actors Jonah Hill and Emma Stone.

“It’s really exciting,” says Anderson. But during auditions, she wasn’t exactly sure what role (or even show) she was auditioning for and was invited back for a director’s session and chemistry read. It wasn’t until she was booked and her mom was signing papers that director Cary Fukunaga introduced her to Hill and Stone. At the table reading it finally sunk in: She was a part of the principal cast.

“What we didn’t understand was she booked multiple roles that day,” says mom Heather.

“The role originally was one line, one scene. Then when the director and writer all met Aaralyn at the call back, they decided they were going to expand her character. The character went from one line, one scene to multiple lines, multiple scenes,” something the casting director, her agent and manager said doesn’t normally happen. But that’s all in a day’s work for the third-grader who is quick to gush about working with Hill and Stone (who she now looks up to) and how their shared love of improv led to some funny moments on set.

“Cary had me memorize 50 jokes in about two minutes,” she says. “The hard part was, Cary said ‘Ok in this scene, don’t smile at all. Even if the joke is really funny.’ And I’m the one saying the jokes, so it’s hard not to smile. Then when we would go into this one take, the baby actually started crying and Jonah improvised with it, like ‘Oh come on! Now you made the baby cry because the jokes were so terrible.’ And then as soon as Cary yelled ‘Cut!’ we all started laughing.’”

When it comes to getting ready for a role, the young actress is seldom nervous (but she does bring her stuffed bear, Teddy, with her to all her auditions and even to the premiere of “Maniac”) and she takes getting into roles seriously and loves a “good, hard, challenging script.”

“I just read the script and read the character description,” Anderson says. “I close my eyes, and I open them, and I’m in the scene. That’s how I get into it. I just pretend I’m the character, and this is my normal life.”


Kaela Segal, 17 & Sophie Levine, 17
Cherry Hill

You may be accustomed to seeing teens glued to their phones, but when Kaela Segal and Sophie Levine are, they’re probably helping local seniors learn how to use their device.

“We’re a great team together,” says Segal, who has been friends with Levine since kindergarten. “When we put our minds together, we can really accomplish anything.”

About two years ago, Levine and Segal came across a program called “Wire the Wise,” which helps seniors learn how to use technology. The 17-year-olds, who are both active in their South Jersey B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and were both selected for the youth leadership program J-Lead, decided to start their own program called L’Dor V’Tech, which comes from the Hebrew phrase, “L’Dor V’Dor” which means “from generation to generation.”

“Our generation has grown up with a phone in their hand, so it’s second nature to us,” says Levine. “But to them, it’s a whole new world.”

Through their program, the teens invite seniors to bring their phones to the Katz JCC, where Levine and Segal will teach them how to use the phones or other tech devices. Sometimes that means just learning how to make a phone call or even Facetiming with grandkids.

“We think a lot of senior citizens aren’t able to stay in touch with their grandchildren or children because they don’t really know how to use a smartphone,” says Segal. “By them learning this, they can stay in contact and more in the loop with everything going on in their community.”

For many of the seniors, Levine says, being able to Facetime with their grandchildren makes their day.

“They love to see them, and it makes the grandparents happy and the grandchildren happy – you can’t help but to smile,” says Levine. “They’re obviously very thankful and really appreciate that this program came about.”


Trebor Melendez 6

Vineland

Since he was 10 months old, Trebor Melendez has had a set of golf clubs in his hands. And if the last few months are any indication of what’s ahead: It’d be no surprise if the budding golfer is the next Tiger Woods.

This summer, the first-grader won not one, but two national golf titles. The first was in the 6 and Under category of the IMG Academy Junior World Golf Championship. Competing against kids from around the world, Trebor came out of the 54-hole tournament with a score of +8.  His second win was at the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships in North Carolina during a three day, nine-holes-per-day, par 36 tournament – just a few weeks after turning 6.

“That was a nail-biter,” laughs his dad Robert, who also doubles as Trebor’s golf caddy. Robert, whose love for the game was passed down to his son, says he knew Trebor would be good early on and that he had excellent hand-eye coordination – even for a baby who just learned to walk.

“My son, he’s 20 years old on the golf course, but he’s 6 everywhere else,” he says. And it’s true – Trebor is like any 6-year-old, quick to tell you he loves to play with his toys and celebrated his big win (and birthday) with a bouncy house and water slide. But the young golfer, who’s been competing since he was 4, says he loves to compete and looks up to the likes of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott. He says he practices “a lot” in his basement or on local greens around South Jersey – and has ambitions to work on his swing and putting. And hit more tournaments.

“There are so many things I like to do. I like to do my short game and putting and my swing and my drive. Those are all my favorites,” he says. “I love to compete. I like to compete with good players. I’ve competed with kids from all over the world – like Brazil and the United States and Australia.”

December 2018
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