JScreen is a non-profit community-based public health initiative dedicated to preventing Jewish genetic diseases. Headquartered in Atlanta at Emory University School of Medicine, JScreen now has an office in the Schusterman International Center in Washington, DC.
From the time I arrived at George Washington University (GW) until I graduated, I was an active participant in a variety of Jewish organizations, including Hillel, Meor, and Chabad. I attended Shabbat services and meals, learning programs, and other events with these groups. During my four years at GW, I became close with staff members of these organizations, including Adena Kirstein and Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, Assistant Director and Executive Director of GW Hillel, respectively. I also took on leadership roles. I was vice president of Kedma, the Orthodox Jewish student organization through Hillel, for a year. I was also an informal leader, encouraging other students to come to programs and Shabbat dinners and leading Friday night services. As an upperclassman, I would often encourage and lead several students to attend Hillel for Shabbat dinner and following that, other Shabbat activities.
I first heard about genetic screenings through my brother, a student at the University of Pennsylvania where on-site student screenings were held. It was my junior year and I realized that there had been no educational events or screenings at GW for genetic diseases prevalent in the Jewish population. Considering that there are approximately 3,000 Jews at GW, I began to ask around and see what people knew about the genetic diseases they could pass on to their children or even have themselves. I found that many students not only had not been screened, but also had not heard of any of the genetic diseases.
I decided to attempt to educate and screen as much of the Jewish student population at the school as possible. After some preliminary ideas and brainstorming, I contacted JScreen, a non-profit genetic screening organization, at the suggestion of the Hillel staff. We made a plan, I set up a student team at GW, and we began working closely with local physicians, student organizations, the Hillel staff, and local community organizations to organize, fundraise for, and implement an educational dinner and genetic screening. We were ultimately successful in our endeavors, as we educated many students and screened over 50 individuals. I felt that I could make a real impact by spreading knowledge about these serious and even fatal diseases and informing students of how to prevent them in our children. I’m looking forward to seeing GW Hillel continue its partnership with JScreen in the future.
Jon Burke is from Minneapolis and recently graduated from George Washington University. He is currently volunteering with Magen David Adom and in the process of applying to medical school.