At age 12, most kids have plenty to worry about with social pressures, schoolwork and extracurricular activities. For Sheva Gralnik, age 12 also marked the time that her life changed forever.
“I had a malformation in my brain,” she said. After enduring bouts of dizziness, tremors and vertigo for eight months, Gralnik underwent brain surgery, missing three months of school for the procedure and subsequent recovery. Just when she thought things were back to normal, she was hit with mononucleosis.
“Because of my surgery, it took twice as long to recover,” she said. Her parents decided to take her out of Ohr Haemet Institute for Girls and home-school her.
For many kids, this change might have meant the beginning of isolation. But Gralnik saw only opportunity.
Being home-schooled, she said, “freed up a lot of my time.” With that time, she gave back all she could. Gralnik, who plans to become a child life specialist, which she describes as “basically a psychiatrist in a hospital,” began volunteering in the pediatric department at Valley Presbyterian Hospital several hours a week.
“My whole goal,” she said, “was to work with kids who are also sick and help out in any way I could.”
At first, working with sick kids was emotionally challenging. But as time went on, Gralnik saw the difference she had made in the children’s lives — the spark that lit up when she took them to the playroom or spent one-on-one time with them.
At the same time, Gralnik also became heavily involved with NCSY, an Orthodox youth group, serving first as a board member, then secretary, vice president and president of the Valley chapter.
“They take it to a real spiritual level,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot more connected, developed more understanding.”
As she prepares to head to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., she said, “My parents are concerned — to be expected with them,” she said, enthusiasm brimming in her voice, even as she talks about keeping her Jewish identity intact in a place so spiritually far from Los Angeles.
“I have the confidence to know that I can go there and be very involved,” she said, “and even create more [Jewish life] if I can.”