Tag Archives: Jake Sussman

Jake Sussman Fights For “The Forgotten Child”

Imagine yourself as the child that always smiled
You were wild, you were beguiled —
Until the day you were profiled.
This is the story of the forgotten child.

Jake Sussman delivers those words clearly, directly and powerfully. Like many guys in their early 20s, he’s got scruff and exudes confidence.

But he is “The Forgotten Child.”

Now, he’s making sure that educators around the world do not forget any other Jake Sussmans out there.

There are many.

Growing up in Westport — and diagnosed with a learning difference — Jake had a “great experience” at Coleytown Elementary School.

Middle school was different, though.

“It wasn’t working for me,” Jake says. He transferred to The Southport School, then the Forman School in Litchfield for high school. After graduating in 2014, he headed to Roger Williams University.

It was the only college he applied to with no academic support system.

Jake Sussman

“That was fine,” Jake says. “In life, there’s no special corner for employees with learning differences.”

He directed his energy and charisma toward creating a Hillel on the Rhode Island campus. By the time he left for his senior year at the University of Hartford — for its program in communications and business — there were 30 attendees at Shabbat dinners.

As a junior, he took part in a campus poetry slam. “The Forgotten Child” was all about overcoming adversity, and being true to oneself.

Negative labels are destructive
Counter-productive and obstructive
This forgotten child refused to acknowledge
“You will never go to college.”

Speaking those words out loud, Jake felt empowered. He told his story — but he was not alone.

“Everyone learns differently,” he notes. “I may be 3 grades behind in reading, but I’m the best artist in the class. Teachers have to be able to tap into that.”

He realized his poem spoke for “anyone not seen or heard.” Learning differences, sexualities, physical disabilities — whatever adversity students have to overcome, Jake included them. They too are “forgotten children.”

At boarding school, Jake had met Harvey Hubbell V. The Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker — who himself was diagnosed with dyslexia in the 1960s, and in 2013 produced “Dislecksia: The Movie” — was intrigued by Jake’s passion. And his poetry.

Beginning last May, they collaborated on a video. Last Thursday — in the middle of Dyslexia Awareness Month — they launched “The Forgotten Child” on Facebook. In it, Jake implores:

Don’t ever give up your shot
Our minds are all we’ve got!

Within 2 days, it had 25,000 views worldwide. And dozens of very favorable comments.

He hopes it reaches the right audiences: people with learning differences, and those who work with them.

“I’m not a teacher, a psychologist, a researcher or a parent,” he says. “I am a student. I represent all those who are not seen or heard, just for the way they learn.”

“The Forgotten Child” is just one of the ways Jake is speaking out about his own educational life, and those of so many others.

On Monday night, he was at a Decoding Dyslexia meeting in Salt Lake City.

I’m not sure whether he presented a talk or a poem.

Either way, I have no fear.

His message was heard loud and clear.

(For more information, email bookings@jakesussmanlive.com)

Jacob Sussman, filming his video.


Digging An ALS Challenge

You’ve probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: the video craze in which someone pours (or has poured) ice water over his or her head, and challenges others do the same within 24 hours. If not, they make a donation to fight ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Plenty of folks are doing it creatively, wetly and freezingly. The videos are clever and funny.

But you’d have to go a long way to top this, from Westporter Jake Sussman:

Jake dedicated his video — created with the help of Peter Greenberg, of Able Construction — to a contractor who died of ALS. Jake also donated $100 to the ALS Foundation.

He hopes his video goes viral. Feel free to pass it along — and take the Ice Bucket Challenge yourself, too!

Training Jake Sussman

At 18 months, Jake Sussman loved train videos. In the years to come he read Thomas the Tank Engine, saw historic steam locomotives at the Smithsonian, and dreamed of building a Lionel set.

Soon after his family moved to Westport in 2007, their basement flooded. His parents — David and Lauren — built a small table for model railroads, then told him to do the rest.

He certainly did.

She'll be comin' 'round the mountain, on Jake Sussman's model train layout.

She’ll be comin’ ’round the mountain, on Jake Sussman’s model train layout.

“This is my world,” Jake — now 17, and a junior at Forman School in Litchfield — says as walks downstairs. He shows off the astonishing HO model railroad layout he has built — track by track, train by train, tiny tree by tiny tree — over the past 5 years.

“When I got the table, my mind went crazy,” he explains. “I drew up plans. I got a subscription to Model Railroader. And I just started building.”

Jake Sussman stands amid a small part of his layout. Compare this photo with the one above, for a sense of the amazing scale Jake created.

Jake Sussman stands amid a small part of his layout. Compare this photo with the one above, for a sense of the amazing scale he created.

For his bar mitzvah, his parents gave him 6 sessions with Marc Rosenblum. The owner of HobbyTown USA in Fairfield was eager to share his passion with a rare teenager who seemed interested.

“I was 13. I had no idea what I was doing,” Jake admits. “Marc gave me tips on electrical work. Now I’ve got hundreds of feet of wire. He told me how to weather the cars and buildings, to make them look old. He taught me how to get the tracks aligned, the tunnels right, and make all the details correct.”

To say Jake’s 14 foot-by-11 foot layout (with a 4×5 extension) is “detailed” is like saying Martha Stewart thinks “homes should look nice.”

Jake has created all these little men, working on the railroad.

Jake’s little men, working on the railroad.

Using plaster, crumpled newspapers, paint, powder, some purchases as HobbyTown and a spectacular amount of ingenuity, Jake has crafted hills, towns, a coal mine, ruts where cars have ridden on dirt roads, smoke coming out of chimneys — an entire world that he controls with a few flicks of a switch.

“I love the feeling of watching trains disappear into the mountains, and then reappear,” he says. “When I come down here, I get lost for hours.”

He does far more than watch his trains rumble, of course. He’s always tinkering — adding a tiny figure lounging against a car here, realigning tracks to prevent derailments there. “I’m constantly looking for ways to make everything flow better,” he says.

Here comes one of Jake's trains -- right on time.

Here comes one of Jake’s trains — right on time.

It’s a work in progress, with 2 goals in mind. Jake wants to be the youngest person profiled in Model Railroader.

And he wants to inspire other teenagers to get into model railroading.

Why don’t more people his age do it?

“It takes a lot of time and patience,” he says. “And kids don’t want to be judged by doing something different. But I love this. I love the endorphin rush, the sense of accomplishment, and calling it my own.”

Jake Sussman, at the controls.

Jake Sussman, at the controls.

“Most kids today — adults too — want instant gratification,” Marc of HobbyTown says. “Building a train layout is a long-term thing.”

But the skills Jake needs — architecture, electrical engineering, woodworking, painting, problem-solving — last a lifetime.

This is not Jake’s only hobby. He’s captain of Forman’s cross country team, and does triathlons. Clearly, though, model railroading holds a special place in his heart.

And — besides a bit of help from Marc — Jake has done this all on his own.

“I’ve done nothing,” his father says. “It’s his venture — his working, his learning, his making mistakes and fixing them. We just support it.

“There are 2 things I want my children to have: passion and resilience. This” — his hands sweep across Jake’s painstakingly created, compellingly creative landscape — “shows he has both.”

All aboard!

Jake designed and built this intricate coal mine.

Jake imagined and built this intricate coal mine.

One more tiny -- and fascinating -- detail from Jake's layout. He even weathered the truck, to make it look old.

One more tiny — and fascinating — detail from Jake’s layout. He even weathered the truck, to make it look old.