Jenna Shulman is a woman on a mission — to get as many young people in the region as she can into college without huge financial burdens of high-interest student loans hanging over their heads. Her work at the Jewish Educational Loan Fund is doing just that — guaranteeing that the next generation of leaders isn’t saddled with lifelong debt. And as this business leader and mother of two helps college students, she’s also helping Atlanta singles find their lobster (think Ross and Rachel) with her matchmaking service, juLuv. We recently sat down with Jenna and got to know our newest StyleBlueprint FACE a lot better.
You are the CEO of the JELF, which provides interest-free loans to Jewish college students in five southeastern states. What’s the biggest obstacle facing today’s young people as they head off for their postsecondary education?
College is so expensive compared to what it used to cost, which puts a lot more pressure on students to figure out their career paths at a much earlier stage. Just since 1997, when I began college at the University of Florida, costs have increased by 30 percent. When I started school, the number of students with undeclared majors was extremely high, which is no longer practical in today’s world. Students beginning college need to be more focused than ever so that they not only get the best education possible, but they graduate from college as soon as possible in order to stop borrowing money and start earning it.
What piece of financial advice would you share with students looking to further their education?
Organizations that provide “free” loans, such as JELF, exist throughout the country. While JELF is dedicated only to helping Jewish students with their loans, Googling things like “interest-free loan” can help uncover many financial tools that students did not even know existed. On the JELF website, we list a variety of aid options throughout our five-state region.
You are from Miami and came to Atlanta to study at Emory Law School. What were your first impressions of Atlanta? How have they changed and/or remained the same?
Though not so far apart geographically, Atlanta and Miami are truly different places. The first thing I noticed about being in Atlanta was how much slower-paced life here felt, and how much friendlier people are as a whole. While there are the obvious “big city” similarities (traffic, crime, etc.), Atlanta has a charm and appeal to it that simply does not exist in South Florida. In Atlanta, I’ve made friends in line at Publix, and I just don’t think that same kind of thing happens in Miami. While Atlanta has definitely grown a lot over the past 15 years, that same charm that I remember feeling when I first arrived is the one thing that has not changed about this city. I also have to add that it is really great experiencing all four seasons instead of just one.
What’s your favorite Atlanta restaurant? What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in this city?
It is so difficult to choose one, so I’ve settled on two favorites — Cafe Sunflower, which is an awesome vegetarian restaurant with locations in both Buckhead and Sandy Springs, and Circle Sushi, which is easily the best sushi I’ve ever had in Atlanta, located off Northridge Road in Sandy Springs.
Where’s your favorite place in Atlanta to clear your mind? Best spot to people watch?
This might sound a little strange because it’s not exactly serene, but my personal favorite place in Atlanta to clear my mind is Lenox Square Mall, and nothing beats the people watching there! Just a few weeks ago, I got to see a host of random strangers line dancing to rap music in Macy’s, and it was truly a sight.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
People would be surprised to know that I married a fishing captain who had been living in Islamorada (in the Florida Keys) for many years at the time. Today, he is a successful businessman at AT&T, here in Atlanta.
You helped create juLuv, a personal matchmaking service available to singles in the Atlanta area. How did you get in the matchmaking business? What’s the No. 1 mistake you see singles make when trying to find their perfect mate?
I have always known a lot of people, and that’s helped me figure out interesting connections to make. Before I started juLuv, I had already made several successful matches. A few years ago, my friend Beth and I realized how alike we were in our desire to fix people up and started working on simply pairing up friends of ours. Eventually, this grew into its own little business, called juLuv, which today has a database of 500+ individuals of all age ranges who sign up for the opportunity to be matched. The number one mistake that singles make when trying to find their perfect match is being too picky about what they think they want/need. As people get older, their living habits become more set, and it is even harder to try dating someone outside your comfort zone.
If you had to choose a celebrity relationship guru as your spirit animal, who would it be and why? Patti Stanger, Dr. Ruth, radio personality Delilah or fill in the blank …
Hmmm … I’m going to opt for a combination of Joy Behar and Steve Harvey, whose sarcastic but truthful styles I admire. They both really tell it like it is, but neither is quite as offensive as Patti Stanger, which is not my personal style.
How does juLuv differ from other dating services?
We do the matching for you — there is no website for daters to comb through profiles. We also set up the first date for a couple, taking a huge logistics burden off their plate. While we do often match people who have similarities, we have also made some very unlikely matches, which people are more hesitant to do during their own selection process.
Speaking of dating, where’s the best date spot in Atlanta? Can you design the perfect first date here?
There are so many great date spots in Atlanta, but one of my favorites is something a little off the beaten path, like the Stone Mountain laser light show. One thing I’ve learned about first dates is that people have big differences about their comfort levels: some people prefer to just meet for coffee or a drink, others are more comfortable with dinner and some people like a planned activity. Because I have run into issues with people’s styles being so different, I almost always choose to set up a new couple for a very casual dinner (the two restaurants I named as my faves above — Cafe Sunflower and Circle Sushi — are both perfect examples) at a restaurant where you can both hear yourself talk and park with relative ease. No one wants to stress about parking on a first date!
Biggest date faux pas: Bad breath or body odor?
Can’t we just agree that they are both pretty bad?
Where do you take your kids in Atlanta to burn off some energy?
My kids are still both very young (3.5 years and 6 months old), so when the weather is nice, parks are our best friend. Some of our favorite parks are Mason Mill (Toco Hills area), Orme Park (Morningside) and Little Nancy Creek Park (off Peachtree Dunwoody). For indoor fun, we’ve found that Tiny Towne in Norcross is a lot of fun and a very underutilized spot to go on a weekend with kids of all ages.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Follow my career “gut.” Since I had moved to Atlanta to study law (and graduated with my J.D.), it was a difficult decision to pursue a different field early on in my career — and there were many people I met who literally told me I was crazy for deviating from the path that I had studied. I knew deep down that I was going to be much happier doing something different, and, at first, it was difficult to be confident in that. Ultimately, though, following my instincts has led me to find a perfect match for my skills and have the inspiring career that I am proud of today.
Please describe your perfect day.
A perfect day involves a balance of family time, work time and me time, which could mean either being alone or socializing. It may sound cliché, but when I have time to really fit in everything, I am at my happiest.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding family, friends and faith?
Three things I can’t live without — dessert, sushi and the Internet.
Thank you Jenna for sharing more about your life in Atlanta and how you’re working to help the lives of many in our city. We loved meeting you and hope one day you get your own matchmaking song!
And as always, our deep appreciation to Cat Max Photography for today’s great photos.