In the ballroom at the beautiful new Williamsburg Hotel, local elected officials, community leaders and longtime supporters gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Shema Kolainu - Hear Our Voices (SKHOV), a school and center for autism (ShemaKolainu.org). SKHOV has been providing exceptional care and services since its doors opened in 1998.
The annual legislative event was coordinated by The Friedlander Group (TheFriedlanderGroup.com) recognizing the achievements and progress made by Shema Kolainu who provides educational and therapeutic services to thousands of children & adults in the greater New York City area. This non-profit organization was founded by Dr. Joshua Weinstein, to address the growing need for programs that effectively fulfill the learning and emotional needs of individuals with autism. Dr. Joshua Weinstein thanked the audience and said "We have come a long way in becoming a model school and are honored to have so many wonderful years filled with growth, and for this we give gratitude to G-D."
He also announced that ICare4Autism is teaming up with Shema Kolainu to develop a high school apprenticeship program which will be rolled out at the upcoming conference in Washington D.C. on October 10th at the Congressional Auditorium. He stated: “going far beyond New York City to have this implemented in every single state, by every state education department, so that individuals with disabilities can be trained properly starting in ninth grade so they can have something in their hands by the time they graduate, a vocation or pre-college entrance.”
The legislative breakfast was once again emceed by Councilmember Kalman Yeger and Menachem Lubinsky who introduced Shema Kolainu’s founder and CEO as a revolutionary and retold one of Dr. Weinstein’s quotes: “we need to take autism out of the closet. We need to treat autism not as forgotten disease but as a calamity that we must deal with. We can change lives. We can change the lives of people. We can change the lives of families. We can change the lives of communities.” Former Governor of New York, David Patterson spoke eloquently of his long support for the organization and elaborated on the difference of autism as its perceived and as it really is. He gave a close to home reference as his own godson was diagnosed with autism at 2 years old and is currently a captain in the U.S. Navy.
After the elected officials joined together for a group photo, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James took the stage and made a warming address about the need to hear the unspoken voices of children with autism. She states that we have an obligation and duty to support this wonderful organization who has set the standard in special needs education. Councilman Yeger then welcomed the Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz who came bearing gifts of honor on behalf of the City of New York as a special thanks to Dr. Weinstein and Shema Kolainu for the great work they have done. She stated: “At the end of the day, the kindness that we show other families today and the children today are priceless for the future of our city and are priceless for the future of the community.”
Councilman Yeger presented a framed piece of artwork to Senator Michael Gianaris, made by a student at Shema Kolainu and called the gift a view of the minds of children who we are working so hard to help. Senator Ginaris stated that he is truly appreciative of the great services provided by SKHOV and that is something that he takes to heart as he has two nephews and one niece who are on the spectrum. The senator also went on to talk about how we have been playing catch up as a society on this issue. He explains that the children who are affected by autism are now becoming adults and that the services needed will be to transitioning into job training.
Peter Rebenwurzel, Vice President and Chairman of Shema Kolainu spoke kind words about the efforts of the school and praised Dr. Weinstein for his efforts. He then introduced Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who just recently visited Shema Kolainu this spring. Eric Adams recalled impressions from his visit and added: “we can’t be a city, a borough or a nation where we judge ourselves by brick and mortar. We must also judge ourselves by building people. And the most important body of people to build is the children with special needs. These are not their children, these are our children.”
Co-emcee Councilmember Kalman Yeger recognized participating elected officials including NYS Senator Simcha Felder, NYS Senator Marisol Alcantara, NYS Assembly member David Weprin, who was acknowledged along with his brother, Mark Weprin, both of whom were instrumental in funding the NYC Council Autism Initiative. Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez also addressed the crowd. Proclamations were presented by the office Mayor de Blasio, and NYC Comptroller Stringer.
Bronx Borough President Reuben Diaz Jr. took the stage and opened by saying that many people don’t know that Shema Kolainu has a location in the Bronx servicing over 500 children. He is a continued admirer and supporter of the services they do in his borough and wished SKHOV congratulations on their 20 year anniversary.
A gift of a student’s artwork was presented to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and she shared some warm regards about the artwork stating: “it represents the manifestation of love from our god to the actions of the people at Shema Kolainu.” The Lieutenant Governor gave thanks to SKHOV for giving the life living skills that they are training children so they can cope with life and what life throws their way.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Weinstein thanked the staff of Shema Kolainu, as he shared “Our children continue to amaze us every day, accomplishing more and inspiring us all. These “small miracles” as we call them, are major blessings. These achievements could not be possible without the dedication and support of our outstanding staff. We thank you for your continued support as we work together to stand behind our blessed children as they make new strides along their journey. We look forward to the next twenty years of making a difference in the lives of our children.”