Chaya Bender and Jenine Shwekey, founders and directors of The Special Children’s Center in Lakewood, New Jersey, have been announced as the winners of the Dov Levy Prize. The prize honors individuals whose accomplishments best exemplify the values of the late Dov Levy.
Rabbi Dov Levy was the founder of the Seeach Sod Special Education Network in Israel, which provides educational, vocational and living facilities in Israel for individuals with disabilities, from infancy through old age.
Jerusalem Post readers and a panel of five judges chose Shwekey and Bender from a group of eight nominees for their efforts in establishing a state-of-the-art center that serves over 600 families with special needs children and adults from New York and New Jersey. The center provides around-the-clock respite services throughout the year. The center’s special education staff run therapeutic programs, and more than 300 young volunteers come to the center to give their time and help ease the burden.
Jerusalem Post Group CEO statement
The Jerusalem Post Group CEO Inbar Ashkenazi said, “We salute Ms. Bender and Ms. Shwekey as the winners of the Dov Levy Prize for their outstanding work in helping individuals with developmental disabilities maximize their growth and development, while providing needed support to their families. We congratulate all of the Dov Levy Prize nominees who have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities.”
Close friends, Bender and Shwekey began volunteering at a special needs facility after school, feeding the children and getting them ready for bed.
“We discovered that a special child can soar beyond challenges and beyond expectations with the help of a loving hand,” they said.
The other nominees for the prize were New Jersey Assemblyman Gary Schaer, who has fought for special education funding; Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder of RespectAbility, a disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities; Matan A. Koch, one of America’s leading Jewish inclusion experts and director of California and Jewish Leadership at RespectAbility; Dean Cohen, founder of Flying Fox, an Australian organization that provides social opportunities for people with disabilities; Gaby Gotesman and friends, one of five graduating seniors who volunteered in SINAI’s Inclusion by Design program; Stacey Lubofsky, founder of Giving Tree, an organization that engages children, both with and without disabilities, and promotes inclusivity; and Chaya Tesler, trustee for Misgav, a London-based organization that provides a haven for adult women with disabilities.
Riki Deutscher of Kew Gardens Hills, New York, was selected among Post contest voters as the winner of a free round-trip ticket to Israel.
“As a special education teacher by profession for over 20 years, there is no other cause closer to my heart than special education in our schools,” she said.