Recognizing Councilmembers Brad Lander and Mark Levine, Saima Wazed Hossain - Chairperson of the Bangladesh National Advisory Committee for Autism, Jennie Berger - Community Liaison to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito
Gathered on a brisk, cloudy morning at the Princeton Club of New York, a distinguished crowd - including elected officials and foreign dignitaries - gathered to celebrate the achievements and the continuing growth of Shema Kolainu - Hear Our Voices, a school for children with autism. A stark contrast to the cloudy skies outside, the atmosphere inside the Alexander Hamilton Room was bright, enthusiastic, and sunny. The Masters of Ceremonies to the breakfast were Menachem Lubinsky and Kalman Yeger. The annual legislative event was coordinated by The Friedlander Group.
Shema-Kolainu-Hear Our Voices was founded in 1998 by Dr. Joshua Weinstein, who very strongly wanted to address the growing need in the New York area's education system for programs that effectively fulfill the learning and emotional needs of children with autism. Today, Shema Kolainu is a community-based educational and therapeutic network serves over 1,000 children.
Dr. Joshua Weinstein opened the breakfast with remarks of deep gratitude for the families and the communities that have committed to Shema Kolainu. He then proudly stated: "I want to take this opportunity to let you know that Shema-Kolainu next year will be 20 years old. It started with 3 kids, and we service over a thousand children." Beaming with pride, he continued, "Shema Kolainu has become a model school... We want to let legislators know that we appreciate and are grateful for their commitment."
Public Advocate Letitia James, the second highest ranking elected official in New York City, took the podium with much enthusiasm from the crowd. "Shema Kolainu, a school that works hard every single day to improve the lives of children with autism in New York, but more importantly an organization that at its heart only sees children, and recognizing at its core that God doesn't make mistakes, and we should celebrate all children," she poignantly remarked. "What you do for these children is absolutely wonderful... I thank you for all that you are doing. This is truly a mitzvah to this highest degree."
Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices proudly presented its City Leadership Award to New York City Councilmembers Brad Lander and Mark Levine for their unwavering leadership and advocacy ensuring that the New York City Council continues to allocate funding for the Autism Awareness Initiative. The Initiative was spearheaded by then Councilmember and now Assemblymember David Weprin and expended by former Councilmember Mark Weprin, who attended the breakfast. Councilmembers David Greenfield, Vincent Gentile, Senator Gustavo Rivera participated as well.
"Very few awards are as meaningful as this," Councilmember Brad Lander explained. "This organization is so grounded in not just helping kids, but also in seeing the divine spark and the humanity in all our kids."
After accepting his award, Councilmember Mark Levine stated: "I had the pleasure of visiting Shema Kolainu, and it was an experience that made an enormous impression on me... You have set an example for New York City. We are so proud your message is spreading. It is a source of real pride for me that it is out of the Jewish community that this organization has emerged, a reflection of the best of Jewish values."
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer took the stage next, "When you think that 1 in 68 kids will have autism, you see the need is so great, and yet the funding gets smaller. But you have really leveled the playing field," he said. "I come here every single year, I just wanted to say and thank you."
Stringer then introduced, Jennie Berger, who received the Hakaras Hatov Award.
Honoree, Jennie Berger, Community Liaison to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, explained: "It is so incredibly important that we lift up everyone's voices, and be advocates for those who need their voices to be heard."
Councilmember Brad Lander presented International Champion Award to Saima Wazed Hossain, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's daughter, who is Chairperson of the Bangladesh National Advisory Committee for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, and has recently been chosen as WHO's regional champion for autism in South Asia. The award was accepted by Bangladeshi Ambassador to the U.N., H.E. Masud Bin Momen. "Bangladesh looks forward to working with Shema Kolainu in the days to come."
Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices has become an invaluable and instrumental organization in the autism community of New York City, as they have tirelessly fought to raise awareness of autism and to provide quality education for every child. The enthusiasm, fervor, and commitment felt during the breakfast truly exemplifies the success and the vigor of Shema Kolainu.