By: Fern Sidman
On Monday evening a very unique telethon event was hosted by The Special Children’s Center in Lakewood in honor of the inner song and joyful spirit of special children and their families. A live streaming and entertaining program was presented by internationally renowned singer Yaakov Shwekey, distinguished philanthropist Harry Adjmi and many more devoted supporters of The Special Children’s Center. Thousands of viewers of the Singing in the Rain extravaganza were inspired by their personal accounts and life’s lessons through these trying times and everyone felt the unity as they sang together.
The Singing in the Rain telethon began at 6:30 pm and is expected to last well beyond midnight. Thanks to the incredibly generous donations of hundreds of thousands of people, as of this writing (10:30 pm) the Special Children’s Center has raised over $2 million for their new building and for a litany of programs that the kids at the center take part in each and every day.
When a special child is born, the entire family is affected. The special child, parents, and siblings face enormous physical and emotional challenges. According to the Special Children’s Center web site, “The Special Children’s Center is there for them every step of their arduous journey Their needs are our needs, their pain is our pain. Their triumphs are our triumphs. And they know that we are their extended family- for life.”
The Special Children’s Center would not be in existence today if it were not for the tireless work of Jenine Shwekey and Chaya Bender, who as teenage girls in high school began working with special children and through their tireless efforts the Special Children’s Center has grown exponentially over the years.
Now, the Special Children’s Center is raising money for a new building on their campus to provide everything that any special child needs for their healthy development and growth.
The Singing in the Rain telethon was dedicated to the loving memory of philanthropist extraordinaire, Stanley Chera, of blessed memory who was the financial and emotional backbone of the Special Children’s Center. Mr. Chera passed away recently from the coronavirus and was special friends with President Trump who spoke of him in exceptionally glowing terms.
Over the many years of his personal involvement in the Special Children’s Center, Mr. Chera was on the frontlines in organizing countless fundraisers for the center as the work that they do meant a great deal to him. In his memory, Mr. Chera’s widow, Cookie Chera donated $36,000.
Mr. Chera’s granddaughter said that what inspired her was her grandfather’s ability to make such a tremendous impact in the world by constantly giving to others, to doing good deeds, to offering one’s self with enthusiasm. She spoke of her grandfather’s special devotion to the Special Children’s Center and asked others to be a part of this great center. She said that her grandfather said her grandfather promised to always help these children as he never wanted them to be forgotten.
Other people who have made the Special Children’s Center the focus of their time and resources are Harry Adjmi and Richie Dweck. Mr. Adjmi just recently recovered from the coronavirus.
Speaking about his experience with the Special Children’s Center was philanthropist Jeff Sutton, who spoke of how the center helped his daughter Frieda and how he had previously given $1 million to them.
Speaking to the Jewish Voice about his special connection with the Special Children’s Center was Rabbi Shlomo Farhi, the rabbinical leader of the Edmund Safra Synagogue in Manhattan. Rabbi Farhi said, Before he married Jenine, Yaakov Shwekey and I were chavrusas together in yeshiva. I can tell you that both Jenine and Chaya just jumped into this noble venture together and they did it with the highest degree of alacrity and total devotion. Jenine does not take a paycheck. She works harder than a a Fortune 500 executive. She and Chaya put so much into this.”
He added that, “The Kotzker Rebbe once said that one is obligated to do what is necessary. The Special Children’s Center is absolutely necessary and Jenine and Chaya knew this when they were much younger and I applaud them wholeheartedly. In life, one needs to have an unwavering and indomitable faith in Hashem to do the right thing. Just as Nachson ben Aminadav jumped into the Yam Suf and led the way for their people who had just left Egypt after hundreds of years of brutal slavery, we too must summon up that knid of faith and we need only look to Jenine and Chaya as our examples of faith, hard work and total dedication.”
Rabbi Farhi said that the Special Children’s is a ‘first class organization’ and that when they give to these children’s both Jenine and Chaya give in a first class manner. There is nothing too good for these kids and they want them to have everything they need and much more.
“When HaShem gives someone wealth and he sees that they are a vessel with one opening to receive and at the other end they give back generously then HaShem continues to reward them with even more bounty,” he said.
One of the programs that the Special Children’s Center provides is the Center House. Center House is a 24/7 loving home away from home for special children. When difficult circumstances at home arise, such as family illness or other extenuating needs, as well as the happy occasion of the birth of a new sibling, the stay can be extended for as long as the family needs. All children who stay at Center House are members of the Center House family, are treated with loving care, and are provided with personal needs such as haircuts, clothing, medication and other basic essentials. Families feel a great sense of security knowing that their loved one is being cared for by their extended family.
A warm and meaningful Shabbat program with home-cooked meals, singing and socialization together with their other Center friends, make it a fully joyful experience.
Families are better able to cope knowing that Center House is always there to provide a home for their special needs child, no matter when or whatever the reason.
Inclusion has shown important benefits not only for the disabled child but also for typically developing children. By participating in activities together, special children learn by modeling and, as a result, show greater gains in learning resulting in higher levels of social play, greater confidence and initiation in interactions and improvements in cognitive, motor and self-help skills.
Among the multitude of people who generously donated to the Special Children’s Center was Charles Kushner, the father of White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and friend of Stanley Chera, zt’l. Mr. Kushner donated $100,000 and an anonymous donor gave a matching grant of $500,000 to the center.
The palpable electricity that helped make the evening not only extremely lively but quite enjoyable was supplied by the in incomparable voice of Yaakov Shwekey and a panoply of other singers and entertainers. Singing songs of praise to Hashem, these singers inspired others to grasp the power of giving from the heart and doing the ratzon of the Ribono Shel Olam.