Shalva founder Kalman Samuels, left, and Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, centre, help youngsters cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new Shalva National Children’s Centre. (photo from IMP)
Dozens of smiling preschool and kindergarten youngsters recently filed into a revolutionary new inclusion class, which integrates both special needs and other children in the same classroom environment. The opening of the inclusion class was attended by Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, who has championed the needs of special education since he took office nearly eight years ago.
Housed in the new $55 million dollar Shalva National Children’s Centre – built on seven acres near Shaare Zedek Hospital – this class is part of the wider umbrella of services for the special needs community in Jerusalem. The new state-of-the-art National Children’s Centre provides services to the Israeli community, as well as serving as a research facility focusing on special needs.
Shalva has been the leading Israeli institution providing programs to children with special needs since it was founded by Canadian immigrant Kalman Samuels, along with his wife Malki, in 1990. The land on which the campus was built was donated by the municipality.
Barkat praised the Samuelses for their selfless dedication to the community.
“Shalva was a jewel when it originally opened in Har Nof. Now, it’s a bigger and more expensive jewel, but it’s worth every shekel and every dollar invested in this place,” said Barkat.
“It’s overwhelming. After 10 years getting the land, working to get all the permits, all the challenges we faced, the battles we had to fight to build this centre, the people that tried to stop us. It’s a complete miracle,” said Kalman Samuels, with tears welling up in his eyes, as the children and their parents filed into the building.
Sara Chana Wolff, the mother of Avraham, a 5-year-old child with special needs who will be participating in the educational program, was effusive.
“I just feel endless gratitude towards Shalva,” she said. “When they see that there is something else they can do to help the kids, they turn the world upside down to make it happen. It’s very humbling and inspiring when I look at what Shalva and the Samuels family has done for the community.”
Gal Katzir, whose 3.5-year-old son Sahar will be attending kindergarten classes at Shalva and helped cut the ribbon with Barkat, remarked, “We are so happy with our choice. We thought this would be a special opportunity for Sahar to get to know kids that are different from him. Also, they have so many resources that aren’t in any other kindergarten that we know Sahar will benefit from. Sahar was just great on his first day, he didn’t cry or anything, he just said, ‘Bye-bye, Mommy.’ I was the emotional one!”