By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
The Special Needs Partnership (SNP) at Jewish Family Service will honor Eileen Kreisler and Laura Seymour at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 2, at Congregation Shearith Israel. The SNP honors celebration will include a dessert reception with whiskey and Israeli wine tasting.
Kreisler, creator and leader of special needs programs in Dallas preschools, day schools and religious schools, and Seymour, who will soon lead her 40th summer as director of Camp and Youth Services at the Aaron Family JCC, began the forge for education, social, religious and other programs on behalf of those with special needs long before there were donors, letterhead and formality.
“Eileen and Laura have been at the forefront of supporting those living with special needs since few identified the challenges and they’ve advocated on behalf of the issues and individuals tirelessly,” said Michael Fleisher, CEO of Jewish Family Service. “It’s on the building blocks of their service and commitment that there’s much in place to broaden the sensitivity for us all.”
The efforts of Kreisler and Seymour led to much of the advocacy which begat the Special Needs Initiative, and now the Special Needs Partnership.
“The dreams of what these ladies knew we needed have blossomed and we now have a centralized entity to help all of the organizations in an effort of inclusivity,” said Fleisher, who first formed the Special Needs Initiative with Judy Kogutt, Jaynie Schultz and Louis Zweig. “JFS’ special needs resource team provides our inclusion experience, bringing organizations together, creating a synergy on behalf of programming and education, providing education, awareness, and services on individual and group levels.”
The SNP team operates under the board of directors of JFS and includes school mental-health counselors, school and family liaisons, diagnosticians, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, play therapists, consulting psychiatrists, counselors and case managers.
Collaborating organizations of the SNP include Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, Adat Chaverim, Center for Jewish Education, Community Homes for Adults, Inc. (CHAI), Congregation Anshai Torah, Congregation Beth Torah, Congregation Shaare Tefilla, Congregation Shearith Israel, Congregation Tiferet Israel, Temple Emanu-El, Temple Shalom, Akiba Academy, Ann and Nate Levine Academy, Torah Day School of Dallas, Yachad and Yavneh Academy of Dallas. Major funding partners include Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, Fruhman Foundation, Gladys Golman/Faye Dallen Education Fund of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Women International and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.
The Golman/Dallen fund has, since founding, been led by Robin and Louis Zweig and helped by many others. The fund is a recipient of support of the Annual Back-to-School Bash with mini-golfing and bowling events and has shared $600,000 throughout the community.
“The SNP Honors, co-chaired by Barbi Cohen and Amy Harberg and Honorary Chairs Martin and Susan Golman and Stan and Barbara Levenson, is our new annual event. We’ll honor community stakeholders as we’d be hard-pressed to find any organization that hasn’t been touched by the Special Needs Partnership,” said Zweig, SNP chair.
Kreisler, the daughter of Bob, of blessed memory, and Dallasite Dorothy Rogoff, and sister of Eve Hoffman, was born in New York but moved to Dallas as a young teen. She has fond memories of participating in Ginny Schepps BBYO and her years at Hillcrest High School. She received a degree in special education with a focus in dyslexia at UTD and her M.Ed. at Texas Woman’s University in special education. She’s also academic language therapy certified.
“Providing programs and services is a huge part of who I am. I appreciate the honor but what’s important is the expansion of our work over the years and the honor is that,” said Kreisler.
Kreisler and husband Aaron are the parents of Stephen (Eva), Amy (Joe) Harberg, Barbi (Scott) Cohen, and Hilary (Josh) Stern and they are the grandparents of 12: Isaac and Leah Kreisler, Max, Samantha and Jeffrey Harberg, Kacey, Ella and Olivia Cohen and Noah, Aidan, Benjamin and Sarah Stern.
The Rogoff-Kreisler family tree has been at Congregation Shearith Israel since 1954. It’s where Eileen was confirmed and married; she served on the board; the Kreisler children hosted their own b’nai mitzvah; the daughters were married; and many of the next generation have celebrated their b’nai mitzvah.
“Our entire lives we’ve watched our parents model how to be involved in our community as they humbly contribute time and money,” said Hilary Kreisler Stern, outgoing SNP chair. “Our mother’s passion for education and devotion to inclusion and ensuring that all children, regardless of their needs, can learn and be connected to the Jewish community is an inspiration.”
Recently “retired,” but still consulting, from 22 years at Temple Emanu-El, where the Kreislers are associate members, she’s also worked at Highland Academy and the Winston School.
Kreisler has long been a student herself — involved in a Torah study group, a book club and investment club member — and for 20-plus years she’s participated in the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning. She’s been active with the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and National Council of Jewish Women, and she was president of the Chai B’nai B’rith Women.
As a California native, Seymour’s love for summer camp is likely inherent as she met her own husband Jeff when they were 12-year-old campers. They have three children: Rachel (Andy), Peter (Liz), and Ted, and grandchildren Sarah and Leo Korczynski and Naomi and Eve Seymour.
“I believe and live the Jewish value of b’tzelem Elokim — that we’re all created in God’s image; everyone I touch, and me too,” Seymour said.
A graduate of California State University Northridge, Seymour and her husband lived in North Carolina before making Dallas their home in 1976. Seymour met then-Director Bob Weiss when bringing her daughter to the J’s preschool, and he mentioned he was looking for a camp director.
“Here I am,” she said, and she’s held the post ever since.
“So much can happen in a summer in terms of life skills, social interaction and the learning of problem-solving and how to get along. Now those tools are called ‘21st-century skills’ but we’ve been using them all along,” said Seymour, a longtime member of Congregation Tiferet Israel.
It’s her work at the JCC that Seymour says she represents — programs like those within camp, shadows for those in need, Habima Theatre productions, and the incorporation of those living with special needs into the J’s sports, senior and other areas that “should be a given,” she says. “It’s between 20 and 30 different needs that we identify among those whose needs require our concern and attention. This isn’t a ‘Laura Seymour’ honor, but I’m the ‘face’ of many in the trenches who touch our guests every day. We’ve always stood behind them and always will.”
“Ours is a community that supports and lifts one another up,” says Zweig. “These women are highly deserving of our gratitude for making Dallas a more inclusive city and for their efforts that impact so many.”
To learn more about the Special Needs Partnership or RSVP for the March 2 event, call 972-437-9950 or visit jfssnphonors.org.