A crowd of Or Ami supporters gathered at Dodgers Stadium to cheer as our own Dina C. Kaplan took to the field to receive the EP Maxwell J. Schleifer Distinguished Service Award for her work with people with special needs. I had the pleasure of nominating Dina a few months back, when congregant Brad Gore brought the award to my attention. Through Brad’s support, members of our Support Group for Parents of Children with Special Needs (and other supporters) were able to enjoy a complimentary Dodgers game. We all know that Dina is an amazing woman, a powerful advocate for people with special needs, and a cherished member of the Or Ami family. An inspiring parent, lawyer, and advocate, Dina shines the light of Or Ami so brightly in this world.
My nomination is below:
It is my pleasure to nominate Dina C. Kaplan for the EP Maxwell J. Schleifer Distinguished Service Award. Dina is by profession an attorney specializing in special education law, by avocation the creator of many life changing opportunities for children with disabilities throughout her community, and by love the parent of a child with special needs. She creates, motivates and inspires. Dina has improved the lives of tens of thousands of families and inspired countless others to seek equal access for people with disabilities. BACKGROUND In 1994, Dina C. Kaplan had a son who was born with multiple physical and developmental disabilities. Her son, Brandon, has inspired her to make a difference in the lives of children with special needs. She refocused her law practice to special education law and civil rights for children with disabilities. Currently, her practice consists of representing children with disabilities in Individualized Education Program meetings, Mediation, Resolution Sessions, Due Process Hearings and State Level Complaints. She also represents and advises families in matters concerning Regional Centers, California Children’s Services, Medi-Cal and private insurance. CREATING THE K.E.N. PROJECT (Kids with Exceptional Needs) Ms. Kaplan’s journey advocating for her son made her realize how difficult it is to access services for children with special needs. As a result, in 1996, Dina started a non-profit organization, The K.E.N. Project which is dedicated to providing information, support and advocacy training to parents of children with special needs and professionals who work with children with special needs. The K.E.N. Project provides three ongoing monthly support/advocacy groups for parents and professionals. It also does trainings for many organizations and groups, and provides speakers at conferences. FOUNDING THE LAS VIRGENES SPECIAL EDUCATION, PTA In October 2003, Dina, and several parents started a district-wide Special Education PTA in the Las Virgenes School District with the mission of facilitating parents, school and community working together to enhance the lives of children with special needs. Dina served as the President for three years. LVSEPTA provided parent education programs, fundraising for special projects, including a universally accessible playground, and awards for exceptional educators. BUILDING BRANDON’S VILLAGE, UNIVERSALLY ACCESSIBLE PLAYGROUND Dina spearheaded efforts to build the first universally accessible playground in the city of Calabasas, CA. This playground is over seventy percent accessible for children of all abilities. The City of Calabasas, The Friedman Charitable Foundation, The Las Virgenes Special Education PTA and the Talbert Family Foundation, combined their efforts to create this special place. Bruce Friedman, the founder of the Friedman Charitable Foundation, gave an unprecedented ONE MILLION DOLLAR gift to the City of Calabasas to build this playground. As a result, he was given naming rights and decided to name the playground after his nephew, Brandon Kaplan. The Friedman and Kaplan families received the 2006 Humanitarian Award from the City of Calabasas in honor of their achievement in bringing this wonderful playground to the city. On the first Saturday of every month, Dina works with the K.E.N. Project to coordinate play dates at the playground. They are called Brandon’s Buddies and they provide an opportunity for disabled children to play with their able-bodied peers and engage in arts and crafts projects, face painting, entertainment, snacks and goodie bags. DEVELOPING THE BRANDON KAPLAN SPECIAL NEEDS PROGRAM Following a warm welcome for their son Brandon at a synagogue they visited (Congregation Or Ami of Calabasas, CA), Dina and her family immediately became active members. Dina partnered with the synagogue creating a Support Group for Parents of Children with Special Needs, which she facilitates. The Support Group provides emotional support, advocacy strategies, and for those interested, spiritual guidance. Her son’s Bar Mitzvah ceremony ,once again reminded everyone that children with special needs can and should have access to all aspects of religious life. Brandon’s Bar Mitzvah inspired the Congregation to create the Brandon Kaplan Special Needs Fund. This Fund has launched a webpage explicitly inviting Jewish families with children with special needs into the heart of the synagogue, supported numerous families through the sometimes expensive process of becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah, trained religious educators to provide mainstreamed Jewish learning, and created a special caring community outreach for such families within the community. CONCLUSION Dina has touched the lives of tens of thousands of families with children with special needs throughout the Greater Los Angeles County. Because of her efforts, they have greater access to special needs advocacy and education support. Because of her enthusiasm, they have a universally accessible playground in the West San Fernando/Conejo Valleys. Because of her dedication, their children have fully included play dates once a month. Because of her inspiration, they have an open invitation to become more deeply involved in religious life. Through her many projects and organizations, Dina has demonstrated inspirational leadership in an effort to expand awareness about how people with disabilities can be productive citizens in our society. As such, I wholeheartedly encourage you to award Dina C. Kaplan with the EP Maxwell J. Schleifer Distinguished Service Award. Respectfully Submitted, Paul J. Kipnes, Rabbi