Neighbors gathered with Kings Bay YM-YWHA members, local leaders and Holocaust survivors on Sunday to celebrate the contributions of boardmember Eugene Shkolnikov, and to honor him as he handed over $10,000 for an at-risk youth leadership program he helped create.
Shkolnikov scored the funds from the program from his employer, Northwestern Mutual, who awarded the money at Shkolnikov’s direction after he won the company’s community service award.
The program, which is kicking off its second year, is called Aharai, Hebrew for “Follow me.” It recruits at-risk tweens and teens to develop leadership skills and promotes community involvement, as well as education through interaction with Holocaust survivors. Shkolnikov created the program and funded its first year out of his own pocket, saying he was inspired by a trip he took through a Kings Bay Y program that brought him to Auschwitz.
“When I was in Auschwitz, I saw and I felt things that I thought I knew about, but I had no idea that it was real. It was a very different feeling when I was in Auschwitz,” Shkolnikov told Sheepshead Bites. “I have a 9-year-old daughter, and I know about Holocaust, but how can I tell her? So that’s why I thought it would be very important for the kids, a young generation, to have people who actually went through the Holocaust to educate them what the Holocaust was all about.”
Shkolnikov was one of 20 people out of thousands who work for Northwestern Mutual to receive the annual award.
In addition to Aharai, Shkolnikov’ has made previous donations to the Kings Bay Y, resulting in a library and mirrored dance studio.
Kings Bay Y Executive Directory Leonard Petlakh gave a public thank you during the Sunday ceremony.
“The lessons [of the Holocaust] are still being taught to our children and our grandchildren. We’re blessed to have a program like Aharai. Eugene’s probably one of the best known philanthropists in this community, someone who opens up his heart and his wallet for the community,” said Petlakh. “It is a great example for the entire community to follow.”
The intergenerational ceremony featured a concert by Holocaust survivors and a presentation of survivors’ testimonies by Aharai teens.