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A new Dental Sterilization Officer Training Program launched by Tel Aviv University’s Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine and the AKIM National Organization for People with Intellectual Disabilities and Their Families welcomed its first four students last month.

The goal of the year-long program is to make a meaningful, lasting impact on the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in Israel. It was established through generous support of Dr. Rada Sumareva, Vice President of AKIM USA and a member of TAU’s Board of Governors and American Friends of Tel Aviv University’s Board of Directors, and her son, Robert Ukrainsky, a 10th grader at Avenues: The World School in New York City. Robert is a founding member and chair of the Young Friends of Akim group. He was joined by his peers, and together they started a campaign to benefit people with intellectual disabilities in Israel through the “Give a Mitzvah, Do a Mitzvah” program of the UJA-Federation of New York during his bar mitzvah year.

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“AKIM is designed to enable people with intellectual disabilities to learn a trade that will later help them to find meaningful work,” says Shani Yeshurun, International Relations Director of AKIM Israel. “We have three hopes: (1) that the first four students — two men, two women — will graduate and be employed by the Dental School Clinic; (2) that the program will reinforce the students’ self-esteem and belonging; and (3) that the program will bring about a change in attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities, in accordance with AKIM’s mission of inclusion.

“The Dental Sterilization program is open to all adults aged 21 and older with minor intellectual disabilities, who graduated from the state’s special education system and who are motivated to specialize in the field of dentistry,” Yeshurun adds.

“As a dentist, I know how dedicated you have to be to aspire to work in the dental field,” said Dr. Sumareva. “My son and I were blown away by AKIM students when we were first introduced to the program. I’m thrilled that we’re able to bring them to Tel Aviv University to complete their education.”

Graduates of the program are trained to become sterilization technicians, who are responsible for performing decontamination, cleaning, assembling, packaging, sterilization, storage, and distribution of re-usable dental surgical instruments and equipment.

“AKIM gives TAU the unique ability to change attitudes in society,” says Gail Reiss, President and CEO of AFTAU. “This program and these students are wonderful examples of how an intense academic discipline can inspire other good works. It’s a wonderful story and a wonderful project.”

To be accepted into the program, the four candidates had to exhibit literacy, the ability to travel independently and social interaction skills, according to Dotan Segal, Employment and Leisure Programs Director of AKIM Israel, who applauded the students in a meeting held this week.

“It takes a lot of guts to change attitudes,” Dotan says. “This is a breakthrough in the medical field.”

“Although we are just starting out, and we are facing a lot of unknowns, it is my wish to see every sector of this school involved with this program, to fully integrate students and build a really unique inclusive team in a concrete way,” says Prof. Ervin Weiss, Dean of the Dental School.

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