Courtesy of Lorn Spolter Photography
LifeTown, a facility designed to help students with special needs develop transitional skills, this week held its annual LifeTown Legends Luncheon honoring Jeffrey and Ariella Schottenstein and featuring keynote speaker Michael Phelps.
The LifeTown Legends Luncheon honors exceptional individuals who have empowered vulnerable and marginalized children with special needs and at-risk teenagers.
A crowd of 1,000 people gathered for the luncheon in Columbus, Ohio, to honor the Schottensteins along with Robert Woodward for their contributions to LifeTown’s growth and impact.
The 53,000 square-foot simulated indoor city in Livingston, N.J., was developed by special education professionals, to help students with special needs learn transitional life skills, along with providing opportunities for recreation and therapeutic play in a fully accessible and inclusive environment.
Teachers develop each student’s LifeTown lesson based on their needs using evidence-based models for life skills development to improve competencies in three areas of transition skills: Personal and social, Independent living, and Pre-employment.
Students can practice their skills in the simulated city, interacting with shopkeepers in stores, a bank, a salon, a medical clinic and more.
Jeffrey and Ariella Schottenstein, in addition to founding The Jeffrey Schottenstein Program for Resilience at The Ohio State University and supporting the Kitchen of Life program, are dedicated supporters of LifeTown. Their support for LifeTown, a reflection of their deeply held belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to lead a fulfilling life, has helped create a nurturing environment where students can thrive, regardless of their circumstances.
Jeffrey Schottenstein invited Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps to speak at the luncheon. Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals, is also an advocate for mental health, and encourages others, especially those facing adversity, to address their feelings.
“We’re all human beings with feelings and emotions and it’s okay to have them — I would just say with feelings and emotions it’s important to make sure we talk about them,” Phelps said.
Phelps’ message resonates with LifeTown’s mission, as students’ emotional well-being is an important element of their empowerment and success.
“As of now there are only two programs at the University level, including what we have built at the Ohio State University, so it is very humbling to be honored and I think this work is just beginning,” Jeffrey Schottenstein said.
“We are breaking the stigma of mental illness. If you harness vulnerability to be positive, there is nothing more powerful. This is something very dear to my heart and I want others to know they are able to reach out to a friend, a loved one, a stranger during a time of need,” Schottenstein said.
“Michael continues to give hope to a lot of people,” said Rabbi Areyah Kaltman, executive director of the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center in New Albany, which oversees LifeTown. “If he can have these problems, by sharing his story today and with the world, he’s teaching our kids that they shouldn’t feel isolated and that it’s important to reach out for help.”
TMX contributed to this article.