UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State alumni Victor and Dena Hammel have committed $5 million to create the Hammel Family Human Rights Initiative at Penn State. The gift will provide ongoing funding to support the University’s Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education (HGHRE) initiative. The couple made their engagement official at a signing ceremony on Wednesday, Aug. 17, at the Old Main, attended by Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi.
“The Hammels’ visionary philanthropy will be truly transformative in our efforts to help new generations understand the past, prevent future atrocities, and honor the dignity of all people,” Bendapudi said. “We already offer unparalleled programming in the country, but with the ambition and support of Hammels to drive us forward, we can dramatically increase the number of teachers the Initiative reaches, refine and improve its programming, and eventually expand. its reach beyond Pennsylvania. . The Hammels’ leadership positions us to be the national leader in human rights education, and I couldn’t be more grateful for their generosity.
“As Pennsylvania’s land-grant university, Penn State has a deep commitment to improving the lives of people across the Commonwealth,” Bendapudi said. “The Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative does this in a unique way as it strives to achieve the goals of Bill 70. In a nation beset by division, the initiative prepares K-12 teachers across the state to empower their students to think critically, communicate across cultural and ideological barriers, become engaged citizens who know that t is everyone’s responsibility to help defend human rights.
“We have been very impressed with the progress we have seen with the initiative so far,” said Vic Hammel. “We are also energized by the remarkable vision that drives him. There are 123,000 public school educators in Pennsylvania, as well as the many teachers in the state’s 3,000 private schools. The initiative hopes to eventually reach them all and also become a model for human rights education across the country. It’s a big job, and we knew a major investment was needed to take it to the next level. We strongly believe that Penn State, more than any other institution we know of, has the resources, the culture of interdisciplinary collaboration, and the institutional will to make these aspirations a reality.
The Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Initiative draws on the expertise of faculty from units across the University, including the Colleges of Education and Liberal Arts, the Bellisario College of Communications and Penn State Law. It offers a growing menu of training programs and resources for K-12 teachers, including year-long and semester-long professional development programs; shorter workshops; the state’s first online Trauma-Informed Practice course, which trains teachers to identify signs of trauma in their students and then help them deal with it; and free online learning resources for teachers and parents.
Funding from the Hammel Family Human Rights Initiative will establish a solid financial foundation for the HGHRE Initiative. In future years, this will allow the initiative to hire a full-time outreach coordinator and additional part-time faculty and further develop and expand its programming, including launching programs for school districts. outside of Pennsylvania. Through these developments, the initiative can significantly increase the number of teachers it trains and, therefore, the number of students it reaches.
One of the reasons the Hammels were drawn to the HGHRE Initiative was its unique approach that emphasizes broader human rights. “Our family was directly affected by the Holocaust, some fled Germany before it happened and others lost their lives there,” Dena Hammel said. “So we believe that raising awareness of the Holocaust and other genocides is crucial, but raising awareness alone is not enough. Young people must learn to understand the root causes of these tragic events – hatred, bigotry and narrow-mindedness – and how to counter them with empathy and communication. This type of educational approach creates the conditions for justice and equality to flourish and, in turn, helps prevent genocide.
“Vic and Dena care deeply about human rights for all, a great education for every child, and a brighter future for our society,” said Boaz Dvir, Founding Director of the HGHRE Initiative. “We are eternally grateful to them for their passion, vision, support and leadership. Vic served as a leader on our development team and a mentor to me on the business and marketing aspects of our work. The Hammels are extremely humble and told me that we had thanked them enough. Yet we have only just begun. We plan to thank them every day by fulfilling their vision of giving children the tools to make the world a better place.
Vic and Dena Hammel, from Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, first met when they were undergraduates at University Park, where Vic graduated in accounting in 1967, and Dena earned her degree in speech pathology and audiology in 1968. Vic is President Emeritus of Rentokil Pest Control, North America, and retired co-owner and CEO of Ehrlich Pest Control. He is past Chairman of the Board of the Reading Health System and past President of the Jewish Federation of Reading. Dena is a retired dialysis social worker and an active volunteer in the Reading community. She has served on the board of the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading since its inception.
“Dena and I are at a time in our lives where we think about the legacy we want to leave behind,” Vic Hammel said. “My parents believed strongly in the idea of ’tikkun olam’, which in Hebrew means ‘fixing the world’. This means that you should try to leave the world in a better position than when you entered it. We believe this initiative truly has the potential to do just that, to make a profound, positive and transformational difference that is passed down through the generations.
“We are proud to work with Penn State to help realize the potential of this initiative, but our donation is just the beginning,” added Dena Hammel. “We know that many people share our vision of a world where respect for human rights is paramount, and we hope our donations will inspire others to support this initiative in the future as well.”