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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State alumni Victor and Dena Hammel have pledged $5 million to found the Hammel Family Human Rights Initiative at Penn State. The donation will provide ongoing endowment funding in support of the university’s Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Initiative (HGHRE). The couple formalized their commitment at a signing ceremony Wednesday, Aug. 17 in Old Main, attended by Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi.

“The Hammels’ visionary philanthropy will truly transform our efforts to help new generations understand the past, prevent future atrocities and honor the dignity of all peoples,” Bendapudi said. “We’ve already delivered programs like no other in the nation, but with the ambition and support of the Hammels driving us forward, we can significantly increase the number of teachers the initiative reaches, refine and improve its program, and eventually theirs.” Extend reach beyond Pennsylvania. The Hammels leadership is positioning us to become the national frontrunner in human rights education and I could not be more grateful for their generosity.”

The HGHRE initiative — a partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and several state and national agencies — provides training and resources to help K-12 educators across the Commonwealth educate their students on a variety of difficult topics, from the Holocaust and other genocides to trauma caused by the COVID-19 health crisis. It was created in response to Pennsylvania Law 70 of 2014, which required educators across the state to develop programs about the Holocaust, genocide, and other human rights abuses to “give children an understanding of the importance of protecting people convey rights and the possible consequences of uncontrolled ignorance, discrimination and persecution.”

“As Pennsylvania’s land scholarship university, Penn State has a strong commitment to improving the lives of people throughout 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 Act 70. In a nation fraught with division, the initiative is preparing K-12 teachers across the state to empower their students to think critically, communicate across cultural and ideological barriers, become engaged citizens who know it is everyone’s responsibility to contribute to the defense of human rights.”

“We are very impressed with the progress we have seen with the initiative so far,” said Vic Hammel. “We are also driven by the remarkable vision that drives it. There are 123,000 educators in Pennsylvania public schools, plus the many teachers in the state’s 3,000 private schools. The initiative hopes to reach them all and also become a model for human rights education nationwide. This is a tall order and we knew it would require a large investment to take this to the next level. We firmly believe that Penn State, more than any other institution we know, 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 faculty expertise from units across the university, including the Colleges of Education and the Liberal Arts, Bellisario College of Communications, and Penn State Law. It offers a growing selection of training programs and resources for K-12 teachers, including year-long and semester-long professional development programs; shorter workshops; the state’s first trauma-informed online course, which trains teachers to recognize signs of trauma in their students and then help them cope; and free online learning resources for teachers and parents.

The endowment funds from the Hammel Family Human Rights Initiative will provide a solid financial foundation for the HGHRE initiative. Over the coming years, the initiative will be able to hire a full-time public affairs coordinator and additional part-time teachers, and continue to develop and expand its program, including launching programs for school districts outside of Pennsylvania. These developments enable the initiative to significantly increase the number of teachers it trains and thus the number of students it affects.

One of the reasons the Hammels were drawn to the HGHRE initiative was their unique approach, which emphasizes human rights in the broadest sense. “Our family was directly affected by the Holocaust, some fled Germany before it happened and others lost their lives in the process,” said Dena Hammel. “So we think awareness of the Holocaust and other genocides is crucial, but awareness alone is not enough. Young people need to learn to understand the root causes of these tragic events – the hatred, the bigotry and the narrow-mindedness – and 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 place great value on human rights for all, excellent 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 has served as the leader of our development team and as a mentor to me on the business and marketing aspects of our work. The wethers are very humble and told me we thanked them enough. We’ve only just begun. We plan to thank them every day by realizing their vision of giving children the tools to make the world a better place.”

Vic and Dena Hammel of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, first met as undergraduates at University Park, where Vic earned his accounting degree in 1967, and Dena earned his speech-language pathology and audiology degree in 1968. Vic is Chairman Emeritus of Rentokil Pest Control , North America and the retired co-owner and CEO of Ehrlich Pest Control. He is a former Chairman of the Board of Reading Health System and a past President of the Jewish Federation of Reading. Dena is a retired dialysis social worker and an active volunteer in the community of Reading. She has been a board member of the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading since its inception.

Her past support for Penn State has included gifts to create the Cohen Hammer Fellows program at Penn State Berks in partnership with the late Irvin and Lois Cohen, create the Lee M. Hammel Memorial Scholarship in memory of Vic’s brother, and support by Berks and Penn State Hillel. You served as co-chairs of Penn State Berks’ efforts in the recently completed A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence campaign.

“Dena and I have come to a point in our lives where we are thinking about the legacy we want to leave behind,” said Vic Hammel. “My parents believed strongly in the idea of ​​’tikkun olam’, which is Hebrew for ‘fix the world.’ It 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 so, to make a profound, positive and transformative difference that will continue across generations.”

“We’re proud to work with Penn State to realize the potential of this initiative, but our gift is just a start,” added Dena Hammel. “We know that many people share our vision of a world where respect for human rights is paramount, and we hope that our gifts will inspire others to continue supporting this initiative in the future.”

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