Meet Lee Chernotsky, an AJU graduate who has gone on to make an extraordinary impact in the community. Chernotsky currently works as the Director of Community Partnerships for Advance LA, a program of The Help Group that gives support to teenagers and young adults with special needs.
Chernotsky says that his first experience working with special needs individuals was a “complete accident” – at the age of 15, Chernotsky happened to work with students with special needs as part of a bar/bat mitzvah tutoring program that he launched at his Los Angeles temple. However, the defining moment that clarified this passion came from his work at Camp Ramah, a Jewish summer camp.
“The switch went off – it was my ‘aha!’ moment,” Chernotsky commented. “My work at Ramah opened my eyes to where I was headed, and I came to AJU to figure out what path would make the most sense for me to take to have the greatest impact, not only for special needs individuals and their families but for the entire communities in which they live.”
Prior to beginning his education at AJU, Chernotsky spent seven months studying at the Pardes Institute in Israel, an egalitarian yeshiva learning environment. While in Israel, Chernotsky had the opportunity to be involved with a YMCA program where Israeli and Palestinian kids with special needs played basketball together.
Chernotsky started as a junior at AJU, then called the University of Judaism, in the fall of 2004.
“A main reason why I chose AJU was because of its small class sizes – not being just a number was important to me,” Chernotsky explained. “I came to AJU looking to pursue knowledge that would directly facilitate my professional growth and comprehensive understanding of my chosen career path.”
In the spring of 2007, Chernotsky graduated from AJU’s joint BA/MBA in Nonprofit Management program; his two undergraduate degrees were in business and psychology.
“The greatest part of my education was that it was based in practical experience,” said Chernotsky. “My MBA thesis was about gaining a deeper understanding of the theory behind my work in the field. It presented me with a living, breathing case study where lessons I learned still pertain to the work I do every day.”
After graduating from AJU, Chernotsky worked in fundraising, development, and program administration within the special needs community before becoming involved with The Help Group and Advance LA.
“Advance LA creates new community partnerships and provides creative and cutting-edge, practical solutions to facilitate independence for young adults with special needs,” Chernotsky explained. “My goal is to remove the obstacles and barriers that keep them from being as independent as possible and give them the tools to advocate for themselves.”
As part of this mission, Chernotsky is currently working to create a partnership between Advance LA and AJU, where students with unique challenges will be able to live on campus at AJU as either full-time or part-time students at the university, allowing them to transition into independent living.
“Only in a place like AJU that is so accepting and welcoming of students from all backgrounds is this possible,” Chernotsky commented.
Now a successful manager within nonprofit business, Chernotsky looks back fondly upon the knowledge that he gained and the people that he met while at AJU. Jessica Yuz and Sam Levitt, now both AJU faculty members, were Chernotsky’s peers when he attended school here, and Chernotsky still maintains a friendship with Nina Lieberman, Dean of the Graduate School of Nonprofit Management.
Chernotsky advises current AJU students to build relationships with professors and faculty: “These relationships are lasting, and they are integral to one’s education and life experience.”
Chernotsky is now married to his wife, whom he met when they bumped elbows at the soda machine of a kosher restaurant. He and his wife have a two-year-old daughter named Lyla and are expecting a boy in July.