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‘Blessed’ to Help Youth and Families During COVID-19

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Youth Futures Director in Be’er Sheva Reflects on Challenging Year

As the Director of Youth Futures in Be’er Sheva, Kamil had to figure out new ways to connect with students and families, continuing to help them throughout COVID-19.

With the pandemic seemingly over in Israel, it’s incredible to reflect on the feats our projects made during the crisis. Youth Futures is a one-on-one mentorship program for at-risk youth in elementary and junior high school, with 30+ locations throughout Israel. Throughout the country, the program had to adapt quickly when COVID-19 closed schools and forced people indoors.

In Be’er Sheva, the Youth Futures program is directed by Kamil and includes one coordinator and 12 mentors. Together, they serve 192 kids every year. To their credit, even in difficult conditions, the Be’er Sheva and country-wide Youth Futures staff continued to provide unparalleled support for at-risk youth and their families.

“I’m blessed to have this job and to be able to be there for families,” shared Kamil. “Any way I can, especially during this difficult time, I’m trying to learn and to be better for our participants.”

In Be’er Sheva, Youth Futures is active in six schools. Mentors provide critical support by sitting in on classes, meeting with students and working with families. Youth Futures is able to make a meaningful impact by working with participants’ entire support networks to bring about real change for the students and their communities.

In the midst of the crisis, Kamil told us, “We want the best for the kids – always. And in particular, during COVID-19, we are trying to make sure the kids are being taken care of.” She further stressed, “We don’t just focus on the problems in a family. We look for what is working and try to build on that. We aim to boost resilience and self-confidence in the kids, their parents and their siblings.”

Families already struggling pre-pandemic found themselves in even worse situations during the pandemic.

“We are talking about families whose entire support system just vanished; all of a sudden. They’re forced to handle everything themselves, and they’re not equipped to handle it,” said Dr. Marcello Wexler, Chair of the Professional Committee of Youth Futures.

Kamil shared with us the example of Orly,* a single mother of three children dealing with debt from her abusive ex-husband. Her struggles only worsened after she lost her job due to the pandemic and its effect on the economy. Adding to her hardship, her kids’ school was closed, and they no longer had access to the hot meals offered by their lunch program. Orly, who was unemployed, found herself unable to put food on the table – and was too ashamed to ask for help.

Fortunately, Orly’s youngest son, Menashe* is a part of Youth Futures, and his mentor, Tamar*, remained in constant contact with him, even when lockdowns were going on. Tamar felt something wasn’t right, and she quickly took action. Understanding the family’s needs, Tamar made arrangements for Orly and her kids to get the groceries they urgently need.

“I don’t know how I would have survived without you… Thanks to you, I have learned that it is okay to ask for help so that I can take care of myself and my children,” stated Orly. “Youth Futures changed everything — every day, I’m so grateful.”

*Names have been changed for privacy

Pictured: A Be’er Sheva Youth Futures Mentor with her paired mentees | Photo provided by Youth Futures, courtesy of The Jewish Agency for Israel

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