Regaining Confidence through Youth Futures

Jonathan wanting to participate in an overnight hiking trip this summer does not sound like a big deal. But, if you knew him, you’d understand why this was cause for celebration.

Jonathan is a seventh grader who lives in Cleveland’s sister community of Beit Shean/Valley of Springs, Israel with his parents and three brothers. His family was struggling financially before the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting country-wide shut down only made matters worse. This led to increased fighting and tension in the home. For a sensitive child like Jonathan, it all quickly became overwhelming.

Over the months of isolation at home, Jonathan became increasingly shy and introverted. He rarely left the house due to his growing fear of the outside world.  Instead, he hid in the virtual world of television and videos games, spending hours and hours in front of a screen each day. His parents helplessly watched as their son’s self-esteem and his physical condition rapidly declined. 

So, for Jonathan to want to be outside with his peers and engaging in long days of physical activity was a monumental step forward! And it was made possible by Youth Futures, a program funded by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

Through Youth Futures, at-risk children and their families receive one-on-one counseling and support from trained mentors. The program serves 12,000 elementary and junior high school students and their parents across Israel.  Rivi Gadish Saar started working with Jonathan and his family at the height of the nation’s COVID-19 shutdown.

Rivi started by reaching out to Jonathan to invite him to meet outside or in small groups with other teens his age. Sometimes Jonathan showed up and sometimes he didn’t. Nevertheless, Rivi kept reaching out to him, if only to make sure he knew she was there for him. Rivi tried to meet with him every week in person individually or in small groups. If in person wasn’t an option, she tried to reach him on the phone. Her initial goal was to simply to get Jonathan outside and away from the tensions in the house. By helping him catch his breath, she could then turn her attention towards reconnecting him with healthy hobbies like playing the guitar.

At the same time, she also spoke regularly to Jonathan’s parents to help guide them through their struggles and connect them to other helpful resources in the community that could help the family with their economic issues.

Over some time, Rivi could see Jonathan’s confidence was growing as his friendships deepened and his resiliency strengthened.

“For children like Jonathan, small successes that can be built upon are so important,” said Rivi. “With each success comes more confidence; with confidence comes self-esteem, which is the key to ingredient to personal growth.”

Jonathan’s growth was on full display when he was allowed to participate in his kibbutz’s (community) camping trip with a group of boys. Although it was a physically challenging trip for him, his friends from Youth Futures were with him for the entire three-day journey, helping and encouraging him along the way.

Jonathan said, “I felt tremendous pride that I could complete the journey and was amazed by my friends and how they stood by me during the whole trip. I couldn’t have done it without them. I couldn’t have done it without all of Rivi’s help. She’s an amazing person who believed in me and helped me believe in myself.”

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