Youth Futures Mentor "Blessed" to Help Youth & Families During COVID
For the past 15 years, the mentoring program Youth Futures has helped more than 12,000 at-risk children and their families across Israel’s periphery. With support and guidance from Federation, Youth Futures mentors carry out a tailor-made goal plan for each child and their family through weekly one-on-one meetings, group sessions, and activities. The program is also helping transform Israel’s education system to focus on a child’s strengths and working toward positive goals. Through your support, the families involved with Youth Futures are thriving across many cities in Israel, including Cleveland’s sister community in Beit Shean and Valley of Springs.
When the coronavirus pandemic shut things down in Israel in 2020, Kamil, the Director of the Youth Futures program in Be’er Sheva, embraced the opportunity to try new management methods. As a one-on-one mentorship program for youth-at-risk in elementary and junior high school, with 30+ locations throughout Israel, Youth Futures centers country-wide had to adapt quickly when COVID-19 closed schools and forced people indoors.
At the Be’er Sheva Youth Futures center, the staff is made up of 12 mentors, one coordinator and Kamil, and they serve 192 kids every year. Typically, teachers refer students to the Youth Futures program — but because schools were operating via Zoom, it was harder for instructors to make knowledgeable recommendations about who might benefit from Youth Future services. Nevertheless, Youth Futures sought out at-risk youth and their families and has been there for them in crucial ways throughout COVID-19.
“I’m blessed to have this job, to be able to be there for families,” shared Kamil. “And every way I can, especially during this difficult time, I’m trying to learn, to be better for our constituents.”
Typically, Kamil said, they work in six schools when they are open, with mentors sitting in the class and meeting with kids. They also go into the home in order to truly create a circle of support for the families that goes beyond just interacting with the student.
“We want the best for the kids, always. And in particular, during COVID, we are trying to make sure the kids are being taken care of,” explained Kamil. “We don’t just focus on the problems in a family, we look for what is working and try to build on that, aiming to boost resilience and self-confidence in kids and their parents, their siblings.”
With the many lockdowns in Israel throughout 2020-21, families already struggling pre-pandemic found themselves in even worse situations.
“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 Professional Committee of Youth Futures.
For example, Kamil shared, Orly* is a single mother of three dealing with debt from her abusive ex-husband. Her struggles only worsened after she lost her job due to COVID-19. Suddenly, with all three kids home all day because schools were closed and with them not getting hot meals through the lunch program, Orly 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, and felt something was off. She quickly took action and made arrangements so Orly and her kids got the groceries they need.
“I do not 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