Feature Story: JDC Turning Point Program Puts Life Lessons on the Menu at Local Cafe in Sderot, Israel

SDEROT, ISRAEL, March 29, 2011, 1 p.m. – They’re serving up more than hearty Israeli food at Cafe Yael near Sderot, Israel.

There, you will find local youth-at-risk digging into a heaping helping of job training and guidance through life’s problems through the JDC’s Turning Point Program, which utilizes business entrepreneurship and employment to help alienated 15 to 18-year-olds develop an empowering vision of themselves and their future at a critical juncture in their lives. 

Some 150,000 Israeli youth are considered to be “at-risk.” Of these, approximately 50,000 are recognized as being at the high end of the risk spectrum: school drop-outs, youth who are still enrolled, but are disaffected and juvenile offenders.  

The two latest teens to come to the table are Or, 18, and Uri, 22. The recent JFNA Marketing Directors Mission made a stop at Cafe Yael to learn about the program, meet the two recipients and have lunch. 

Two years ago, Or was going nowhere. His parents were not financially stable. He didn’t like school. He was hanging out with friends and getting into trouble.  Many of his friends were trying to find “other means of making money.”  

“I had no organizational skills,” he recalled. 

Then he discovered the JDC Turning Point program and worked his way up the ladder.  He is now responsible for the day-to-day food operation as a chef manager.  He now supports his family and younger siblings. 

“I went through a big change,” he recalled. “Two years ago, I could not do this.” 

That’s the case with many teens that join the program, according to JDC representative Steven Moskowitz. 

“We create an infrastructure to work and earn money and begin the process of building skills,” said Moskowitz.  “They gain business acumen and a paycheck.  What we’re doing is connecting youth with potential. When you do it, you create a new future for them.” 

Once a week, when the restaurant is closed, it turns into a therapy center to help participants work through problems outside of the workplace and ideas for the business. 

“The whole process adds up to self-confidence and self-belief,” said Moskowitz. 

Uri just started in the Turning Point Program two months ago after being unemployed for two years. “I looked everywhere for work,” he said, and so far, he is “very happy” at Cafe Yael.  He wants to work and learn computers. 

“The program is only for people who want to help themselves, to better their lives,” said Yuval, owner of the cafe.  “You can’t give up on them. But you can’t give them a free pass.” 

The Turning Point Program has already reached more than 3,500 youth in 66 localities through a combination of program modules: mentoring, entrepreneurship and job readiness education and, as in the case of Café Yael, on the job business experience. 

You can count or, whose name fittingly means “light,” as part of that total.  He plans to enter the army and someday be in the restaurant business. 

In the meantime, he will savor the experience as a chef manager at Cafe Yael. 

“This is like my second home,” he said. “The people I work with are like family.” 

By the way, the food was great and the service was even better.

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