Feature Story: Youth Futures Trustees Take At-Risk Kids “Under Their Wings” and Through Everyday Life

YOKNEAM, ISRAEL, March 30, 2011, 11:30 a.m.– Ravit Grossman, 33, puts a lot into her job as a trustee in the Jewish Agency forIsrael’s Youth Futures program, which helps children at risk get through their everyday lives.  After all, she is charged to keep track of 16 kids.  “That’s 16 families,” she adds.  

But it was a recent “moment” with 10-year-old Gal, who comes from a broken home that validated her commitment as a young, idealistic Israeli trying to make a difference. 

“One day, I came to his school to do activities together and he wasn’t in his class. I asked the teacher, ‘Where is he?’ She said his grandfather had died,” Ravit (left in photo) recalled. 

She found Gal on a bench crying uncontrollably.  No one even knew he had even come to school. 

“I comforted him, made him tea and talked to him,”  she said, noting that he was normally very withdrawn from the difficulties of his home life, where his mother is barely functional and his father works all the time.  She took him to his teacher and his guidance counselor. 

“He was falling apart.  He was very connected to his grandfather,” she said.  “He needed hugs. I was there at the right moment for him.” 

These are the moments that make the Youth Futures program the success that it is for nearly 10,000 children, fourth grade and up, in 32 different localities in what is termed the “periphery” – vulnerable or neglected areas in the north and south ofIsrael. Many of the kids have behavior problems and learning disabilities and desperately need help educationally, culturally and socially. 

The program is designed to keep the children functioning within the community, and the trustees are responsible for working with each personality and taking each child “under their wing” and through his or her entire day.  And they need to involve the parents in the process by working with them, not against them, even though many have fallen short of their responsibilities. 

“We don’t try to tell them how to be better parents. They’ve already heard that. ‘You don’t do this right.  You don’t do that right.’ They don’t want to hear it,” said Donna, the program coordinator in Yokneam. “We have to join the family circle. We must work with the parents.” 

For one moment, Ravit had to play that critical role – and made the difference at a very difficult moment in Gal’s life.

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