Believe it or not, children from across the country and around the globe are experiencing similar types of stress. Factors like living below the poverty line, having dysfunctional families, or experiencing trauma know no geographic boundaries. Left unattended, this stress can negatively affect a child’s school performance, social well-being, and ultimately, their future success as an adult.
That’s why Youth Futures, a program in Israel, was founded and is supported by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, which has joined forces with organizations such as United Way Wraparound Schools, Rainey Institute, Bellefaire JCB, Open Doors Academy, and Esperanza, to support children who are vulnerable — no matter who they are or where they live.
Youth Futures provides community-based mentoring for at-risk youth to improve kids’ school performance, strengthen social integration, and inspire community engagement.
“It is an enhanced version of Big Brothers Big Sisters,” says Barbara Leukart, the Federation’s Beit Shean Subcommittee Chair, who works closely with the Youth Futures program in Israel.
During the Youth Futures delegation’s recent visit to Cleveland, these organizations from different backgrounds and cultures exchanged ideas on how to best help students, help families, and help each other.
For this idea sharing, several common themes emerged, including:
Interact with the family (not just the student)
In addition to meeting with children at school five days a week, mentors also meet with the child’s family, teachers, and social services regularly to get everyone to work together and help the child succeed. “We do a lot to help the child become a better person, but we work with the families as well; we cannot do what we do without that work with the family,” says Maayan Feldman, a Youth Futures mentor from Israel.
Set Little Goals
Set goals that are attainable so children don’t feel a sense of failure. Each time a child reaches one of their goals, they will feel motivated to achieve the next goal. “I will never forget the way I felt when one day, my student turned to me and said ‘I succeeded.’ Now we set our sights on making one or two friends at school, and slowly she was able to do that as well,” says Yafit Mula, a Youth Futures mentor from Israel.
Stability Goes a Long Way
It’s important that students feel they have a confidant they can go to when times get tough, from year to year. “We have a group of seventh graders who have been with a mentor since they were in third grade. Having her in their lives year after year has created a level of consistency and stability and has meant so much to them; they rely on her,” says Alison Black, Rainey Wraparound Coordinator at Case Elementary School.
Tal Rothstein is the director of international programs at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. To learn about Youth Futures and mentoring programs in Cleveland and Israel, call 216-593-2861 or email [email protected].