1,421 participants in the Youth Futures Program: “A day like this affirms the strength of the South”
"It is good to get out of the house for a little bit, to break from our routine, Aviv, a participant of Youth Futures from Sderot, tells. “Today I played in the pool and on the slides, it was really fun...At home, I usually play on my cellphone, on the computer, and watch television.”
Whenever the Water Park of Shefayim would make announcements on the loud speaker, the hearts of the managers and mentors of “Youth Futures” would skip a beat -- the announcements sounded too much like 'Code Red' alerts -- the sirens blaring all over Israel warning of incoming rockets from Gaza. In times like these, every sound on the loudspeaker reverts them back to their roles as managers, mentors, and parents. Such is the fabric of our team at “Youth Futures": the children are learning the true meaning of national unity.
Despite the instability of the current situation, the many anxieties of parents and children over the trip, and the Code Red alarms that were heard the morning of their departure, 1,421 children from grades 3-8, their parents, and the “Youth Futures” program leaders from the South, headed to the Shefa’im Water Park. The day of respite for the children was provided by The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) in coordination with the National Emergency Authority (NEA), government departments, and local authorities.
Two Weeks of Emergency Protocol
Merav Marciano, director of “Youth Futures” in the Southern region recalls: “The last days were very, very complex. Unfortunately, all areas of the program—Shafir, Lachish, Beersheba, Netivot, the Negev, Sderot, Dimona-Yeruham, Kiryat Gat, Ofakim, Merhavim—have been operating in emergency mode for almost two weeks. All of the group activities were canceled because the Home Front Command prohibited gatherings. During this period we are usually at the height of our summer activities, but this summer children were kept at home all day. The fellows were going through the same emotional difficulties as the families and children were. They moved on to work inside the shelters and protected rooms, arranging food baskets.”
“Every day begins within the mental maps of the mentors – locating the children, talking with them and their families,” says Marciano. “And if there are children that are in a state of mental regression, we work within the framework of the Hosen Center and Nat'al. We work with families that don’t have secure rooms, as well. The Code Red alarm requires 15 to 30 seconds to find a safe place, and if there is none, this is truly a truly terrible reality. Today we have 70 staff members in the South who have their own children, whose camps have also been cancelled. Some of them take their children from the Yishuvim in order to leave for work. On a day like this, they become a part of the 1,421 participants, and they affirm the unity of the South. I am proud of my teams, and of the children’s parents that allow their youngsters to come here, and experience a little bit of summer.”
Eden is an 8-year old boy who comes from Sderot. He tells me with a shy smile about the program that he loves so much: “I had so much fun today. I played with my friends, I swam in the pool, and my mother bought me ice cream. I am enjoying myself. In this year’s “Youth Futures,” I had all sorts of classes… my favorite was computer class and also playing soccer.”
“Proud to be a part of The Jewish Agency at such a time”
The mentors of “Youth Futures” are available to the youths, their families, and their communities. They assist the local community services with encouraging youths to realize their potential. In 2012-13, 400 staff members worked with 12,000 students and their families in 35 communities across the country.
Marciano tells of the cooperation of the staff and children participating in the Youth Futures programs in northern Israel: “The children from the North sent letters of assurance and care packages to the children in the South. This support is crucial. We have been held behind closed doors for almost two weeks. I am so proud that we have succeeded to spend the day like this, in ease. I live in Lehavim, and we also here the “cod red” alarms. I have two sons aged 11 and 13. Coping with this situation is not simple for them. This isn’t the first time the children in the South are experiencing this situation, and every time there is an escalation in violence, they fall into despair. In my opinion, we are in the least normal, most crazy situation there is. My message to the mentors, to the children, and to my own children, is that they must try to keep to their normal routines. My team is impressively devoted to their hard work, and this gives me pride to be a part of The Jewish Agency at such a time.
Noa Gilo, the Head of Development for Youth Futures adds, “We have much support coming in, even from the organization “Noble Energy” who created four science programs for us on Tuesday and fully funded the program. They gave food baskets to families during these difficult days and organized toy distributions. The feeling of being a part of something bigger than you – it makes a personal difference, and everyone finds within themselves strength they never knew they had. We arrived in the morning and saw a couple buses with bright signs that read “Youth Futures” and this excited me because it portrayed an amazing show of strength and awakened a source of immense pride.”