At-risk Youth Giving Units in Israel
At-risk Youth Giving Units is a unique project that transforms the lives of vulnerable youth base on a game-changing approach – rather than offering at-risk youth help, we ask them to help others in need. And it works! 90% of youth who partake in our program refrain from future criminal activity, and many continue on to graduating from school and becoming productive, caring and involved members of society. Street kids that joined and formed organized force of ‘doing good’ became agents of change in their communities assisting hundreds of others, all the while positively turning their own lives around.
The Units are run by leaders from among the youth while supervised by a youth instructor (the "chief") initiating weekly acts of giving such as: delivering food packages to over 1,500 individuals in-need on a weekly basis, renovating and cleaning elderly and Holocaust survivors' residences and helping people with disabilities.
The objective of the At-risk Youth Giving Units is twofold. On the individual level we wish to transform the lives of Israel's disadvantaged 'street kids, to take them off the streets and the criminal activity and to help them to become productive working citizens. On the communal level the project aims to empower under-served communities. Youth Giving Units are grounded within the communities they serve and their local youth. In allowing the youth to lead the way, we empower them, increase their sense of belonging and responsibility and ensure their future commitment to their communities. This two-pronged approach leads to both transformation of vulnerable youth and their becoming a positive force of change within their entire community.
HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED
The project transforms the lives of youth, who often feel disenfranchised from their families and communities. Joining the Units helps them to get back on track by turning them into an organized force of ‘doing good’ for other families and individuals in their communities. While forming, initiating and leading their Unites, the youth develop a sense of self-worth and belonging that is the foundation for rehabilitating “street kids. In the long run, the project builds a base of young and caring civic leaders in peripheral communities. The graduates remain in their neighborhoods and work as effective community leaders who positively influence their communities and initiate projects and local acts of giving, thus improving the entire under-served peripheral community in Israel.
Our model is based on an innovative approach to working and affecting lives of at-risk youth based on the following characters: 1. game-changing approach that does not offer the youth help by changing their behavior but asks them to help others; 2. Based in actual communities and operating in the “streets” with no organizational "headquarters"; 3. The format of the units as youth movement units with discipline, identity, uniform, pride etc. that get the youth tallied and committed.
The main result of the project is 90% of youth who refrain from future criminal activity, many of them continue on to graduating from school, and became productive, caring and involved members of society. In 2015 we were proud to engage a first group of graduates that have returned to their communities and wish to continue ‘doing good’ as adults, some of them are active in the Units for over 6.5 years. The graduates work as youth leaders, community volunteers and members of the organization’s professional staff.
This success was followed by an exponent annual growth of 25% in number of participants and an impressive retention rate of 80% of the youth that remain in the program for over a year. Due to its success the project was recently recognized by the Ministry of Education as an at-risk youth program for municipalities to include in their accredited city programming plans.
Since its establishment At-risk Youth Giving Units faced several challenges: 1. Meeting the increasing demand and need for Youth Giving Units in under-served communities throughout Israel. In a relatively short period of time we had to integrate into new neighborhoods and communities, recruit youth and instructors and to train them, and to develop streamline a curriculum training manuals, yearly programmatic plans and other tools to enable effective growth and sustainability. A related challenge was maintaining the unique spirits of the unites as grass root “street” organization; 2. Securing the financial and institutional sustainability of new Youth Units; 3. Tailoring and addressing new populations of at-risk youth such as ultra religious, Arabs and Ethiopians.
1. Need to establish a strong organizational infrastructure systems and mechanism that truly support the growth of the project and ensure the sustainability of the Unites. As a lesson learnt we are now establishing a new presence and Youth Giving Units in neighbourhoods that are targeted by the municipality and community, based on dire social problems and needs.
2. Need for a further development of youth that show leadership potential and of graduates that are returning to their neighbourhoods following their IDF/national service and/or schooling. As a lesson learned we operate two new programs: 1. The Alumni program that helps graduates to return to their communities as leaders; 2. A Youth Leadership program for youth members with outstanding leadership potential that, due to their disadvantaged background, lack the skills, know-how and access to information and opportunities to impact change.