Opening Doors Through Youth Futures

Tags: Federation, Israel, Overseas, Blog

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Eleven years ago, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and the Jewish Agency for Israel, a beneficiary agency of Federation, helped to establish Youth Futures – a mentoring program in Israel for at-risk youth. “The essence of Youth Futures is an in-depth mentorship between mentors and at-risk youth,” said Ya’ara Leitner Yagen, Regional Manager of Youth Futures in Israel.

For the last four years, Youth Futures directors and mentors have traveled to Cleveland for a week-long intensive workshop with members of Jewish Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland communities to examine trends, exchange ideas, and expand each other’s capabilities. “Every year I look forward to the mentors from Youth Futures coming,” said Alison Black, Rainey Institute Wraparound Coordinator at Case Elementary School in Cleveland, where the Federation also tutors students through the Public Education Initiative (PEI) program. “We have great discussions about the challenges in our respective schools – many of which are quite similar. We're able to figure out what the best practices are that we can all apply.”

“In Cleveland, we're able to gain a new perspective and get new ideas to take back to Israel,” said Yagen. “For example, the idea of volunteering is something we would like to explore more in our communities. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn from our peers in Cleveland, as well as the generous hospitality we receive whenever we visit.”

Youth Futures mentor, Karina Hadad, works in Beit Shean, Israel, Cleveland’s other sister city. Her work takes on a more personal meaning. She grew up in Moscow, but was able to move to Israel as a child and knows the hardships first-hand that her students are facing at home – which is why she wants to help them be the best they can be. “My childhood was good in Moscow, but when I moved to Israel, I wish that there were programs like Youth Futures around,” said Hadad. “I wish there was someone who believed in me, someone who could see my potential. And it’s so inspiring to see how this program is working in Israel, and growing in Cleveland.”

The future is bright for the partnership between the Federation, Youth Futures, and local Cleveland organizations such as Rainey Institute, United Way, Bellefaire JCB, Esperanza, and Open Doors Academy. It's a very personal relationship; the time spent together is building stronger bonds on an international scale – and one of the reasons Youth Futures and the mentoring program here in Cleveland has been so successful. “My team at Open Doors works hard to build on the shared work throughout our communities and looks for more ways to collaborate on projects,” said Dr. Annemarie Grassi, Founder/CEO of Open Doors Academy.

“The fact that people here are that involved with a program in Israel is just an amazing feeling,” added Yagen. “We’re able to see how we can continue to work towards being one people - am echad - that's something that we're really taking back with us this week.”

For more information on Youth Futures, contact Tal Rothstein at trothstein@jcfcleve.org or 216-593-2861.

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