Feature Stories

Employment Initiative in Israel Helps Single Mom STRIVE

One year ago, Shelly M. felt like she’d hit rock bottom. A 32-year-old single mother of two children, 7 and 5, she was living in public housing and relying on a government-issued food card to feed her young daughters. Shelly hadn’t worked in two years and was drowning in debt.

Overwhelmed by her situation, she turned to JDC’s STRIVE program for help.

The STRIVE-Israel program, adapted by JDC from a model created in East Harlem, New York, empowers disadvantaged young adults to take control of their lives and make the necessary changes to enter and succeed in the job market.

Some 750,000 Israelis live outside the workforce; two-thirds of them are young adults. Many of them grew up in troubled homes and disadvantaged neighborhoods; most did not receive the necessary guidance to serve in the IDF, pursue higher education, or develop vocational skills.

For these young Israelis, meaningful employment with a living wage salary is the only guaranteed path to self-reliance and financial security. STRIVE helps them integrate into Israel’s workforce through job-readiness training, placement assistance, and long-term support.

Once at STRIVE, Shelley expressed her eagerness to become a kindergarten teacher. She showed motivation, responsibility, and initiative—and didn’t give herself any slack although she was struggling financially and having difficulties raising her children, who have acute emotional needs.

She completed STRIVE’s month-long job readiness course, which helps participants build their self-esteem, discipline, and long-term career vision, enabling them to overcome personal obstacles and find and maintain viable employment. Then she began working as a temporary assistant in an early childhood framework. She took training courses in early childhood and psychology, as well as enrichment classes to learn to teach music, dance, and movement to little kids. For the upcoming year she has already secured a job working as a permanent caregiver in a child-care facility.

“The program helped me gain self-confidence and believe I can achieve so much. I am enjoying my job. I love working with the children. I do arts and crafts with them. I take initiative and am always ready to work.”

Shelly’s dream is to one day own or direct a private early childhood facility, so she’s enrolled herself in business management classes also.

“I have learned to try for success through a positive attitude and to aspire toward my dreams. Even though there are downfalls, I’ve learned not let them take me down,” she explains.

Beyond helping program participants step by step to secure employment and adapt to the norms of working life, STRIVE provides on-the-job support and helps new employees plan their way to career advancement. To increase STRIVE graduates’ wage-earning ability and job satisfaction, the program provides advanced training options and ongoing support.

For example, Shelley goes to family counseling, which helps her plan her household budget, manage her debt, and learn parenting skills.

“I am learning to deal with unpleasant circumstances, to combine work with motherhood, to cope with being a single parent. With the help of the tools I acquired through STRIVE, I am able to cope with all of the challenges I encounter. Today, I know how to take charge and how to offer my daughters the emotional support they need.”

Across Israel, STRIVE has proven effective in helping chronically unemployed young adults find—and keep—meaningful jobs. Since 2006, 75% of participants have entered the workforce and 70% have kept their jobs for over one year. After completing STRIVE, participants’ average monthly incomes rose to just around Israel’s national average and have continued to rise a year out of the program. With over 2,000 graduates across the country, STRIVE-Israel currently has centers in Tel Aviv, HaifaBeer Sheva, and Jerusalem.

“My advice for other single mothers is not to lose hope, but instead to get help from STRIVE. This program helps you make your dreams come true, even as single parents. Don’t let your situation run you down. Get out to work and use the tools the program offers.”

Tags for this story: Employment / Entrepreneurship Training

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