At-Risk Youth Turned Aspiring Entrepreneurs

November 1, 2011


“Fakhera” was only 15 when her father lost his job and her mother left their home to find work in order to provide for her seven children. Struggling in class, fraught by the family’s economic stresses, and getting into trouble for acting out, Fakhera dropped out of school to try to find whatever job she could in her Israeli-Arab village in northern Israel.

Fakhera found work cleaning at the local supermarket—working 10-12 hours a day for less than minimum wage—but the extra income came at a high price to her future. That’s why the counselor from the Ministry of Education’s Youth Advancement Service for youth dropouts encouraged Fakhera to enroll in an alternative setting that would enable her to complete her studies. Soon afterward Fakhera joined JDC’s Turning Point program.

Turning Point introduces Israel’s at-risk youth to the real world of business, equipping them with job-readiness and entrepreneurial skills and placing them in mainstream work opportunities.

Fakhera was among the 350,000 Israeli children and youth who are considered to be “at-risk”—the troubled state in which one out of six Israelis under age 18 find themselves today. Of these, approximately 50,000 are on the verge of dropping out of school or have already dropped out, show extreme signs of truancy, or are juvenile offenders. They have few ambitions, do not pursue gainful careers, and lack hope for their future, while their delinquent behavior and sense of alienation put them on the fringes of society.

Turning Point appeals to these hard-to-reach teens by focusing on issues which are relevant to their lives—finding a job, earning money, and achieving financial independence. The program helps them restore vision by providing guidance and practical tools to break out of the destructive cycle they are in. As young people like Fakhera learn real life business concepts and job skills, their self-confidence grows and they begin to see themselves anew and recognize opportunities for success.

For Fakhera, joining Turning Point helped her cope with her family and school troubles and allowed her to envision a brighter future. While she was proud of her financial independence and ability to help her family, now she saw that she could get a better job and chart a path for herself in the workforce. “The visits to different workplaces and the meetings with business people opened my eyes and showed me that I could want more from my work,” she said.

Learning to interview successfully and build a social network, Fakhera developed a support system and the confidence to look for jobs in other fields.

Today she is waitressing at a popular coffee shop and says the collaborative environment gives her great job satisfaction. Prior to Turning Point, she had never experienced the feeling of being part of a team; now she has a social circle that supports her in pursuing her dreams.

“We fully believed that Fakhera had what it took to develop and advance in the workforce because she exhibited such commitment, trust, and energy in her work,” says Samir, one of her program facilitators. “She has accomplished her goals in her studies, too. She earned a certificate for 12 years of study and is continuing on to complete matriculation exams.”

Turning Point has reached over 6,400 15- to 18-year-olds in 66 locations across Israel through its mentoring, job-readiness and entrepreneurship education, and youth-run business venture program modules. This year alone, some 1,000 at-risk teens will participate in Turning Point programs.

Now 17 years old, Fakhera is happy among her Turning Point peers—a unified group that works in cooperation, fulfills commitments, and is thirsty to learn. “With this support system I feel strong and know my future is in my hands.”

*Additional Note: Turning Point operates in partnership with the Ministries of Education, Social Affairs and Social Services, and Industry, Trade and Labor; the National Insurance Institute; Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship; International Bank of Israel; Matan (Israel’s United Way); local authorities; Israeli philanthropic and non-profit organizations; and the Israeli business community.

Sign Up for JDC Voices Stories