Center for Young Adults Takes Israeli Immigrant Full Circle

October 10, 2012


Mila A., 24, loves her job. Every day she helps immigrants set out on their life’s course at the very same JDC Center for Young Adults where she once received help on her own challenging journey, which has now come full circle.

Mila immigrated to Israel from Uzbekistan at age two with her parents and grandparents. Though she is the only girl among her three brothers and comes from a traditional Bukharan background, Mila didn’t allow herself to be pigeonholed into a conventional role in the family.

Bukharan Jews, numbering about 150,000 in Israel today, emigrated in large numbers from Central Asia in the early 1990s. Today they are part of the country’s panoply of over 140 different cultures, though many struggle with poverty and limited employment opportunities. The majority of Israel’s Bukhari Jews continue to live in traditional family arrangements where women are not allowed to leave the home or pursue jobs.

Mila’s mom broke the mold in her family, becoming a nurse back in Uzbekistan and continuing her career after immigrating. Like her mother, Mila pursued her education and was eager to attend college. She first turned to JDC’s Center for Young Adults in a quest for scholarships and stipends to help finance her studies.

JDC’s Centers for Young Adults assist young immigrants and others in what can be a difficult transition into adult life in Israel, helping them navigate the critical decisions regarding army, family, work, studies, and vocational training that usually determine their future path.

These Centers are an especially key resource for the nearly 260,000 immigrant young adults ages 18-30 in Israel whose families may not be sufficiently well-integrated into Israeli society, face their own social, economic and cultural challenges, and are unable to provide them with the support and guidance enjoyed by their veteran Israeli peers. A lack of support services for immigrant young adults during this life-shaping period has led to a high rate of chronic unemployment — over 30% — among this group.

The Centers for Young Adults are situated in cities throughout Israel that are home to large immigrant populations and have low socio-economic levels. Open to all young adults aged 18-34, they serve as a central platform for launching projects to help young immigrants become independent and self-reliant. They provide a wide range of counseling and orientation services under one roof, including individual guidance regarding higher education and vocational training; job readiness and job search skills; guidance on career advancement; and life skills, such as money management and housing advice. Social involvement and volunteer projects encourage participants to enhance their growth by giving to, and taking leadership roles in, their local communities.

When Mila came to the Center she saw a higher education coordinator who helped her figure out what she wanted to study, guided her research on different academic programs, and explained how she could pursue scholarships on her own.

She went to college for management studies, where she majored in human behavior with a specialization in management and human resources, and graduated in 2009.

Since her scholarship required her to volunteer in her community, she interviewed at a Center and got a position as a coordinator. That was five years ago. Upon finishing school, she accepted a job as the Employment Coordinator at the Center in Ramlah, where she’s been working since.

“Now I consult young immigrants from all over the world on everything related to finding work: how to compile a resume, go through the interview process, dress/behave appropriately at work. I work with employers, too, coordinating recruitment days to offer them more opportunities.”

There are currently Centers for Young Adults in 38 cities throughout Israel that reach about 60,000 young adults, some 35% of whom are immigrants. In addition to providing vital services, the centers are spreading awareness of the unaddressed needs of young adults for the first time in Israel, and enabling Israel‘s peripheral towns to better retain their young adult populations by providing them with better access to opportunities.

“I’m here today because of this Center and I couldn’t be happier,” says Mila, now a mother of two. “I enjoy my job helping people—it’s dynamic, and there’s never a dull day.”

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