From Drop-out to Role Model: JDC Transforms Young Israeli Woman

February 1, 2011


By the time Huda, now 22, reached JDC’s Center for Young Adults a few years ago, she had dropped out of school, was hanging with a bad crowd, and spending a lot of time on the streets of Ramla. She was dealing with both the personal and social ramifications of her parents’ divorce—taboo among Muslims in the Israeli Arab community—compounded by the serious financial difficulties it caused.

Though on the welfare rolls of the city municipality, Huda’s mom had to go out to work to support the family, leaving Huda’s two younger brothers home without supervision. At the same time, Huda was sent by court order to live with her grandmother—but she didn’t get the support she needed there, either. Cramped into a small living space and with a number of people who were “much more religious and conservative” than she, Huda felt more lost than ever.

But that changed when her cousin referred her to the local Center for Young Adults in Ramla—one of more than 30 one-stop centers established by JDC throughout Israel to provide at-risk individuals, 18-34, with counseling and other services to guide them through decisions regarding their future: the army, family, work, studies, vocational training.

“From the beginning, Huda was ambitious, but it was clear that she had no access to fulfilling her dreams,” said Rasja, a Center coordinator who specializes in guiding Israeli Arabs through the transition from youth to adulthood.

This lack of access is a dilemma faced by most of the 60,000 young adults helped by the Centers to date. The majority are immigrants or Israeli Arabs; many live far from major cities; and nearly all come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Like Huda, they don’t realize that they have options nor do they have a role model at home who can help them successfully navigate the complicated, life-shaping choices that impact their future.

Without adequate support, many fall through the cracks of Israeli society. Today, some 30% of Israeli Arab and immigrant young adults are chronically unemployed – a figure that is both unfulfilling and unsustainable for them and for the future of the State of Israel. The services offered by the Centers for Young Adults—personalized guidance for higher education and vocational training; job readiness and how to advance in the workplace; and life skills such as money management and housing advice—fill those gaps and put these young people on a track to success.

In Huda’s case, Rasja helped her register and secure funding to take a prep course in Arabic for both a standardized exam similar to SATs that is required for college admission and to complete her bagrut (matriculation) requirements. Working closely with the welfare department in Ramla, the Center was also able to place Huda in a mentoring program for children at risk, run out of Tel Aviv University, which offered courses to build her self-esteem and skills in communication, conflict resolution, and creative thinking while also providing her with the training to become a counselor herself. Huda so excelled in the program that she accepted the invitation to join the professional staff for a year.

Today Huda is back at the Center for Young Adults in Ramla-this time working as a mentor. “I feel it is important to give back and to be a role model for other girls in situations similar to mine,” she said. “I see myself in them, and I want to be the one who lets them see that they can choose who they want to be.”

Huda is about to take her last bagrut examination and hopes to begin studies next year to become a literature teacher.

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