“Every child is a flower that grew and will flourish and will succeed”
“You have all been through a long and difficult journey,” belted Rafi to the group of twenty-five boys at the end-of-year ceremony for Menifa’s Lech Lecha program in Gilo. “I remember the falls and climbs you each experienced.”
Menifa’s Lech Lecha program is located in the Eretz HaTzvi Religious Boys High School in Gilo, a suburb of Jerusalem. Lech Lecha is an alternative high school program for at-risk teenage boys who have dropped out of high school. The program is one of close to forty such programs that Menifa – Leverage for Life runs throughout Israel. Some of the boys in this program have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, others have emotional or psychological problems. There are boys with a history of crime, from broken homes and families with severe financial difficulties and then there are those who come from normative situations. The uniting factor for each boy who enters “Lech Lecha” is that he is unable to remain in a regular high school program and requires an alternative framework that will allow him to grow and develop.
The end-of-year ceremony was quite emotional, as it should not be taken for granted that twenty-five boys who were thrown out of multiple schools and spent time on the streets are now celebrating the completion of a school year. A big part of this success is the staff’s devotion. Rafi, the life coach, recalled some difficult times but emphasized that he never lost faith in any of his boys. “I would call five times and ten times and fifteen times and you would not come to school. You would say, ‘Nu, don’t you get it, I am not coming’. After twenty times, you walked into the door.”
Perhaps the most moving part of the evening was the distribution of certificates to the seven graduating seniors. Some of these boys spent three years in the program. Each graduate will be continuing in either military service, a pre-military preparatory academy or yeshiva study. This is certainly an accomplishment for boys who were thrown out of school and were wandering the streets.
Natan* will be going to a pre-military preparatory program next year. He came to Lech Lecha three years ago, after having been thrown out of multiple high schools. The first two years, he rarely came to school. It was very difficult for him to sit and learn. However, the staff did not give up. They encouraged him to stay in the program, even if it meant not showing up for classes. In the third year of the program, a revolution occurred and he began coming to classes and participating in field trips.
Roi* was chosen by the other graduates to speak on their behalf. “After three years, I learned a great deal. You helped me learn more than in any other school I was in. You enabled me to advance and to stand up.” Roi will be enlisting in the IDF in the coming months.
When the boys who will be remaining in the program were asked what they want to see next year, they responded almost unanimously, “a water cooler”- something so basic and essential, yet clearly missing. The “Lech Lecha” program is located in the basement of the Eretz HaTzvi school. There are no windows and the conditions are sub-par. The bathroom is in need of serious repairs and the boys do not even have a water cooler where they can take a break and get a refreshing drink. Due to limited funds, Menifa is currently not able to refurbish the center.
The parents left the ceremony with hope. The teachers left with pride. The graduates left with dreams. The younger students left with a promise, “By the start of the school year, you will have a water cooler.”
A water cooler costs $1,000. Donations towards this project can be made payable to the P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, Inc. 317 Madison Avenue, Suite 607 New York, NY 10017. Please make sure to write in the memo Menifa- Leverage for Life. For further information please contact Alisa Bodner: firstname.lastname@example.org or (561) 914-9482 or in Israel 052-7710135.
About the Author: Alisa Bodner is a contributor to Tazpit News Agency.
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