Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics routinely assesses the numbers and demographics regarding children and youth at-risk under the age of 17 in Israel and the findings are startling.
A recent UNICEF report revealed that child poverty in Israel has increased to a record 35.6% of its total child population, ranking it behind only Greece, Latvia and Spain. The report, entitled “Children of the Recession: The Impact of the Economic Crisis On Child Well-Being In Rich Countries”, also indicated that Israel has the highest rate of young adults aged 15 – 24, 30.7%, who are not in education, employment or training. While some of that can be attributed to the country’s mandatory military service, it more importantly points out the need for organizations like the Israel Tennis & Education Centers, serving over 20,000 children throughout Israel with critical life skills that will enable them to succeed as adults.
Factors which place children and youth at-risk for poor life outcomes, including drug abuse, gang-related activity, vagrancy, violence, prostitution, arrest, truancy, teen pregnancy and lower lifetime earnings’ potential include:
- living in poverty
- living in a single-parent household
- living on the borders of Lebanon and Gaza which render children and youth particularly vulnerable to an on-going sense of insecurity, alienation, isolation and post-traumatic stress
- immigrating to Israel from another country, such as Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, and feeling discrimination and a sense of not belonging
The ITEC strategically locates its centers primarily in disadvantaged geographic areas throughout Israel in order to work with youth at risk and immigrant populations.
Students at risk are referred to the ITEC from local schools, municipalities, the National Program for Children and Youth at Risk and other NGOs such as the Israel Anti-Drug Authority. Their behavior issues are often a clear indication of the need they have for a safe, structured and nurturing place to go after school. The ITEC introduces them to comprehensive and holistic programs that combine sport, socialization and role-modeling within a pressure-free and nurturing environment where they can feel appreciated, loved and encouraged to develop positively. They receive help with homework and counseling on broader social issues involving family and friends. These programs help children at-risk attain normative patterns of behavior, while equipping them with tools that will help them deal successfully with pressures at home and in school.
Municipalities have recognized the Youth at Risk Program for stabilizing communities, reducing crime rates and improving the children’s academic performance and behavior. The ITEC’s Embrace program is now included on school report cards. As a result of the program, the ITEC – Tiberias received the National Education Award by the Tiberias municipality for helping to stabilize the city and create strong partnerships between the children’s school lives and their families.
There is a huge demand for the ITEC to expand existing at-risk programs across most of our centers.
The ITEC offers scholarships to youth at risk who wish to join the achievement and/or competitive tennis programs, yet are unable to afford the costs.
The Embrace Program represents the ITEC’s most comprehensive and holistic initiative for youth at risk to date. The program is based on sport, fitness and recreational activities that help teach discipline and prevent social decline, which also include regional tennis tournaments during vacations aimed at enhancing self-esteem.
Youth Futures Tennis
The ITEC caters to children at risk who are part of the Jewish Agency’s Youth Futures Program, in which a child at risk is paired with a qualified mentor in and outside of school, who acts as a “big brother” and positive role model.
Youth & Tennis
This program offers tennis and fitness classes to various at risk populations, including orthodox children, immigrant children from the former Soviet Union and more. The program is currently operated in the ITEC in Akko, Beer Sheva, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Ashkelon, Arad and Ofakim.