Taking responsibility for society is the key to success, Moriah Ben Ami, CEO and co-founder of the Sky is the Limit recently told The Jerusalem Post.
The Sky is the Limit is a nonprofit youth organization that uses social entrepreneurship to establish communal awareness and leadership among at-risk youth, helping impoverished communities improve themselves from within.
The nonprofit was co-founded based on the shared experiences, vision and enthusiasm of two young Hebrew University of Jerusalem students – Moriah Ben Ami and Eldad Postan – only two years ago.
Beginning with only a handful of youth and three counselors, they aimed to “transform” at-risk youth into socially involved citizens by developing their sense of self-worth and fostering in them a desire to be held accountable for their own futures and their communities.
“Working with youth is the key to instill change. What is unique is that the youth themselves are instilling the change in their communities,” said Ben Ami.
Ben Ami grew up with a privileged background in Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev. As part of a high school leadership program to help the underprivileged, she began volunteering at the Ashalim orphanage in Beersheba for young boys with behavioral problems.
“I realized that there was a completely different life going on here than the life I had led up to this point,” she said.
“They were amazing children, and [yet] they didn’t believe that they could break free of this cycle. It was like living in two parallel worlds, and they just didn’t have the tools [to succeed]. I realized that I want to provide these youth with exactly what I received and give them an equal opportunity to succeed in life,” she said.
Ben Ami credits her time at the orphanage as a life-changing experience that “opened her eyes” to the inequality among youth from underprivileged backgrounds.
She has since enrolled at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she studies education and international relations.
During her first year of studies she met Eldad Postan, a student of philosophy, economics and political science at the university.
During his time in the IDF, Postan served as an instructor at the Naval Academy. One of the goals of the course was to impart a sense of capability to young cadets and provide them with tools to realize their potential.
Following his service, Postan began to work with youth at risk and quickly realized that many of their behavioral problems stemmed from a feeling of a lack of competence and control over their lives.
“We want to give youth long-lasting tools for life,” said Ben Ami. “These are youth to whom it is not enough to say ‘You are worthy’; they have to feel as though they are equipped with the tools to feel empowered.”
The two partners joined forces and established The Sky is the Limit.
The nonprofit program selects students, aged 13 to 15 in grades seven through nine, from low socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in the program. The students participate in a three-year “initiation” process, after which they can give back and take part in mentoring and guidance of the younger students joining the program.
According to Ben Ami, the first part of the program is geared toward teaching the students useful life skills and tools that they were unable to learn in school or at home. The second part aims to bring these newly acquired tools back into the community, with each group of students developing a social project.
“For example, last year students in the program created a movie theater where local children in Katamon, whose families were unable to afford summer camps, could spend their evenings,” she explained.
“Another group opened a small coffee shop at their school where they could sell cheap food and beverages to the underprivileged students, and they even had discussions about violence against animals,” she said.
While the program is only in its second year, it has already grown to encompass countless students in the Jerusalem district. Next year, the program is set to expand even further to include a total of 26 groups of children and some 40 counselors.
“The Jerusalem Municipality opened a huge door for us and gave us our start,” Ben Ami explained. However, funding a nonprofit is a very difficult and cut-throat venture.
Ben Ami and Postan count themselves very lucky that, within a short time span, they were able to attract numerous investors and philanthropists, including the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, JVP Media Quarter, Bank Yahav, UBS Swiss Financial Company, the Ariel Foundation and “especially” the Lenny Shapira Foundation.
“Our dream is to become a national youth movement,” said Ben Ami. “We are responsible for our community, and if we don’t rise up and act, nobody will. And this is what we try to teach our youth – that our society is what we make of it.”