Mentoring program seeks volunteers for children at risk

"I just want to give him a fun time," says Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer.

big sister 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
big sister 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Yoad Kenett, 27, finds it difficult to express the satisfaction he gets from mentoring an 11-year-old boy from a struggling single-parent family through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Israel program. "It was one of the first times that we met," described Kenett, who took on the commitment of meeting with the boy for a few hours once a week more than three years ago. "We were all talking and I asked him if he had good friends from his class at school. He admitted that he did not have any friends, then he looked at me and said 'but now I have you.'" While Kenett, a student who was based until recently in the Jerusalem area, said that his relationship with this really troubled child also had a frightening aspect to it, "because he sometimes wants more than I can give," the aim of this informal mentoring program is to help the child escape from their daily life for a while and give them some hope. "I just want to give him a fun time," said Kenett, who now lives in Tel Aviv but plans to keep on meeting with the boy. "When something positive happens to him, I see the light in his eyes, and it is one of the best things that has happened to me in my life." Kenett is one of roughly 130 volunteers in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Gush Etzion who have committed to taking on a long-term relationship with children and youth at risk from a whole range of different socio-economic and familial backgrounds. Some of them simply need an extra adult figure in their life. Set up nearly five years ago, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Israel is run by American immigrant Libby Reichman. She said that her list of children and youth currently waiting for mentors is steadily growing and that recruiting volunteers for such a long-term commitment is not easy. "I believe there are volunteers out there but we just have to find them," said Reichman. "I really want this kind of mentoring program to become as recognizable here as it is in the US." American Big Brothers Big Sisters programs have been running for over 100 years, she points out. "It is such an important program," continues Reichman. "Most of these children are looking for a positive adult influence in their lives and cannot handle the disappointment of losing that extra person after a short time." Big Brothers Big Sisters differs from 'Perah,' the university-based mentoring organization that runs only during the academic year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Israel encourages long-lasting relationships between mentors and children. "A long-term investment is crucial in creating change in the life of a vulnerable child from an isolated single-parent family. Short-term relationships are valuable, but children blossom and thrive when they feel the constant presence of a responsible and caring adult in their lives," said Reichman. In recent years there has been a stark deterioration in the home lives of children and teens in Israel, with a sharp rise in divorce statistics and single-parent families. The most recent national statistics show that 122,000 families in Israel are single-parent families - about 7% of the population. Research shows that children from single-parent families are more prone to difficulties as they attempt to integrate in society. Reichman says that volunteers should be between the ages of 20-60 and be willing to dedicate at least two hours a week to their 'siblings.' Support and training is provided for big brothers and sisters, including individual and group supervision, the backup of professional staff, lectures, suggestions of activities, and group Fun Days for all the pairs, she said. For more information about becoming a Big Brother or Sister, call 02-561-2131 or check out the Web site