Israel must support programs drawing at-risk-youth away from a life of crime and poverty - opinion

These programs are helping to break barriers and fostering aspirations amongst disadvantaged youths

Programs run by HaGal Sheli foster pride, self-worth, and confidence, inspiring these young people to dream big and embrace their potential, says the writer. (photo credit: HAGAL SHELI)
Programs run by HaGal Sheli foster pride, self-worth, and confidence, inspiring these young people to dream big and embrace their potential, says the writer.
(photo credit: HAGAL SHELI)

Summer is a time of freedom and relaxation, a break from the routine and responsibilities of the school year. However, for at-risk youth, this period can be especially challenging. Without the structure and support provided by schools and programs, these vulnerable individuals find themselves drifting towards the fringes of society.

The absence of stability can lead to negative behaviors ranging from aggression to substance abuse as they struggle to find their footing in an unstructured environment. Unfortunately, the existing support systems very often struggle to address these challenges effectively during the summer break – leaving these young individuals adrift in a sea of uncertainty.

As a society, it is our shared responsibility to confront the issues faced by at-risk youth during these vulnerable times. 

The actions we take today can have a profound impact on breaking the cycle of crime, poverty, and hopelessness that often ensnares them. One organization that has risen to this challenge is HaGal Sheli. Founded to provide a lifeline for at-risk youth (who hail from last-chance institutions, poverty, or even petty criminal activity), HaGal Sheli has developed a unique summer program with its graduates that uses surfing as a means to instill structure, confidence, and hope.

“Al HaGal” (“On the Wave”), a social business initiated by HaGal Sheli, not only offers a reprieve for at-risk youth during the summer but also introduces them to professionals from various fields. By training these young individuals to become surfing instructors, the program empowers them to assume positions of authority, even instructing corporate employees in the art of surfing. This novel interaction breaks down stereotypes, connecting at-risk youth with accomplished professionals.

SURFERS CARRY their boards before entering the water in Netanya.  (credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
SURFERS CARRY their boards before entering the water in Netanya. (credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

These encounters not only open doors to potential volunteering opportunities but also serve as a powerful reminder to these youth that their aspirations can be boundless. Through engagement with accomplished individuals, they gain insight into the world of possibilities that await them, dispelling the notion of insurmountable barriers. 

The experiences offered by HaGal Sheli’s programs foster pride, self-worth, and confidence, inspiring these young individuals to dream big and embrace their potential.

Neria’s journey exemplifies the transformative power of HaGal Sheli’s programs. He started as a participant in HaGal Sheli and eventually became a manager at Al HaGal. His story underscores the potential for skill development and perseverance to lead to remarkable achievements. 

During an event hosted by Al HaGal, Neria’s adept management caught the attention of employees at the prominent hi-tech company, IronSource. His success in the interview process led to a remarkable outcome. Neria became an employee of ironSource. His trajectory serves as evidence that barriers are often illusory, and can be shattered with determination.

In times of societal upheaval, the connections forged by organizations like HaGal Sheli are of paramount importance. Operating across eight educational surf centers along Israel’s shores, these teams provide crucial support for at-risk youth from diverse backgrounds. Their efforts play a pivotal role in nurturing growth, resilience, and development among these young individuals.

Every individual possesses the capacity to contribute within their sphere of influence. The future belongs to these vulnerable youth, and it is our duty to guide them to the shores of opportunity. Collectively, we can make a lasting impact, empowering them to overcome adversity and forge a future defined by promise and potential.

Reflecting on Neria’s journey, it is evident that HaGal Sheli’s approach is grounded in a deep understanding of the needs of at-risk youth. The organization’s commitment to using unconventional methods, such as surfing, demonstrates its innovative spirit. By tapping into the inherent appeal of activities like surfing, HaGal Sheli captures the interest of at-risk youth who might otherwise remain disengaged.

The success of HaGal Sheli’s programs underscores the importance of mentorship and positive role models in the lives of at-risk youth. The exposure to accomplished professionals through the Al HaGal program not only imparts valuable insights but also serves as a wellspring of inspiration. Witnessing individuals who have overcome limitations fosters hope and optimism among these young individuals, influencing their long-term aspirations.

Furthermore, HaGal Sheli’s holistic approach addresses the multifaceted challenges faced by at-risk youth. The program imparts practical skills such as surfing while emphasizing character development, resilience, and interpersonal communication. These skills are invaluable in helping at-risk youth navigate their lives and overcome obstacles.

Community involvement is paramount in supporting at-risk youth. It is incumbent upon each member of society to recognize the potential of these young people and contribute to their growth. 

HaGal Sheli’s model demonstrates how grassroots initiatives can lead to positive change, with effects that extend far beyond the initial participants. As individuals find purpose through programs like Al HaGal, they become agents of change, inspiring others to pursue their aspirations and break free from constraints.

The challenges faced by at-risk youth during the summer months are emblematic of broader societal issues. The absence of structure and guidance can lead to negative outcomes with far-reaching consequences. However, organizations like HaGal Sheli offer innovative programs that empower at-risk youth to tap into their potential. Through initiatives like Al HaGal, they find purpose and interact with professionals, fostering a sense of limitless possibility.

A duty we all share

As a society, our duty is to support these initiatives, recognizing that the success of at-risk youth is intertwined with the success of our communities. By investing in their growth, we break the cycle of despair and open doors to a brighter future. Stories of transformation, like Neria’s, remind us that with the right support and opportunities, there are no limits to what at-risk youth can achieve.

It’s a collective endeavor, one that demands collaboration, compassion, and unwavering dedication. Together, we can rewrite the narrative for at-risk youth, empowering them to chart a course toward a future filled with promise, potential, and endless possibilities.

The writer is a co-founder and pedagogical director of HaGal Sheli.