Pitchon Lev, a nationwide humanitarian organization in Israel, is providing at-risk youth with a guiding light, a future of hope, and the essential tools for a chance at success. Established in 1998, they have impacted the lives of thousands of diverse youth and families from disadvantaged neighborhoods across Israel. As an inclusive organization, Pitchon Lev’s goal is to breakdown the barriers of gender, religion, race, ethnicity, or nationality, and provide support for all people in Israel.
One entity of Pitchon Lev is Touching the Horizon, an educational program engaging at-risk youth as part of their overall objective of eradicating poverty in Israel. This seven-year program takes in at-risk youth from diverse communities and guides them through everything from schooling, social support, army preparation, and guidance upon enlisting. Participants are led by the same adult who accompanies them for seven consecutive years. As Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach says, “All that a child needs is one adult who will believe in him,” which is precisely the role of the adults in the program – to provide each child with someone to be their teacher, mentor, and friend, and to guide them through the critical life transitions of school, army, and citizenship.
Touching the Horizon, which is the end result of the seven-year program, is broken down into three life stages. The first phase of the program begins in 10th grade through high school graduation, followed by three years of empowerment and cultivating leadership skills through volunteering, community connections, and ongoing assessments of each individual’s achievements. The second phase is army service, in which participants are accompanied through the process of enlisting into the IDF or Sherut Leumi (National Service), and have three years of continued mentorship and leadership training during their service, along with financial support in the form of a monthly stipend. The third and final phase of the program is helping the young adults transition into civilian life after completion of their service. The same mentor who has been with the participant for the previous six years continues with them for one more year to guide and support them through the processes of integrating into an academic institution or workplace.
The organization is accredited by the Ministry of Education and accompanies its students with guidance and support to achieve an official high school diploma upon completion of the program, along with a variety of skills to continue on to higher education or a successful career path. Chen Ben Lish, a 20-year-old soldier in the program explains, “There is a mentor who accompanies you for seven years, from the 10th grade, through military service to citizenship, and he works with us to realize potential, strengthen our self-confidence, believe in ourselves, and make our society better.”
Youth who take the opportunity to join this remarkable educational program learn and grow through formal schooling, social interaction, forming community connections, and taking on volunteer roles. With an emphasis on building empowerment among the participants, one goal is for each child to take responsibility for him or herself, and their own achievements. Shai Ohayon, a 17-year-old in her second year of the program reflects on her experience, “I feel like I’m a different child,” she says, “My mom says I’ve changed completely from my studies, and that she no longer has to beg me to wake up every morning.”
The program also helps students gain a connection to Israel, to the land, the culture, and the people of their own country. Ella Shlomkovitz, one of the teachers, was amazed at the change of view within her students. “When I first went in, they were in the place of ‘let us go’, ‘what is this nonsense?’ There were questions like,` Why should we give [to Israel]?, and today they are talking about combat service” Shlomkovitz says of her students.
Tel Aviv University has partnered with Pitchon Lev to conduct in-depth research analysis on the educational program. Professor Yizhar Uplatka, who conducted the project research, said that the program made the youth take responsibility for their lives, and concluded that:
– 93% are eligible for matriculation
– 93.7% of graduates of the program enlist in military or national service
– 87% are graduates of the program and were in enrolled in higher education or suitable work
There is no doubt that this unique organization is saving lives from the cycle of poverty, and establishing the next generation of successful Israeli citizens.