Youth Futures Mentors Providing Care 24/7 - Under Fire
Not long ago, Shimrit Biton was in her home in Sderot when the air raid sirens went off, twice in close succession. They huddled in the “safe” room in the middle of the house. The second time, she and her family could hear the rocket overhead, could hear it falling, and felt the tremendous pressure when it hit the house next door. Windows shattered, dishes and books fell to the floor. The neighbor is an elderly woman: Shimrit’s father went to check on her, with smoke billowing from their homes and explosions continuing even after the rocket hit.
Normally, Biton would be one of the people receiving assistance from The Jewish Agency, but instead, this mother of a 2-year-old is working every day to help others get through the current crisis.
Biton is one of 95 Youth Futures Mentors living in southern Israel. In “normal” times, when school is in session and the air-raid sirens go off less often, the Youth Futures program works to help at-risk Middle School children – 1, 160 of them in southern Israel alone --improve their relationships with family, teachers, friends, and academics. As a Mentor, Biton is in charge of 16 children, and works to provide them with holistic support.
But times aren’t normal now, and, having experienced the terror of a rocket falling next door, Biton is extra motivated to help her Youth Futures children manage their distress. She calls the children every day, and visits them in their homes to assess their needs and connect them with social services when necessary.
“We’ve been dealing with [rocket attacks] in Sderot for a long time,” she said. “But whenever there is a period of escalation, the children are more nervous. They hear the news. They watch television all day. Their camps and summer schools limit activities to ‘protected areas.’ Ever Mentor in Youth Futures is working at maximum capacity to help those children who have remained in the city.
“All the Mentors in Sderot grew up here and are familiar with the reality,” she said. “Only someone who has experienced this knows how to give the best response to the children. I completely understand their stress. But it’s critical that we stop this generation of children from growing up with anxiety. We always hope that this [IDF] operation will be the last one, that we won’t need another one.”
She said that working with the other Mentors inspires her and gives her the strength to keep doing her job. “I am so proud of the staff that is committed to education and to values-based action at all times,” she said. “It warms the heart that The Jewish Agency responds to us, and to others, in real time.”