Go, Yahelnikim. Go!

Ethiopian Israeli teens in the Shapira neighborhood at Open Space - Yahel Social Change ProgramWhen you blow by your fundraising goal in less than 48 hours, some tough questions come up. Questions like: what do you do with the funds raised beyond the target. Who determines the priority of needs, and how do you involve the community in your success? Tough questions, for sure, but one the Yahelnikim are pleased to be wrestling with. Other questions too, like: now that the budget is there, could you fit two pool tables in the small converted youth center?

Pool tables?

A few months ago, at the beginning of the Yahel Social Change Program, Haverim B’Teva presented the Yahelnikim with an idea: establish a “cool” place, a place where neighborhood teenagers could hang out in the evenings safely and constructively. Teenagers are a tough age to program for, and competing against unsupervised and unstructured time makes it tougher still. The Yahelnikim, with Haverim B’Teva, brainstormed “Open Space” – turning a one room youth center into a cool place to hang out.

Open Space was a success from the get-go. For the first session, Yahelnikim and Gar’in members walked around the neighborhood and invited teens to come. But soon word got around about the cool visitors, the food, and the good atmosphere, and the numbers of new faces went up. The Yahelnikim brought in a borrowed Wii, and started to think of other projects.

It is clear to the participants that Open Space addresses a direct need. Most kids in Shapira live in two bedroom apartments with between four to ten siblings. As Shoshana Weinberg said, “There is a need for the teenagers to get out of the house – but at nighttime there aren’t many places to go or things to do. This is the time when the teenagers resort to at-risk behaviors, particularly drinking or smoking hookah around the neighborhood.”

In order to make Open Space attractive to more teens, the Yahelnikim were looking to upgrade the “space” part of Open Space. The plan is to buy some more games and equipment — chess, checkers, backgammon, cards, board games, and Wii station controllers. Also, they are planning on having a weekly budget to provide a coffee and snack station. But after asking for the teens’ suggestions they discovered that the one thing they seemed to want the most: a pool table.

So using the web, their networks, and some old fashioned initiative, the Yahelnikim went about raising money. They’ve blown by their goal of $1000 in the first two days and the donations are coming in from all over the world. As they wrote, “We are amazed and humbled by the instantaneous support we’ve received for this program. It is incredibly rewarding to witness peoples’ eagerness to give.

With regards to the pool table(s), more to come. More info about the campaign, and a video, here.

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