Youth at risk are under tremendous amounts of pressures and usually experience multiple crises: in school, at home, and with friends. Lacking a supportive environment, these pressures often lead to violence, addictions, substance abuse and even suicidality.
At-risk youth from culturally marginalized groups suffer multiple disadvantages – social, cultural and economic, are more prone to suffer neglect and therefore more likely to develop dangerous behaviors.
Nurturing the mental strength of these youth is fundamental to their survival, and to their ability to develop coping mechanisms that allow them to handle the challenges and difficulties they face, as well as the self-confidence, motivation, sense of purpose, maturity and tenacity that are crucial for them to ‘turn the corner’ and improve their life opportunities.
At present, however, the overburdened welfare system in Israel fails to deliver adequate integrative solutions, especially to youth from disadvantaged groups in the periphery.
Nirim is a one-of-a-kind program offering urgent emotional support for children and youth in critical situations. The program runs according to a model of personal mentorship: MTA psychology students offer weekly mentoring meetings for regular participants, and provide them emotional guidance and support, under supervision by senior faculty at the MTA School of Behavioral Sciences. The program further includes additional components of community work, lectures and sessions for parents of at-risk youth, and workshops for pedagogical staff at schools. The program currently runs in Jaffa, and we intend to expand it to the entire central district of Israel over the next 5 years, in particular in schools with demonstrated acute need.
Benevolent Relief to the Community
The ongoing personal meetings, with adult students who serve as a role-models, nurture healthy relationships that youth-at-risk otherwise lack in their lives. Thanks to this model, at-risk youth find in Nirim a safe space where they can openly discuss difficulties, develop reflexivity and strength of character, and receive unconditional support and care.
In the three years pilot the college ran, 120 youth have benefitted from the Nirim program, and results were overwhelmingly positive, in terms of personal behavioral change and improvement in educational achievements – as reported by school staff.
Additional Long-term Community Impact
Owing to the ongoing work with local community partners, the program builds an entire supportive environment for children and youth from marginalized groups. Specifically, by running outreach and awareness raising activities for educators and parents, the program supports early-identification of at risk situations, and prevents dangerous tendencies, and violent and self-harming behaviors.