As June came to a close, the school year came to an end. Thousands of local children between the ages of 5 and 11 rushed happily to join a range of summer programming put on by the elementary schools, the municipality and the network of city community centers. Not so lucky are the children aged 12 and over, who are not included. For those families for whom economic circumstances make them unlikely to go on vacation, or whose parents have to work and can’t take time off, the summer can become a long, unengaging period that can encourage dangerous and risk-taking behavior.
This is where the Ogen Youth Club for At-Risk Youth comes in. The team at the Ogen were unwilling to accept a situation in which any teen, no matter how disadvantaged their background, has nothing to do while their friends go on vacation, attend summer camps and more. So, in response to this situation, the team, led by kibbutz-member Ronen Shabbtay, created an exciting, activity-packed schedule for the summer and invited all regular club members, along with anyone interested in trying it out, to attend at heavily subsidized prices.
“On the very last day they took us to a water-park in the center of the country. I’d never been to a water-park before. It was absolutely amazing!” Lev, 14.
“We try to combine exciting attractions like theme-parks and hikes with more educational-focused content that happens at the club. There’s a very special feeling you get from taking a group of teens to a place or to have an experience you know that they never have and probably otherwise never would. When they go back to school, they will tell their friends what they did over the summer. Now, thanks to the Ogen, the answer won’t just be loitering in parks, drinking and smoking,” Naama Zilber, 31, counselor.
A key part of the Ogen summer-programming involves counselors walking through the city late at night, meeting the teens where they are. Understanding that a lot of the dangerous behaviors that at-risk teens can fall into when otherwise unoccupied takes place in unsupervised parks under dark, counselors from the Educators’ Kibbutz spend two nights a week visiting these places, talking with the teens and inviting them to join activities at the Ogen.