Families stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder in Beer Sheva

Photo : JFNA

Photo : JFNA

Before Sami and Rachel joined the Shoulder-to-Shoulder program, they were at the lowest point in their lives. Both are 28-years-old, and the parents of three children between the ages of five and two. Financial woes were putting unbearable stress on their marriage, making for a tense and explosive situation in their home in a lower income section of Beer Sheva.

Sami was working a menial job in a falafel stand. And despite putting in twelve-hour days, he wasn’t earning enough to make ends meet and wasn’t eligible for any benefits. Rachel had been unemployed for more than three years and had dropped out of a government-sponsored course where she was learning how to be a caregiver. Had she found a job in that field, it would have been self-defeating because their joint income would have risen and they would no longer qualify for low-cost government housing but they wouldn’t have enough to rent a decent dwelling.

Just when it seemed there was no hope and that they were inescapably trapped in the cycle of poverty, they joined Shoulder-to-Shoulder. Established five years ago, it offers assistance to troubled families – many of whom are new immigrants to Israel – to improve their quality of life, empowering them with the tools necessary to succeed.

What is most innovative about the program is that it does not just involve professional support, but links the recipients with a mentor family that enjoys a stable home, is familiar with available community services, and has a keen desire to participate in social change within their community. Through the partnership between families, the program strengthens the recipients, while inspiring a broader feeling of community solidarity.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder has been amazingly successful. Since 2005:

  • 90% of participant families complete the process;
  • 75% of the families increased their income by returning to the employment cycle or by receiving a higher income;
  • 75% of families have improved their ability to manage their finances;
  • 70% of the children in the families improved at least one school grade and are in the highest quarter of their class.

There are currently fifteen families in the program.

Rachel was inspired to return to complete her training as a caregiver and has found a job in a kindergarten, which has doubled the family’s income. She feels independent and worthy of her success. As well, with the help of her mentor, she was finally able to achieve her goal of learning how to drive and getting her license.

Sami found a better and more stable job, and now earns 40% above the minimum wage, along with a benefits package. He is trying to improve his prospects further by taking a course to become an electrical technician. The family moved to a better apartment in a better neighbourhood. Thanks to the program, they received a new fridge and washer-drier, and their kids went to camp last summer at a reduced price. They have been able to reimburse most of their debts. They are now participating in couple’s therapy and financial planning courses, which have greatly improved their home life. Today, the family is not in need of any further welfare support and is completely self-sufficient.

“We would never have been able to survive these difficult times in their lives without the support of Shoulder to Shoulder and the emotional motivation of our mentor family,” says Sami, with gratitude.

Shoulder to Shoulder is supported by Federation CJA through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2000 program.