Why help only one generation when you can help two with the same programs?
Through my work with United Way Ottawa, I’ve seen great programs that help more than one generation break the cycle of poverty, addiction and limited education.
My favourite is the Youville Centre, which allows 48 teen mothers each year to finish high school in an incredibly supportive environment.
Most of these young women go on to college or university, and many kids of earlier Youville graduates are now graduating from post-secondary institutions as well.
In this case, helping mothers helps kids.
In the case of my favourite organizations in Israel, programs for kids have had remarkable benefits for their parents.
I was recently honoured by three Ottawa chapters of Canadian Hadassah-WIZO, whose CHW acronym also stands for “Children, Healthcare and Women.”
Some of the proceeds from the fundraiser will support the daycare in Acco named after the late Terry Schwarzfeld of Ottawa.
It has 12 staff for 57 kids – many referred by welfare officials. It offers nutritious meals and snacks, and has a team of professionals – psychologist, occupational therapist and speech therapist – on call to work with the kids and their families.
We’re also supporting CHW’s WIZ Kids Program, which operates in all six of CHW’s daycare centres in Israel.
Ever handed your kids or grandchildren your iPhone or iPad and been astounded by how quickly they master it? By the time they’re in daycare or kindergarten, it’s like an extension of their hands and brains.
But that can mean that kids who have never touched a smart phone, tablet or computer are already way behind their peers by the time they’re in school.
And their parents aren’t usually able to help them, especially immigrant parents with literacy, numeracy and language issues.
WIZ Kids bridges that gap by offering hands-on computer experience that focuses on school readiness – numbers, letters, colours and basic vocabulary. It’s couched in computer games, so it doesn’t feel like work.
Another benefit of the program is that it encourages parents to come to the daycare centre to work with their kids. Under the pretext of helping and interacting with their own children, the parents are able to obtain some basic learning skills for their own advancement.
Parents and children learn skills, but also feel pride in their achievements – a scarce commodity among immigrants and the economically challenged.
I was particularly drawn to the WIZ Kids program because of my earlier connection with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (better known as the JDC or “the Joint”). The unsung hero of international aid organizations, the JDC works in more than 70 countries around the world.
When Ethiopian Jews first started arriving in Israel in large numbers, the assumption was that the parents would make sacrifices – the case with most immigrants – but the kids would soon catch up and thrive.
But the Israeli government, the JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel soon discovered that children who had never held a pencil or crayon, seen a book or played a word game in any language would not easily catch up to their native Israeli peers.
And they fell behind even further without support from their parents, who could not read or write in their native Amharic and struggled with basic Hebrew.
So the JDC created Parents and Children Together (PACT), an early intervention program for kids that also engages their parents.
When I visited the program in Be’er Sheva, I watched a group of five kids who had been working with a pet therapist introduce a chinchilla to their classmates. The kids had learned all about the little fur ball, and fed the pet dried chickpeas while they shared their knowledge.
An astounding 90 per cent of students in this kindergarten had at least one parent in jail. One of the little girls working with the pet had not said a word during her first few months at school because of previous trauma.
But there she was, showing off her newfound knowledge and basking in the accompanying pride.
A recent JDC newsletter – http://tinyurl.com/nelp92k – told of Getahun Ayele, a visually impaired Ethiopian Israeli whose work with his daughter’s PACT program in Netanya enabled him to connect with other parents and start two choral groups that sing traditional Ethiopian music.
Their kids are proud to see their parents onstage, and learn about their unique heritage.
A hand up is always better than a handout – especially when both parents and kids can reach it.