At-risk youth from culturally marginalized groups suffer multiple disadvantages – social, cultural and economic, are more prone to suffer neglect – and therefore are more likely to develop dangerous behaviors in school, at home, and with friends. Lacking a supportive environment, these pressures often lead to violence, addictions, substance abuse and even suicidality. Nurturing the mental strength of these youth is fundamental to their survival and 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 needed to ‘turn the corner’ and improve their prospects. Yet the acute shortage of psychologists in Israeli primary and secondary schools has left this important developmental aspect largely neglected.
MTA’s response to this social need was the establishment of Nirim, a first-of-its-kind program that offers urgent emotional support for youth (15-18) in critical situations. The program runs according to a model of personal mentorship: MTA B.A. in psychology students offer weekly mentoring meetings to pupils at participating schools and provide them with emotional guidance and support, under the supervision of senior faculty at the MTA School of Behavioral Sciences. Through these sessions, the students become positive role models for the pupils, nurturing healthy relationships the pupils otherwise lack in their lives and bringing about a personal behavioral change and improvement in educational achievements, thus forever impacting the lives, emotional well-being and prospects of the mentees. The program also includes components of community work, lectures and sessions for parents of at-risk youth, and workshops for pedagogical staff at schools.
In the three years since its launch, Nirim has expanded to five schools in Jaffa and south Tel-Aviv, and over 120 youth have benefitted from the program, with overwhelmingly positive results - as reported by school staff.
The Nirim program was established as a response to Tel Aviv’s Ironi Zain high school’s pupils need. The transformative change that it produced among the Ironi Zain participating pupils, most notably the significant increase in their self-esteem, led to the program’s implementation in another four partnering schools, all under the auspices of the Tel Aviv Yafo municipality. Tel Aviv Yafo city and its five participating schools are active partners and contribute greatly, in terms of input and feedback, to the evolution of this inspirational program.