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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nestled in the heart of the town of Dolev is a building that houses 130 girls, ages 11-21, from a variety of backgrounds and locations, but all with the same goals in mind: survival and growth. Removed from their homes due to unsupportive environments, trauma, abuse, or suicide attempts, these girls are given a second chance at life, and are surrounded by professionals and caring staff who see to it that they develop tools to succeed.

But what is unique about Ulpanat Dolev, run by headmaster Ilan Biton, is their model of having family life at its core. The entire community of Dolev is invested in the well-being of the students. Bi-weekly, the girls are hosted by families whom they are matched with, so that they become an integral part of life-cycle events and celebrations, something that they would otherwise lack by living in a group home. The Ulpana is also divided into 10 smaller homes, or Mishpachtonim, each with approximately 12 “daughters” and a nuclear family who lives with them.

In addition to the myriad counselors and therapists who work individually and with groups, each child receives a tailor-made curriculum suited to her needs, and learns a particular vocation, such as commercial pastry baking, event planning, metal art design, photography, carpentry, fashion design and beauty care, to name a few, so that she is prepared for life beyond.

In order for the girls to reach beyond their personal needs, they are involved in weekly volunteering opportunities with the elderly or disabled, or in nearby day-care centers and nurseries, to cultivate their skills in nurturing, something that perhaps was missing in their own broken homes. They also work as assistant counselors in the Dolev Summer Camps. Ulpanat Dolev also houses “Café Dilemma,” a student-run cafe open to all residents of Dolev and the surrounding neighborhoods, which provides a comfortable setting for positive social interactions.

Dolev Homes for Youth is also unique in that their treatment and care does not end after senior year of high school. Over 95 percent of the graduates go on to join the IDF or National Service, but Dolev also has “Homes for Graduates” on its campus, offering girls a chance to obtain additional skills to successfully join Israeli society, holding their hands through the critical final years before independence.

The success of Dolev Homes for Youth is evident by the hundreds of graduates who have gone on to nurture their own families or develop unique career paths, carrying with them the skills they lacked in childhood but gained from Ulpanat Dolev.

Dolev Homes for Youth was founded in 1988, and today there are 18 projects that serve 600 at-risk boys and girls, in addition to its original flagship location in Dolev. There is Bet Reshet, or “Safety Net,” which is a teen crisis management center; a Bayit Cham, or “Warm Home,” an after-school enrichment program for secular and at-risk girls in Ashdod; and transition homes and high-school dorms for ultra-Orthodox students in Jerusalem. PROUD Partners Reaching Out to Ulpanat Dolev, an American Friends organization, helps to raise awareness in the US and bring funding to support these critical institutions. Tax-deductible donations can be made through this 501(c)(3) via the website, www.dolev4u.org. The website also has ideas for kids to do bar/bat mitzvah projects, and suggests ways they can raise funds to help out in honor of their simchas.

By Sarah Abenaim