For many kids the beginning of the school year is an exciting time – reuniting with old friends, getting back into a routine, and picking out a shiny new set of school supplies. In Israel, families are responsible for purchasing a whole host of materials for the year, including all the art supplies for the children’s art classes. This undertaking can be a financial burden to parents and often kids will go without, thereby not being able to fully participate in certain classes and feeling the embarrassment of being unprepared.
At Meir Panim’s Or Akiva After-School Center, Branch Manager Ilanit Hafuta has taken it upon herself that every child she meets will have a big smile on their face for the first day of school, knowing that they have everything they need for a successful and engaging year. She works with local stores to negotiate at-cost deals, receives a multitude of donations, calls in favors, and moves mountains – because these children are as important to her as her own.
The main hall of the Youth Center becomes a veritable school supply store – with tables full of notebooks, pencils, glue sticks, folders, and all of the art supplies a child can imagine. The staff and volunteers at the center come together to form an assembly line and put together kits for each student.
Gestures like this truly turn Meir Panim into a family environment for the Or Akiva community – it is not just a place to get their basic nutritional needs met, but a place that embraces their families holistically. Ilanit ensures that the center acts as a safety net, so that local families never feel alone and children have all the tools they need for success – both at home and in school.