The photograph of Vered was striking. Her thick black eye liner, jet black hair and powdered skin made me cringe. “We were afraid to talk to her,” said Dotan, a young adult from Ashkelon. My eyes were affixed on the photo. It was hard to believe that the Vered whose hand gently cupped the image was the same Vered staring harshly out of the glossy print.
“I know,” she said with a smile. “I was different then.” Vered is in her early 20s today. A half-a-decade ago, she nearly dropped out of school and turned to drugs and violence. However, a friend reached out to her and recommended she apply to be a part of the Diller volunteer program, a group of 20 Israeli and 20 Baltimore teens who collectively engage in hands on volunteering. The teens formulate and then carry out their projects, bettering their communities’ one act at a time. That program led to her involvement in AMEN, the Ashkelon network of youth volunteers. Together, Diller and AMEN saved Vered, giving her a new life, purpose and passion.
When the AMEN program started in Ashkelon, there were 450 youth engaged in volunteering. Today, there are over 5,000 youth. Vered is one of the success stories. She is an IDF policewoman. She is strong, confident and beautiful. On her days off from the army, she continues to volunteer in Ashkelon.
Vered has tears in her eyes. She slowly sticks the picture in her pocket, crumpling the corners slightly.
“That was then,” she laughed. “Volunteering changed my life. I have THE ASSOCIATED and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee [which launched AMEN in Ashkelon] to thank.” Statics show volunteering improves a person’s outlook on life and success.
The impact of THE ASSOCIATED’s dollars for youth volunteerism in our sister city is far reaching. Vered is just one person, but she is a symbol of the power of civic engagement and partnership.
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