Youth village leader named a global hero
Center has housed at-risk immigrant youth for more than half a century.
Jenny Levishatel came to Yemin Orde, an orphan village and school in northern Israel, as a child recently emigrated from Russia. She graduated in 1995 and set out on her own. But she always knew where home was.
"There was always a feeling, even once we left the village, that there was a home to return to," Levishatel said. "Also, when we left Yemin Orde and attended university, we were supported financially by Yemin Orde. And that foundation and confidence is the uniqueness of the place."
That place, a sprawling village on 77 acres atop Mount Carmel, has been home to more than 4,000 children since its inception in 1953. It lives by the philosophy of "the Village Way," an approach used to transition at-risk children from a common orphan survival mentality to understanding that they are destined for great things.
Now, Yemin Orde's leader, Chaim Peri, is being recognized for his decades of dedication to building a "de-institutionalized institution." Peri was presented with the 2014 World of Children Alumni Award at a ceremony in New York City, alongside seven other "global heroes” who have devoted their lives to positively impacting the world’s most vulnerable children.
“You can’t replace parents, but you can provide kids with slivers of parenthood,” Peri told From The Grapevine. “Kids have to know they are always welcomed, that they’re not just there to be processed.”
Since its inception, Peri says, the goal at Yemin Orde has been to establish an environment that feels nothing like an orphanage. Its graduates, mostly immigrant children from countries such as Russia, Ethiopia and India, have gone on to careers ranging from law and education to film and music. Currently, 400 children live in the village, which also includes staff housing and a 65-bed Graduate House as a “home away from home” for those without a place to live after graduation.
“These kids have already been expelled; they don’t need to be expelled again,” Peri says.
Yemin Orde's "Village Way" serves as a model of educational excellence for other orphanages, according to its website. It's now being tapped to incorporate its mission and philosophies into 23 other educational communities in Israel.
Among the other World of Children recipients honored at the New York ceremony is Gregory John Smith, who gave up his comfortable life in Norway two decades ago to work with children on some of Brazil’s most menacing streets. He even began living on the streets of São Paulo to better understand their plight. He later started the Rede Cultural Beija-Flor, which provides impoverished youth with educational, entrepreneurship and cultural activities.
The Youth Award went to Mary Grace Henry, who at 12 years old began working to fund education for children worldwide. Her program, Reverse the Course, is funded through the sale of hair accessories. It’s a thriving social business that has paid for the educations of girls in Kenya, Uganda, Paraguay and Haiti.
Since 1998, the World of Children Award has selected more than a 100 youth advocates who've gone on to touch the lives of millions of children through the program.
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