After three years of rich and varied activities, the pilot program of Strong Communities, in the Tel Kabir neighborhood in south Tel-Aviv, has come to an end. The initiating team, led by Dr. Carmit Katz of the School of Social Work, Tel-Aviv University, and escorted and supported by the Haruv Institute headed by Prof. Asher Ben-Arieh, has been occupied this past year in conceptualizing the knowledge and skills that have accrued – via academic papers in Israel and abroad as well as conferences and designated workshops. Additionally, the initiating staff is busy studying the successes achieved by the professional teams that worked in this neighborhood. The staff’s objective is to refine the model for Strong Communities developed in Israel – a model which trains students of Social Work in a unique process carried out jointly by social workers and the social services departments.
Concurrently, intensive activities are in process in the Halisa neighborhood in Haifa.
Strong Communities in Halisa was initiated through the collaboration between various agents: The Haifa Municipality’s Welfare Division, led by social worker Tal Ziso-Goldwin and her community workers, responsible for coordinating, planning and implementing community activities; the School of Social Work at Haifa University, responsible for the accompanying research led by Dr. Iris Lavi and Dr. Ruth Berkovitz; students of Social Work in the Field Studies unit, escorted by social worker Orli Avital; the Abad Elrakham Elkhaj Elementary School and its principal, Muhammad Ouad; the residents of the Halisa neighborhood and the organizations that are actively involved in the life fabric of the neighborhood.
The Strong Communities initiative in Haifa’s Halisa neighborhood completed its third year in 2018. Within its framework, community activities are held, with the interventions accompanied by research.
This year, the community activities focused on four circles of involvement:
1. The Children’s Circle: Establishing a School Student Council
The Student Council is an educational challenge that fosters youth leadership based on democratic values. This project facilitates experiencing civic activism by focusing on human rights and the individual citizen. The Council’s involvement has helped bolster the school’s congregation as an educational unit that promotes its students’ identity as part of a democratic society, while also reinforcing the students’ sense of belonging to their community and their school – to the benefit of the entire community.
- The program included a group facilitator, a second-year student of Social Work, in cooperation with the school’s social counselor.
- A consolidating ODT activity was held for the group of children during the year.
2. The Parents’ Circle: An Action Team to Promote Security and Safety in the Neighborhood
The Halisa neighborhood is socially and economically secluded, it is a neighborhood marked by violence that suffers mainly from gun-related and drug-related crimes. The residents do not feel safe in the streets due to the high level of violence – that occurs amongst children, adolescents and families. This project aims at increasing the sense of personal safety and coping with the presence of violence at three levels:
- Reinforcing the trust between the community and the police force.
- Residents’ activities to increase personal safety.
- Fortifying the emotional strength of the residents and solidifying the neighborhood’s plans for improvement.
The staff was led by Halisa’s community social worker and a second-year student of Social Work
3. Parents-Children’s Circle: A Mobile Play Center
In the Halisa neighborhood there reside many families who come from a low socio-economic status, families who need to cope on a daily basis with a wide scope of economic and social hardships, which also include problems in parental effectiveness. The general sense of insecurity in the neighborhood is especially harsh amongst families with children. Parents usually avoid sending their young children to activities organized by the school, after-school clubs or the community center in the afternoon hours, out of fear for their safety. The children themselves refrain from participating because of their own fear that “someone”: may harm them – another child, an adolescent or an adult. This project has provided an alternative for afternoon activities for those children who don’t attend the neighborhood’s community centers’ programs, thus increasing the personal safety among the children and residents in the neighborhood, and promoting a social network around the children amongst the residents of apartment buildings, additionally reinforcing the ties between parent and child.
- Within the project’s framework, five mobile play centers were operated at the entrance level of five apartment buildings.
- A joint event for parents and children was held in all five mobile play centers.
- The project was accompanied by ten first-year students of Social Work.
4. A Neighborhood Circle: The “Halisa in Our Hearts” Initiative for Brand-naming Positive Community Values
The Strong Communities model interfaces with the world of advertisement and marketing in this modern era as it emphasizes publicizing desirable social messages, which include the importance of securing the physical and emotional safety of the neighborhood children. The project was designed to raise a communication buzz during its first year of operation in the neighborhood – so that its initiative, principles and activities become widespread and familiar to all the neighborhood’s residents and encourage them to join and to volunteer for a variety of projects.
- Within the project’s framework, an initiative for community empowerment was begun, via photography, research, documentation and creative thinking that would be carried out by volunteers from the neighborhood. The goals of the initiative were to increase communal consolidation in order to create local pride. The initiative is highly visible in the neighborhood. Its final product is a street exhibit called “Halisa in Our Hearts” – a mosaic of places and people reflected in fourteen giant pictures exhibited on the main street of the neighborhood. Follow-through activities will include guided tours of the neighborhood led by local residents.
- The activity was accompanied by a third-year student of Social Work.
Summary of the Research Activities of Strong Communities in Halisa, Haifa
The community activities of the teams and students in the neighborhood of Halisa, Haifa were accompanied by an evaluation study directed by Dr. Iris Lavi, Dr. Ruth Berkovitz and Prof. Miri Cohen from the School of Social Work at the Haifa University. The aim of the accompanying study is to evaluate the degree of efficacy of the intervention initiative to reinforce community ties, as a means of increasing the welfare of the child and minimizing the occurrence of abuse and injury to children. An additional goal is to feed the initiative with affective data during the process, in order to help the field workers introduce changes and adaptations to the program, rendering it more efficient (a formative evaluation study).
The study focuses on two major areas: a. The neighborhood’s elementary school – Abad Elrakham Elkhaj and b. Families in the community.
- The assessment in the school focuses on how the students and parents perceive the school climate: the student’s sense of belonging and connection with the school, feeling protected in school, violence, relationships with peer groups and with adults, the parents’ involvement in the school, clear expectations from the students and the fairness of school regulations, the extent of the school’s support of parents and the help offered them. The questionnaires of the teachers and staff members as well focus on how the school climate is perceived, the perception of parents’ involvement in the school, estimating the extent of abuse and neglect the students experience and their attitude towards reporting these phenomena. Last year the questionnaires were distributed at two different points in time: during the school year (February 2017) and at the end of the school year (June 2018).
- The assessment among the families in the community is carried out by students and examiners who distribute the questionnaires in the homes once a year. The questionnaires measure the parents’ reportage on a variety of subjects: Their satisfaction from the neighborhood, their social life, social support, giving and receiving help in the neighborhood, communal capability, collective efficiency, organizations in the community, familiarity with the neighborhood children, the experience of parenting in the neighborhood, the quality of life and a sense of hope. Till now these questionnaires were distributed at two different points in time: prior to the beginning of the intervention (in 2014) and a year after the intervention activities began (February 2017).