Volunteering today for a better tomorrow – this IS ESRA!
These past weeks have been filled with ESRA activities that make us feel very proud.
Whether the Student Scholarship Award Event – where we met ESRA's students, great role models, who give meaningful support to children from particularly challenging backgrounds (see page?); whether the highly successful Dudu Fisher & Colin Schachat fundraiser (see page ?); or whether because of you, ESRA volunteers, whose activities continue to contribute towards building a better society for all.
ESRA prides itself on being the largest volunteer based English speaking organization in Israel. Our volunteering has many facets – it could simply be as a member of a local ESRA branch; it could be as a befriender or counsellor; it could be collating or distributing this superb Magazine (thank you Merle!); it could be sitting on an ESRA committee or it might well be that you are part of the biggest band of ESRA volunteers namely volunteering for our ETP (English Tutoring Program).
ESRA's ETP is active throughout the country and is fortunate in having two dynamic individuals (volunteers) who head the project - Michael Levinson – the National Coordinator and Lola Katz who supports Michael and carries out the complex responsibility of the program's administration.
Today the ETP project boasts some 200 volunteers. It is simply wonderful to see how this program has expanded especially in recent years. At one time our input was limited to helping Bagrut students with their English Oral examination – whilst still its prime function - today it is extended, in some cities, to primary schools as well as middle and high schools. It is a great concept because the main requisite of the volunteer is that they speak English – certainly no problem for ESRA's clientele. ESRA's involvement transcends schools situated in different areas – each with its own personality. We cover a broad spectrum of knowledge with some volunteers helping exceptionally bright youngsters whilst others appreciate that they are making a big difference in the comprehension of their pupils simply through their conversations.
As I write this article I have just received a lovely note from ESRA North Coast Nahariya inviting volunteers to join their Harel High School program. The note highlighted one Jennifer Oliver, a volunteer at Harel, who came on aliyah with her husband and four children aged 16, 15, 13 and 10 in late November 2015. How great it is that she is already volunteering helping pupils in preparation for the Bagrut examination. Emanating from North Carolina, where she was a professional English teacher, she decided to volunteer with ESRA as a way of helping her integrate into the community. I spoke with Jennifer recently who said how much she is enjoying her volunteering. She loves talking to her pupils and finds the whole process very fulfilling. The Nahariya ETP has proved to be most positive in helping her acclimatize to her new life in Israel.
It has been a joy to see how new branches in the North have been born and blossomed. Each one has developed its own distinctive identity but, without doubt, the main objective has been to reach out to other English speakers and make that all important connection. Interesting because often the potential member has spent an entire working life speaking Hebrew – it is only following retirement that there seems to be an urge to return to one's roots. Perhaps it is not only a question of language but one of culture too?
One of the biggest challenges our organization faces is that of expansion. Expansion is good for sure but, at the same time, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a working relationship that benefits all. There can be no doubt that when ESRA, in the past, was based primarily in the center of the country it was far easier for all to feel connected. Today we recognize that the regions are an entity in themselves – they truly benefit from our three Regional Coordinators, Jane Krivine (North), Janet Kiesari (South) and Glenis Bertfield (Center). Regular regional branch gatherings offer an opportunity for exchange of ideas and to speak about successes and challenges. It has also proved to be a meaningful way for ESRA Executive members to remain in touch with all that is happening throughout the country. These meetings are an opportunity to hear and to learn of the exciting programs and volunteering activities.
I consider myself very fortunate to be part of ESRA. Having had the pleasure of meeting many ESRA activists I believe I can say that in volunteering we receive far more than we give. We are the lucky ones.
Taking this opportunity of extending ESRA's deep appreciation to each and every volunteer - it is YOU that make ESRA the organization of which we remain ever proud.