Social business venture in the Jaffa Port provides support and assistance for young Israeli women in distress and at-risk.
By Sarah Carnvek
At the Jaffa Port, just a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea, there’s a year-old clothing shop that could very well be the country’s best treasure chest of Israeli fashion. This bright and airy boutique – The Women’s Courtyard at the Port — sells top designer wear at discount prices with proceeds going to at-risk youth.
The social business venture is the latest undertaking by the Women’s Courtyard, a multicultural framework that provides support and assistance for young-adult women in distress and at risk who reside in the cities of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Bat Yam.
"It’s a different experience to buy here," says store manager Moran Goldfine. "You buy and donate. The young women [who work here] are amazing and what they’re doing is really admirable."
The women who staff The Women’s Courtyard at the Port are from at-risk backgrounds.
If you didn’t know the back story, it would be impossible to discern that the eight young women working at the store come from the extreme margins of Israeli society. For many, this is the first job they’ve ever held and it is their lifeline out of poverty, distress and abuse.
The majority of store proceeds go to training the young women on staff and supporting the Foundation for Children at Risk and the Dualis Israel Social Venture Fund.
"It is empowering beyond belief," says Noa Turgeman, co-executive director of the Women’s Courtyard. "Some of the young women can already hold a shift by themselves. It is beyond what we expected."
The idea for the store came from Women’s Courtyard founders Mirit Sidi and Leora Kessel. Wanting to offer at-risk women a chance to enter the workforce on the right footing, they set up a 24-month course that trains 18- to 25-year-olds in the ins and outs of the fashion business.
"Fashion makes most women happy," says Goldfine, the store manager. "The women who work here love it. It’s a hobby that becomes an occupation."
In addition to having a personal mentor, the eight participants learn about styling, design and sewing as well as how to run a store. The 6B Design College and Shenkar College of Engineering and Design donated free courses to the Courtyard. Goldfine teaches her trainees how to operate a cash register, approach customers, do inventory and just about every other facet of running a boutique.
Sewing classes are part of the two-year course that will give
eight young women a greater chance for employment.
There’s also a social worker on hand.
"Their life doesn’t stop just because they’re working," explains Turgeman, who has extensive experience in store management and also holds a psychology degree. "They still have challenges. Tolerant employers understand that their employee might not be the best employee at the beginning."
The women may come late for work or not come at all depending on how they are feeling. Some of the women leave in the middle of a shift because they have an urgent errand to run. Still, the job is making a difference.
"It gives them hope to wake up in the morning and know that they have a place to go. The salary also gives hope and puts them in another position," Turgeman says. "Each one of the women came with her disadvantages. Working here has given them a confidence boost."
A place to just be
The boutique is just one of the Women’s Courtyard ventures. Kessel and Sidi, two social workers, established the Courtyard in 2003 because they saw the need for a safe, female space offering emotional support, educational activities, vocational services and crisis intervention to disadvantaged young women in the Jaffa area.
The Courtyard is located in the middle of a poor neighborhood in Jaffa. There’s a kitchen, a living room area with books and toys, and a big courtyard. Some 150 women and girls aged 13 to 25, from Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds, pass through the space annually from morning until 7 in the evening.
They come to hang out here because it is a stress-free environment where they can just be.
"In the Courtyard they see the common denominator of gender – womanhood issues are similar to everyone," says Turgeman.
"The organization promotes social justice, equal opportunities and the right of every woman and girl to achieve self-fulfillment in accordance with her will, aspirations and needs, independent of national origins or ethnicity," the mission statement reads.
Five professional therapists, social work students and volunteers help these women get back on track and return to educational programs or enter the workforce.
One young woman is starting a course at Tel Aviv University after three years of severe depression. And another woman opened a hair salon.
Opening more courtyards
Knowing that women in distress do not reside solely in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Bat Yam, the Women’s Courtyard is marking its 10th anniversary by opening new branches around the country. In February 2013, a new Haifa Courtyard opened its doors, and the organization hopes to open additional branches in Netanya (north of Tel Aviv), Kiryat Malachi and Dimona (both in the south) by the end of 2013.
The Courtyard gets financial support from municipalities, the Welfare Ministry, private foundations, local business and private donors. It collaborates with various social-welfare organizations and public schools.
"We’re very unique in that we work inside the neighborhood. We work with everyone. We welcome everyone. We’re very tolerant and very patient," says Turgeman. "From a grassroots place to now owning a store and with more Courtyards on the way, it’s just amazing."