This post is a special one for me because it is the first time that I have focused on one of our clients…this client, the Akko Center for Arts and Technology (A-CAT), is based in Pittsburgh and serves both youth and adults in the city of Akko, Israel. My associate, Rosalyn Markovitz, and I are helping the founder and president, Mark Frank, strategize on fundraising, pointing the organization into pockets of meaningful funding opportunities that will lead to long-term future success.
Akko, Israel sits in a natural harbor in the Western Galilee at the extremity of Haifa Bay on the coast of the Mediterranean. The population is about 49,000 people and has a relatively high proportion of non-Jewish residents, with 32% of the population being Arab. Akko’s school system is segregated between Arabs and Jews and this separation, combined with the constant fear of conflict, often stands in the way of most Arab and Jewish youth interacting. But inside the walls of A-CAT, each classroom for both adults and youth is split evenly between Jewish and Arab students to prevent either from being a minority.
A-CAT was founded in 2016 by Mr. Frank and is modeled after the Manchester Bidwell Corporation (MBC), a very successful Pittsburgh non-profit that proves that at-risk populations can thrive when allowed to learn in an environment of respect. For the last 40 years, MBC has reversed the negative trajectory of scores of Pittsburghers through such avenues as photography, horticulture, and the culinary arts, boosting self-esteem and providing youth with skills they can use to find jobs.
Now this model has been replicated in Akko providing education and opportunity to underserved youth and adults as well as supporting co-existence among Arabs and Jews. As a result of these programs, students are developing lasting relationships, bridges between the two cultures are growing, the center is gaining traction and there is hope and a request from the larger Israeli community to build such a center in every major city in Israel.
A-CAT’s programming is inspiring participants of all ages to explore the possibilities of science, technology, engineering, the arts and much more so they can create the future they imagine. At the same time, it is creating an environment of peaceful co-existence for hundreds of Akko citizens. Students are working with 3D printing and photography programs, filmmaking, laser cutting and project design, robotics, leadership and interpersonal skills—simultaneously developing the ability to work in diverse teams.
Adults are enrolled in highly sought-after fields—professional training courses and opportunities that aim to generate economic and employment opportunities. Courses are certified and include training in Computerized Warehouse Management and Industrial Quality Assurance and Control, as well as courses in Tourism and Hospitality.
The participants are enjoying the support of the community, witnessing the impact of economic empowerment in a shared society.
This program is novel and productive. Ensuring that support comes from concerned citizens from the United States also leverages contributions from public and private partnerships in Israel. As a result, USAID approved a three-year large-scale program for youth to innovate in the community and make an impact on wider circles of peers, families and community members. Wider circles of partners are becoming involved and those sustainable advantages are very exciting and lead to even wider opportunities.
Recently at the Rodef Shalom Congregation there was a celebration of the opening of “CONNECTING,” a photographic exhibit featuring the work of Arab and Jewish teens who are learning not only marketable job skills, but how to get along with one another. The 31 photos in the exhibit showcase the technical prowess of the students as well as the relationships fostered between them.
“The center in Akko is bearing huge dividends,” Bill Strickland said at the opening of the exhibit. “And I’ve decided the real conversation is to use this model in Akko in many places in Israel. So, just in case you thought we were finished, we are at the beginning of the conversation, not the end. Shimon Peres, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu are now part of our kitchen cabinet,” he quipped. “This is not just about one center. I’ve decided the game is let’s change the world.”
When asked about the relationships between the Jewish and Arab students, Mr. Frank noted that he understands the students wait for meetings with their friends from other schools, they have their pictures taken together and also take pictures of one another, working on common designs, exchanging phone numbers and becoming friends in social networks. He notes that students began to believe in themselves and in each other. The photography course inspired them to become more interested and they want to learn and know more. Their teacher reported, “Students began to believe in themselves, their self-image rose, their motivation for learning increased.
“This is where it begins, in my opinion,” Mr. Frank said. “This was transformational for them both in terms of their own self-esteem and coexistence.” This is a new era that Mr. Frank is ushering in for teens and adults, making a significant transformation for the population from Akko.
If you are interested in learning more about this program, the Akko Center for Arts and Technology, don’t hesitate to contact me through this website or at 412-721-4719.