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“It Starts with Soccer and Concludes with Champions” A Volunteer Shares Her Experience

Updated: Apr 3

Lisa Pengitore, a special education teacher from New Jersey with 19 years of classroom experience, volunteered teaching English in Jerusalem through a program called “Ma’avarim.”  Lisa’s volunteer assignment was facilitated by Skilled Volunteers for Israel through Jerusalem Venture Partner’s “BaKehila’” which works with youth in four disadvantaged Jerusalem neighborhoods.  During the summer, BaKehila runs the two week Ma’avarim program, which focuses on strengthening the English and math skills of children entering fifth and sixth grades.  Lisa worked in collaboration with the program’s site coordinator and English teacher and jumped right in – doing what she knows how to do—- teach, support, encourage, and enjoy.  Lisa shared the following moving impressions of her experience…..

“ When Yonas dashes into the classroom bouncing his soccer ball, we begin our English class with the universal language of sports.  From that moment on, I am in love with his motivation, energy, attitude, and resilience.   The next day, I show my photos of the Giants football game and my annual Super Bowl party with my guests wearing 3-D glasses.  Now my students are hooked.

Each student has a unique style, sense of humor, and personality. With his soft spoken manner, Itzchak never stops working.   He employs a calm and systematic approach.  His constant curiosity is evident in everything he does.  He promises that he will never stop learning and some day may be the prime minister.  Bat El comes every day with her colored pencils and organized notebook.  She loves to color code the material.  The first day, Yonas storms into class with his ball and his spirited personality.  The next day he enters with his books and determination.  Daniel oversleeps one morning and is furious that he misses the beginning of class.  (Music to my ears).   Efraim is absent the first day of school.  I reluctantly ask that he stay with me during recess to complete material that he had missed, and he agrees without hesitation.  Yosef requests to join us, and he earns his place in our class.

We read  a story about a boy who sees thousands of starfish on the beach.  Because starfish require water to live, the boy begins to throw the starfish back in the sea one by one.  A man walks by and tells the boy that he is wasting his time because he cannot possibly get to all of them.   “There are thousands of starfish here.  What can you accomplish by throwing the starfish back one by one?”  The boy replies that it makes a big difference to the starfish that are now back in the ocean.  I am confident that each of my pupils will discover his or her personal way to make a difference.

As the students begin to feel empowered and successful, they thoroughly apply themselves in the process.  Bili, my cooperating teacher, is always available to collaborate and provide support and expertise.  Yonatan, the site coordinator, provides insight about the community and educational system in Israel.  During the program, we share resources and learn from each other.  According to the test scores, every student demonstrates significant improvement.

On the last day, I leave the classroom with a gift of sweet chocolate, a beautiful card, and my salty tears. It starts with soccer and concludes with champions.”

Skilled Volunteers for Israel places adult professionals in meaningful, customized volunteer assignments in Israel.  To volunteer and contribute your professional expertise in Israel, contact Marla Gamoran, Executive Director, at

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