('Finishing the month' is a term used in Israel that speaks to having enough money to be able to pay an entire month's expenses. Twenty per cent of Israelis are working families whose income barely reaches to poverty level.
Haifa, on Israel's northern coast, has long been considered an integrated city, where Jews and Arabs have co-existed. Built around beautiful Mount Carmel, it is home to the Bahai World Headquarters, and one of the central tourist draws is the magnificent Bahai gardens.
The House of Grace was begun as a half-way house for prisoners. Agnes and Camille Shehad, the founders, set it up in an old church near the port district. The former inmates lived with the family, worked at jobs and found new places for themselves in the larger community. Although Camille has passed away, Agnes and her family have continued the work and have expanded it to include youth programs for children of parents living in poverty. I was lucky enough to visit The House of Grace, and there I met J., who is thirteen years old.)
J. Today is an Islamic holiday. I wasn't sure if the Center would be open. Some of the kids who come here are Muslim. Some are Christian. Some are Jewish. But we have a big football game on Saturday, so it's good that the center is open and we can practice. Our coach says we need to learn how to win and how to lose - that means losing a game and keeping our temper. I'm excited because we are getting new uniforms. They will be black and yellow. Someone has donated them.
Coming here is good. We can use the computers, we get help with homework. There are people who talk with us and tell us the things to watch out for so we won't get into trouble when we are older.
A lot of kids here have problems at home. Maybe their parents have no job so there's no money. Maybe their father is using drugs or alcohol. Maybe there is no food in their house or their father is in jail or the mother is not well in her mind because of her worries.
The war is far from here, but there are lots of problems that happen besides war. When the war was going on between Lebanon and Israel, we felt it all here because Lebanon is not far.
When people see children who maybe have no good clothes, they think that the children might not be any good. Some people think that good clothes make good people, and that we are not worth anything if our clothes are old. Maybe the teachers don't spend as much time with us because they think we are poor and it doesn't matter. If we feel we are not worth anything, why go to school? Why try?
My father died five years ago. It's been hard, to be without him. It is just me, my mother and my broher. But when I started coming here I learned that I will always be welcome and even if my life is hard, there will always be someone who needs me. There is a purpose for me. I am in this life to do something, not to just be someone that richer people just pass by without seeing.
Older teenagers volunteer here and help us with our homework, and we help the younger kids with their. We pack up food parcels for families that don't have food.
When I come here my mother can relax because she knows I'm safe and in a place where I'm doing good things. She is easier to be with at home because she is relaxed.
I think the future will be hard because it is hard to find work that pays enough money and life without money is very hard. I would like to be a veterinarian when I grow up. It is not good to see animals in pain. There are many stray dogs and cats in Israel. Some of them are not healthy. There are other animals, too, like sheep and horses. I would like to learn how to take care of them. My favorite film is Mr. Bean and if I could go anyplace in the world I would go to New York City because it is a very famous place.