Hearts travel from Hawaii to Virginia to Israel

by | May 9, 2024 | It's a Wrap, Latest News

In February, Jewish News featured a story about Aloha Hearts, fused glass ‘worry hearts’ created by Hawaiian Barry Gitelson. These glass hearts have since been distributed to Israeli children in Sderot as part of Youth Futures, a program that assists at-risk children and their families.

“We used the glass hearts in our initial activities following the children’s return to Sderot (after being evacuated from their homes for about four months) to help them process their feelings and concerns surrounding their return,” says Maytal Benbenishti, donor relations and visits coordinator of Youth Futures.

Part of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Youth Futures is a mentorship program aimed at empowering children and teens in Israel. Since Oct. 7, the need for their services has grown, with more than 14,000 direct beneficiaries (children and their parents).

The sessions with the Sderot children, according to Benbensihti, focused on addressing stress, fear, and anxiety by practicing breathing exercises and guided imagery. Some activities were done individually during one-on-one meetings, while others took place in group settings with several children participating together.

Given the challenging circumstances, many of the children brought up difficulties they face in their daily lives. During group sessions, the children were provided with a safe space to share their feelings and express emotions triggered by various situations like alarms or certain noises.

Barry Gitelson's glass worry hearts.
Barry Gitelson’s glass worry hearts.

Throughout the activities, children engaged in calming actions such as guided breathing to relax their bodies and minds.

“Each child received a heart-shaped stone, which serves as a tool to help them manage daily challenges. We explained how to use the stone effectively, and the children have begun to integrate it into their routines,” Benbenishti says.
One girl shared a touching experience: “I used to be afraid to go out alone to throw out the garbage. After receiving the stone, I held it in my hand and felt accompanied, which gave me the courage to go outside.”

“We are deeply grateful for the donation of these glass hearts, as they provide Youth Futures with a valuable resource for supporting the children’s emotional well-being,” says Benbenishti.