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Inside a Unistream Center: A Community of Dreamers

Students at the Unistream Center in Akko:
(From Left to Right) Daniel, Yuval, Lior, Maria, Zada, Lana, Mor, Yohai, Shalev,
Russell, Eddie, Martin, Yehuda Ben, Shani Kaduri, Yakir

Fifteen-year-old Maria likes to play piano, read books, and dream about working in an interior design company. She is also the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of LeadIt, a teen-run company that created a product called “SafeAllergy,” which detects allergens in food. As CMO, Maria manages a team of fellow teens, develops marketing strategies, and delivers presentations about the product.

Maria is one of about 30 students in their second year at the Unistream center in Akko, Israel. Unistream is an Israeli nonprofit dedicated to empowering teenagers through hands-on entrepreneurship and closing Israel’s widening socioeconomic gaps. Jewish Federation Los Angeles just entered into a major strategic partnership with Unistream, looking to expand the number of centers it operates today throughout Israel and to create lasting impact on Israeli society by giving Israeli youth the opportunity to dream big and join Israel’s start-up nation.

Each Unistream center acts as a hub for its students — on most days, Unistream participants trickle into the centers as soon as their school day ends, using their spare time to complete unfinished homework, enjoy afterschool snacks, or play video games. Most importantly however, the centers are a safe space in which the students can learn, experiment, dream, and fulfill their potential.

(From Left to Right): Zada, Maria, Lana

Unistream is not just about learning business, Maria explained. Rather, it’s about leadership and confidence. For example, students deliver business presentations to investment committees comprising experienced and established business professionals. “(When I gave presentations before) my face turned as red as a tomato, especially in school. Before Unistream I was afraid to talk to senior businesspeople,” she said. “But in Unistream we learned that it’s not such a big deal.”

Russell, another second-year student, had a similar experience. “I wasn’t like this when I first started. I was quiet,” he said. “Unistream actually changed me.” Indeed, by the end of his first year at Unistream, Russell presented about LeadIt and SafeAllergy to the CEO of Facebook Israel and other successful CEOs.

In addition to helping students with their communication skills, Unistream instills confidence. Asaf, the CEO of LeadIt, proudly proclaims that he initially thought of the idea for SafeAllergy in his 8th grade chemistry class. Despite the complexity of this idea, his Unistream group voted in support of pursuing it. “I think that Asaf believed in our company and that we can succeed in developing this product the most,” Maria said.

This experience opened Asaf to larger possibilities in his own life. “I have a lot of dreams,” he said. “I would love to be a basketball manager or player, or my favorite dream is to be the CEO of a company. Before Unistream I didn’t think about this.”

As time in the program progresses, this supportive environment develops into a cohesive and united community. This unity is particularly salient in Akko, where the Unistream center reflects the diverse makeup of the city itself, welcoming Arabs of different religions, Jews of various backgrounds, and other ethnic groups.

“Before Unistream I didn’t meet other people like Jews or Muslims,” said Maria, who is Arab and Christian. “We live in the same city, next to each other, but we didn’t meet each other before Unistream.”

(From Left to Right): Eddie and Shalev

Shani Kaduri, Unistream Center Director in Akko, described how students who first start at Unistream sit with their classmates, speaking only their respective languages — Hebrew, Arabic, sometimes Russian — to each other. But, as the first year progresses and students begin to collaborate on projects and in unified teams, their differences slowly melt away.

“It was scary at the beginning,” Maria said. “I didn’t know (the others) at all. But now we are family. We eat with each other, help each other with homework, laugh together, work together, and learn about business together.” Another student, Zada, added how her Hebrew and English are improving because of her participation in Unistream.

Aaron Goldberg, Senior Vice President, Israel and Director of the Israel Office of Jewish Federation Los Angeles, said, “The Federation, together with Unistream, is inspiring the next generation of youth in Israel, and empowering them to be our future leaders. Unistream provides an unparalleled opportunity to learn and grow as students, business people and more. We are looking forward to expanding Unistream’s impact in the coming year.”

When asked to describe Unistream in a few words, multiple Akko students called it their “family” and “second home.” By fostering this feeling of shared purpose, vision, and community, Unistream dissolves differences and promotes equality.

For Maria, Unistream has imparted a lasting message: “I learned that it doesn’t matter who you are, in what school you learn, what your religion is, what language you speak,” she said. “The most important thing is that we are all teens who want to be successful and we have the power to realize that dream.”

The Federation’s partnership with Unistream is forever changing the trajectory of students’ lives, giving them the opportunity to dream big. Stay tuned for more stories about the impact of this powerful collaboration.

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