Stav Michael's parents separated when she was just four years old. They divorced a year later, and her young mother was left to raise little Stav and her brother all by herself.
Life was not easy for the single mother — a nurse at the beginning of her career living off a fairly low salary. At that time, Stav's mental state began deteriorating. Her grades plunged and she struggled to fit in.
After a year under the care of welfare services, Stav ultimately left home at 13 and moved to foster care, where she found some much-needed solace and support.
"The social worker wanted to move me to foster care because it was clear that the situation back home wasn't simple and then I moved to an Orr Shalom foster home, an amazing home. I've no idea where I would have ended up today if I weren't there," she says.
Orr Shalom is a nonprofit that cares for children and at-risk youths who have been removed from their homes following severe abuse and neglect.
Michael says her time in foster care got off to a rocky start as she was very shy and insecure, but it eventually helped her to realize her potential.
"I was always slouching and walking around wearing a hat when I first got there. Seeing me then and seeing me today are two wholly different things," she says gleefully.
Michael says her time with Orr Shalom helped her close the gaps in school thanks to a cadre of social workers, volunteers and teachers who provided her with the financial and spiritual backing that she lacked living with her mother.
Michael — who now lives in an Orr Shalom apartment alongside other graduates of the program — says that the support she received during her stay in foster care helped her mend fences with her estranged mother, more than five years after they were separated.
"I have a very good relationship with my mom… I realized that my mom was going through rough times, just as I have. Life has led her to this, it's not her fault. She tried to give me everything I needed and be the best mother she could be. She always tried to make sure we had the best of everything, even when she couldn't."
For over 40 years, Orr Shalom has been providing children with professional help, warm and loving homes, and an opportunity for a better future.
The organization has worked with thousands of foster families who take under their care children aged 0 to 18 on a full-time basis. The children get the positive family experience they lacked back at their parents' home, which allows them to realize their full potential and later enlist in the army, acquire academic education, enter the labor market and start their own functioning families.
The group works in tandem with the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs and manages an ever-expanding graduate community, providing assistance to graduates to ensure that they become contributing members of Israeli society.