KKL-JNF House Nof HaGalil Holds 2nd Annual Hackathon for Teens

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Empowering outlying communities: Local teens develop apps at the 2nd annual entrepreneurship and application development course at KKL-JNF House in Nof HaGalil.

How did the youth of Nof HaGalil spend their summer vacation? At the KKL-JNF House for Excellence, where they embarked on an exciting entrepreneurship course to develop new Apps for the benefit of the city’s youth. Brains were storming and ideas were brewing…

A collaboration between KKL-JNF and the 8200 Alumni Association

About two years ago, the 8200 [elite IDF Signal Intelligence and Cybersecurity unit] Alumni Association and KKL-JNF launched a joint project to narrow socio-economic gaps and promote equal opportunities for youth in Israel’s outlying regions through education for excellence, entrepreneurship and technology. As part of this collaboration, many diverse activities take place at the KKL-JNF House for Excellence in Nof Hagalil (formerly known as Upper Nazareth): technological experience workshops, coding courses, hackathons with Unit 8200 and visits to leading local and international high-tech companies. The joint goal is to encourage youth to improve their lives and their surroundings, to demonstrate social and community responsibility, and to use their acquired skills for the benefit of their communities.
This year also, from July 7 - 31, 2019, teenagers from Nof Hagalil and the surrounding area participated in the second annual entrepreneurship and application development course led by Unit 8200 soldiers, at the KKL-JNF House for Excellence.
Shimon Abuchatzeira, the director of the KKL-JNF Houses for Excellence project, said: “The entrepreneurship course that took place at the KKL-JNF House for Excellence, in collaboration with the 8200 Alumni Association, was the event that concluded our year’s activities. It was amazing to see youth coming here during their summer vacation to learn and to challenge themselves by participating in meaningful studies and activities that were social values -oriented, which gives us, as a society, greater hope for the young generation growing up here. They are connected within themselves, not just to their cellphones, and they aspire to excel in a way that is social values-oriented.”
The KKL-JNF Nof Hagalil House for Excellence, the first of the ten KKL-JNF Houses planned for Israel’s outlying communities, is designed with an innovative spirit. It includes classrooms, a state-of-the-art computer lab, an auditorium, and a brightly lit open space for social activities – everything needed for the tutorials and academic enrichment activities that take place here during the year for the local youth, so that they can excel and become young leaders.
As part of the course, the young participants are tasked with creating a special project to advance their local communities.  Over the month of July, they underwent a process familiar to every entrepreneur: from identifying needs in their immediate surroundings to thinking about possible solutions; market research on demand and existing solutions; and at the end of the process – developing the actual product. At the same time, they learned about the professional tools for developing applications, and attended workshops on design and user experience; work planning; message passing, and presenting to audiences. A panel of influential senior municipal officials at the top of their fields came to answer questions, give advice and assist. In addition, the young participants visited Amazon Israel and WeWork, where they met senior industry officials and successful entrepreneurs who spoke about their journeys to success. They also spoke of the challenges they faced along the way, emphasizing that they, too, were capable of coping with the process that every entrepreneur must undergo.
Cee Buhbot, the Director of the 8200 Alumni Association’s TechLift and Cooperation program, said that for an entire month, “young people came, four days a week, to promote social projects for the city and the environment they live in. They had personal conversations with key municipal officials, they described their projects to many different people and they coped with a great many challenges and fears. Undergoing an entrepreneurship process forces us to leave our comfort zone, to stand on a stage with confidence, to present new ideas, to convince everyone you meet why and how much your project is necessary, and what actually makes it unique. Participants received a toolbox and skills that they can use their entire lives. And what of the apps themselves? We will see them soon in Nof Hagalil…”

Five awesome applications

At the conclusion of the course, from July 30-31, 2019, participants came for a hackathon (programming marathon), and worked for twelve hours straight on their applications, accompanied by a team of soldiers from Unit 8200.

Here are four of the five apps that were developed:

KKL-JNF House application: An app that helps organize the activities at the KKL-JNF House for Excellence. Local youth participate in many activities at the KKL-JNF House for Excellence and receive interesting high-quality content – tutorials, enrichment courses in the fields of technology and entrepreneurship, lectures on empowerment, visits and experiences in various places, and more. So what is actually lacking? A tool for managing all this wonderful content. By means of the KKL-JNF House for Excellence app, teenagers can now receive updates on all the activities planned for the coming weeks, register for them in an orderly manner, receive updates on changes, view galleries of pictures from events, and see their weekly schedule.
EZSport: The purpose of this application is to promote sports and physical fitness for youth. What really prevents so many young people from taking part in sports activities? The sports fields are already taken, not enough friends are available, and they’re not familiar enough with topics related to sports and leisure time activities. EZSport is an application intended for solving exactly these problems. This platform enables everyone to register for a team in a sport that interests them and is suitable in terms of time and location. And if no such team exists? They can create a new group and invite additional friends to join them. Future plans include connecting to the municipality website, an option for booking sports fields in advance, and even the possibility of coordinating municipal patrol visits to the sports fields in order to give the teenagers a better sense of security.
JobNik: One of the problems that everyone talked about was the question of work for young people in Nof Hagalil, and in Israel in general. The young entrepreneurs argued that not only are there not enough suitable jobs for them, but there’s also not enough exposure to the available job market. This is why they created JobNik, on which local employers can advertise jobs for teenagers, who can apply for the jobs and manage their correspondence, all on one platform. Since this is a municipal application, it will also advertise local businesses. In the future, there will collaborations with the city’s Youth Center in order to organize employment-training courses for youth, and a section for recommendations from former employers.
TeeNews: Participants noted that over the past year, they saw that many different things were happening in the city. All the organizations are busy trying to create high quality activities for them, but it is very difficult to keep up with everything available. The organizations publicize the events on various platforms, but they are not coordinated with each other. It is hard for young people to know what’s happening because the data is scattered in so many different places. This is why they developed the TeeNews application, which updates users on everything going on in the city. The app can categorize events by region, target audience age, cost and more. Teenagers can add events to a favorites list or to their ‘going’ list, and even receive a reminder before the event.

Narrowing the gap between Israel’s central and outlying regions

Program Director Cee Bohbut summed up: “Every time anew I am deeply touched to meet the young people who come here during their summer vacation and are so motivated to create projects for the benefit of the society and the community. Their willpower is contagious, so we do our utmost to provide them with interesting meetings, extraordinary field trips, and excellent counselors and content. I am certain that this joint project of the 8200 Alumni Association and KKL-JNF will make it possible for an entire generation growing up in the periphery to narrow the gap and to reach new heights. I am thrilled to be a part of this wonderful project, and you should expect more surprises in the future.”
Niv Matlin, the program’s operations coordinator, said that the summer course “is a unique challenge for the program and the program staff. Over a short time period, we are asked to give the participants a taste of the technological aspects, specifications and logistics that are part of creating and spearheading a new project. We combined tools that develop creativity and we tried not only to create an atmosphere that gives them the feeling of control of their projects, but to actually give them the control and the freedom to promote and to develop their ideas themselves. I was amazed to discover teenagers with pure, unbridled energy, who prefer to come and develop themselves and their ideas rather than doing anything else during the summer vacation.”
Daniel Gotkin, a counselor in the program, added: “I grew up in Upper Nazareth (Nof Hagalil as of now). I was sick and tired of hearing sentences such as ‘I don’t have anything to do’, ‘I’m bored’, and other sentences like this daily. After I grew up and finished my army duty, I decided to work with teenagers because I want to contribute to society. Every morning I am surprised again and again by what I see: over twenty teenagers who came here during their summer vacation to study and to develop. My hope is that one day, the gap between Israel’s center and the periphery will only be something that you read about in history books.”

And what did the students have to say?

“The counselors were amazing, they gave us all the tools necessary so that the app would be the best possible, they were there to help, whatever the problem was, and in general, being with them was really fun.”
“During the first week, I felt like I didn’t know how to do anything and I wanted to leave, but then, after I succeeded, I felt like I really am capable of doing things, and that’s what gave me the strength to stay until the end.”
“The course was beyond my expectations. At first, I thought it was going to be horribly boring, like school, and that they’ll mainly talk a bit about entrepreneurship, and that the counselors will also be boring. I eventually discovered that it was actually fascinating and fun and that we had amazing counselors. I really didn’t expect this!”