The Ashkelon Foundation ("AshFound") Organizational Background
The Ashkelon Foundation ("AshFound") was established in 1989 in order to help meet Ashkelon's ever-increasing needs in the realm of community, disadvantaged Jewish populations-welfare, absorption of new immigrants, disabled population, remedial needs, as well as encouraging education. The Foundation was founded by the current mayor of Ashkelon, Mr. Benny Vaknin. The AshFound is the city's community foundation working closely with the municipality on several projects.
The Foundation stimulates growth and cultivation of individuals and enterprises for the entire Ashkelon population by encouraging existing and future initiatives. Whereas, the central goal of the AshFound is to provide opportunities to the weaker population primarily through educational enrichment programs as well as a variety of programs including; eight Children's Family home care clubs, one children's special needs & C.P Kindergarten (the only one of its kind in the Ashkelon region), promulgating higher education & educational enrichment programs (with a newly established center), absorption and development programs for Olim (new immigrants), establishing Jewish Learning Centers, arts and sciences, projects in the fields of medicine and preventive medicine, free dental clinics for the underprivileged, and cultural, musical, and theatrical opportunities.
The projects affect and touch the lives of the city's entire population, and specifically the lives of tens of thousands of local families that participate on some level at one of the local projects. A number of the projects have been operating for over a decade; the local citizens have become accustomed to these programs and see them as a necessity to a better life, and in some cases survival. The projects assist all levels of the populations and many segments; children, teenagers, students, middle age, elderly, disabled, mentally challenged and immigrants.
The Modern City of Ashkelon was established in 1948. Over its 3,000 years of history (with its extensive archeological findings) it has been conquered and inhabited by most civilizations. In the past 20 years the city has grown from 60,000 residents to 125,000 residents coming from over 90 countries around the world, consisting of an estimated 114% growth, mainly from the former FSU and Ethiopia. The city is just 10 km's north of the Gaza border and is Israel's most southern coastal city. The city is comprised of very depressed and challenged neighborhoods in the south and lower middle class neighborhoods towards the north.
On 1--20 March 2008, rockets fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip (some of them Grad rockets) hit Ashkelon, killing two, wounding many, and causing property damage, marking the first time that Hamas had been able to strike Ashkelon. Since then sporadic attacks continue against the city. The more densely populated neighborhoods of the city make up some 40% of the population and are considered to be at one of the lowest socio-economic levels in the country.
The leadership of the Foundation is comprised of local public figures, who have years of experience in operating local town projects and are very familiar with the needs and possible solutions. The Foundation works together with municipality to organize and coordinate activities to maximize utilization of funds. The Executive Director, Mr. Meir Bouhnik, has worked in the local community projects & programs for over 25 years, his leadership skills and local knowledge are a big driving force in the AshFound. The Chairman of the Board of Directors, Mr. Eli Dayan, is a lawyer by profession, in addition to being the former Mayor of Ashkelon and a former deputy Foreign Minister in the Israeli Government. His involvement and assistance in the communication with local and governmental authorities is tremendous. The Board of Directors is mainly comprised of volunteers formerly involved in past civic activities as well as local business leaders.
The AshFound maintains a number of ties with Diaspora Jewry, especially with Baltimore Jewry and the Joint Distribution Committee, as well as a number of family foundations; scholarships in partnership with the Alice and Elron Foundations, Eli Wiesel Foundation who set up a community center Beit Zhiphora, The Joseph Levy Charitable Foundation, and The Sherman Trust. Due to the Foundations close ties with the municipality and local governmental authorities the AshFound is very often successful in raising matching funds.
The AshFound has over 30 projects, and many new project proposals, its vision is to strengthen the local community and improve the lives of the local citizens. The AshFound needs financial support to maintain implementation of projects, program development as well as expansion and new capital projects.