By Sarah Moosazadeh / sarah@atljewishtimes.com

Olga Wuls, one of eight brothers and sisters in a family in Israel, knew she wanted more education after high school but didn’t know how she could pay for college while supporting herself.

That’s where the Bridge to Independence program of the Israeli nonprofit Yeladim — Fair Chance for Children made a difference in her life, providing a scholarship to attend a two-year college.

“That’s when I knew the program was real,” Wuls said. “It was all very organized. I had to provide a receipt once I enrolled in the school, and this made me want to continue learning and create a new future for myself.”

Wuls recently visited Atlanta, where she was hosted by Bernice and Jeff Savell and child development doctor Linda and Alan Lippert. Wuls spoke by phone to the AJT, which first wrote about Yeladim and Bridge to Independence in November after a Congregation Or Hadash event during Sukkot. Bridge to Independence helps Israeli youths make the transition from the foster care system to the military and adulthood by providing housing and educational scholarships.

Wuls joined Yeladim and entered the Bridge to Independence program after speaking with her high school’s social worker. She graduated from the program last year and earned a certificate in engineering.

While in the program, she worked as a waitress and saved enough money to pursue her passion for travel. She has visited Thailand, China, France, Italy, Spain, Montenegro, Romania and Greece, among others, and considers Venice, Italy, her favorite.

She said the financial barrier to her continuing education after high school is common among Israelis. “How could I focus on my studies with so many challenges?”

Bridge to Independence aims to improve that focus by easing the financial distractions.

“There are a lot of good people who make sure you don’t feel lonely and always ask you, ‘What do you need? Where do you need to go?’ ” said Wuls, who helped herself by working during college. “It was very hard, to go to work and school, but I knew I wanted a better future for myself. No one cleans or cooks for you at the group homes, and there were times when I didn’t have any food, but the social worker helps and balances you emotionally.”

Elite Ben-Yosef, a college instructor and Yeladim supporter who splits her time between New York and Israel, said: “The Bridge to Independence captures youth before they end up on the streets or enter the circle of poverty. … Olga is an outstanding citizen. She is reaching for the stars, and you can see the light in her eyes.”

Wuls wants to earn a degree in engineering and hopes to continue traveling. She has finished her military service and is ready to get serious about work and her future.

“Olga is one of many participants who may have otherwise returned to an unstable home had it not been for Bridge to Independence,” Ben-Yosef said.

Her time in Atlanta was part of Wuls’ second visit to the United States to raise money for Yeladim. She traveled to Texas for the same purpose three years ago. “I want to become successful and give back to the program,” she said. “Bridge to Independence is my heart, and the people who work in the program are like family. They really help and are unique.”

Congregation Or Hadash is raising money for a $1,000 Yeladim scholarship. Donations can be made at www.yeladim.org.il/en or with a check to American Support for Israel (write 580109254 on the memo line), P.O. Box 3263, Washington, DC 20010.

“The program is very important for young people who don’t know where they’re going and are seeking guidance,” Wuls said. “You don’t know what $5 or $10 can do for one person’s future.”