Helping You Grow Successfully (HUGS), Inc.’s purpose is to help college- bound, at-risk and foster youth transition into adulthood successfully by implementing a holistic approach as well as providing a safe place to access community resources. The organization strives to assist the youth in successfully transitioning into adulthood by maintaining stable and suitable housing, remaining free from legal involvement, participating in an educational/vocational program and developing the life skills necessary to become responsible citizens. The organization will move forward in implementing various Programs within Clinton, Maryland area pertaining to the aforementioned items while providing varied financial contributions to eligible program participants. Lastly, the organization will have strategies to implement follow-up initiatives assisting participants in their long-term success. The organization plans to operate weekly within the Prince George’s County area for all community youth that show an interest and need.
The organization initially is not providing housing to program participants. Instead, the organization’s housing initiatives address the need that at-risk and foster youth have within their home environments for structure and stability regarding their post-secondary lives. This program, known as the Oasis Housing Program, provides a stable family environment in which each participant has the opportunity to acquire the skills and experience to become self-sufficient. Within the organization’s 5-year plan, HUGS, Inc. hopes to have the funding and support to provide former foster youth within their post-secondary transition with 24-48 months of temporary housing assistance. The temporary housing assistance items are currently within a research and funding phase and will likely be addressed, in-detail, after year 3. Pending details include furnished bedrooms within a facility to be determined, advocacy and counseling services as per organization directors and volunteers, and weekly hour-long contacts with counselors (uninterested parties), as-needed. Participants would be 18-25 years old youth from the Prince George’s County Foster Care & Juvenile Detention Systems, youth at imminent risk of homelessness, and enrolled or pending enrollment within 2/4 yr college or trade school. Participant selection process includes submitting and application, an interview with a social worker and/or certified counselor, and the final selection of the organizational directorship that collectively identifies the need, funding, and duration. Program participants will be expected to attend advocacy and life skills meetings, maintain school enrollment, and participate in community service initiatives, and report such items to a program representative upon request.
The organization’s current housing initiatives include supportive services such as life skills training, educational guidance, and career development. The program requires increasing levels of responsibility and challenges youth to develop life management skills, while at the same time allowing them a “grace-period” to build these skills and habits. Program topics include: independent living skills training; educational & career guidance; assistance to secure medical coverage; peer counseling support (provided by a former foster youth and/or program alumni); on-site mental health coaching; assistance with locating apartments upon exit from the program; follow-up services with youth who have completed the program; and housing resources and referrals throughout Prince George’s County. The organization will also have topics that focus upon financial literacy, work readiness, nutrition and exercise, conflict resolution, and stress management.
HUGS, Inc. will provide support for youth to gain positive, enriching life experiences as a diversion away from incarceration. By facilitating domestic and interstate travel the organization hopes to provide youth participants with impressionable and motivational experiences. Throughout the year, HUGS, Inc. will host a variety of gatherings such as sporting event outings, cultural events, and family dinners on local college and university campuses at no cost to program participants. The amount of outings and events will vary based on availability, funding, and general support, but will initially be held monthly.
Volunteers will begin working with students and/or program participants in their junior and senior year regarding post-graduation plans. The organization will discuss with the participant job search techniques, help them create a resume, and assist in strategy regarding long-term career goals. Volunteers will also assist with the graduate school application process and assist in determining the best options for students. Based on the participants’ needs, the organization will utilize its own technology and/or public facilities (e.g., coffee shop, the public library) to move forward in providing services. Meeting times will vary based on availability and general support.
A primary goal of HUGS, Inc. is to help current program youth and alumni reach their own personal goals. We simply assist individuals in straying from criminal mischief and focus towards maintaining employment, legally increasing their income over time and developing a desirable career path.
The organization assists youth with the tools and resources necessary for them to see that educational improvement is critical to their future success and independence. Accordingly, HUGS, Inc. will move forward in programming that focuses on educational guidance and assistance. Program topics include:
- Financial assistance to attend college
- Free Application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA) assistance
- Educational resources
- One-on-one sessions and workshops
- On-site tutoring for GED (General Education Development) preparation
- Community college courses prep.
HUGS, Inc. volunteers work directly with each youth participant to assess their specific needs and develop an individualized plan to help them be successful. Volunteers also assist youth with developing their resume, completing job applications, purchasing appropriate career clothing and searching for jobs. Based on the participants’ needs, the organization will utilize its own technology and/or public facilities (e.g., coffee shop, the public library) to move forward in providing services. Meeting times will vary based on availability and general support.
Collaboration with community partners will allow the organization to provide specialty workshops and other career focused activities. For example, the organization will host a “dress to impress” workshop in partnership with an area retail store (e.g., Target) to not only train on proper attire but provide participants with the garments needed to begin their business wardrobe. These workshops will be designed to help educate and enhance the participants’ self-esteem and professional image for employment. The amount of collaborations secured will determine the amount of specialty programs offered, but will generally be monthly occurrences. Engaging volunteers from the corporate and professional communities is critical to helping to increase the exposure of career opportunities to our students. Hopefully, such instances will foster fiscal supporters for the organization as well as potential employment opportunities for the program participant.
Key partnerships with corporations and other community-based organizations help the youth within our program secure and maintain employment. By partnering with companies that offer employment and training opportunities to our youth and alumni, we hope to assist youth in gaining access to positions that offer higher wages and opportunities for professional growth. Relationships with local organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and workforce resource centers have benefited the youth tremendously by providing links to internships as well as opportunities for networking and job interviews.
Program alumni participating in the organization’s youth advisory board are intended to help to shape the organization’s educational and vocational programming by offering their input on what students need to be successful in college. This advisory board will develop an internally maintained e-mentor program between program graduates and new students to assist in event planning and engagement. This board will meet periodically throughout the year with projected meetings currently being quarterly.
Lastly, HUGS, Inc. plans to help students secure summer internships and provide a stipend for typically unpaid internships. This allows youth to gain employment experience within their field of study which often times will lead to full-time employment. Stipend amounts will vary based on the time worked and the occupations’ average rate of pay as per salary.com and/or the employer. The payout will occur once hours have been validated as per the employer, and will generally lasts 2 – 4 months.
The organization will make a series of financial contributions to program participants. The type, amount, and method will vary. However, all funded participants will be required to move forward in submitting and application to assess merit, an interview with a program representative, and the final selection of the organizational directorship in which collectively identifies the need, funding, and duration. Program participants will be expected to attend predetermined program meetings and/or events, maintain school enrollment, and participate in community service initiatives, and report such items to a program representative each term.
Four-year colleges and universities provide the best opportunity for foster youth to achieve a higher education. Accordingly, HUGS, Inc. intends to commit $50,000 to the funding of 10 Prince George’s County graduating seniors and up to five transfer students each year. Students can access $5,000 per year for up to five years and are able to use financial support to fund their greatest needs which include: rent, books, tuition, supplies, food, transportation, and travel to and from school or other personal needs. Sponsorships are awarded to students at the annual Graduation Gala each spring, and funding will be coordinated with the institution itself.
HUGS, Inc. will also offer fifth-year funding to all students who complete their undergraduate program in four years to help them transition into their post-college lives. Funds are meant to assist participants in paying for LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and GRE (Graduate Record Examination) prep classes, furniture for their new apartments, and security deposits, as well as other related expenses. Funding will be either given directly to the biller or paid out in restricted gift card.
HUGS, Inc. will serve as a source of support, guidance, and knowledge throughout the participants’ post-secondary experience. Volunteers will move forward in maintaining a call center for alumni phone calls and emails, sending them personalized gifts on birthdays and holidays and encouraging them when they are feeling saddened or discouraged. The organization will also guide them to register for the proper mentorship training courses of the organization, if interested. Until the facility is established for the organization, methods such as Google Voice will be used to accommodate these needs. The timeframe for the lines of the call center will be based on availability of volunteers and general support.
HUGS, Inc. has concluded that the most effective means of making an impactful difference in the lives of foster and at-risk youth is by developing long-term meaningful relationships that serve as a source of consistent support. Therefore, our alumni services and programs allow former participants to continue to receive guidance, support and mentorship to help them be successful. These resources will be less financial and more educational in nature, and will be available in a myriad of forms: online, by phone, and in-print.
Quarterly gatherings for alumni offer an opportunity to connect with peers and program staff while learning more regarding topics such as job search and retention. A panel of professionals participating in the dinner pro-bono will offer a glimpse into various careers as they discuss a variety of career-focused topics and share their individual professional journeys. The dinners will also provide networking opportunities for the alumni as well as a place for them to participate in discussions about the workforce. Until the facility is established for the organization, rented and/or donated facilities will house such initiative. Meeting times will vary based on availability and general support.
Staying connected with graduates via email, phone, and through events and activities held throughout the year provide an opportunity to stay in touch with students and continue to have an impact in their lives. Events and activities held throughout the year provide graduates with the opportunity to reconnect with each other and HUGS, Inc. staff as well as meet the new sponsorship recipients. From social events to serving on student panels at orientations, these various events are designed to help foster the HUGS family atmosphere and interconnectedness of the organization.