Making 'Hope' a Declaration

Making 'Hope' a Declaration

Kids at Hope program moves forward, trainers ready to share initiative with community.

Sitting at desks brought together to make a horseshoe shape in the Herndon Police Station meeting room, residents who work with Herndon's youth made a recent "declaration of hope."

Reading from a large white piece of butcher paper taped to the white board at the front of the room, the 19 community members read in unison their commitment to help children realize they are "capable of success, no exceptions."

"If it is important for us to pledge allegiance to our country," said Rick Miller, founder of Kids at Hope, "Is it not important enough for us to pledge allegiance to ourselves? We need to believe in ourselves to run the country effectively."

Miller was in town Feb. 28 and March 1 to "train the trainers" for the Kids at Hope initiative recently launched in Herndon.

FOUNDED IN 1993, Kids at Hope was created to "reverse the stigma and stereotype exhibited in the phrase 'youth at risk,'" according to the program's mission statement. Because negative assumptions are often formed after hearing the term "at-risk," the Kids at Hope program researched why some children fail and others succeed. Ultimately through the group's research, which included everything from data analyses to observational methods, it was found that successful children are able to thrive because they have people in their lives who believe they can succeed. These children also have meaningful relationships with caring adults. Children who fail are disconnected from these types of relationships, according to "The Science Behind Kids at Hope." This document was created by research consultant Frances P. Bernat, who works in the criminal justice and criminology department at Arizona State University.

In an effort to reduce the number of children across the country who do not succeed, the organization set a goal to spread its philosophy to every community across the country.

The best way to do this is through empowering community members to teach each other, much like the Herndon representatives did last week. After learning from Miller the program's "four elements of success" and the "four destination points," among other things, the Herndon representatives were asked to relay the information to their peers who also work with children.

WHILE KIDS AT HOPE has been established in Arizona, where the program is based, Herndon is one of four localities currently being trained. The other localities include San Jose, Calif., Houston, and Pittsburgh, Kan.

Through the program, community representatives who interact with children on a regular basis are trained by Miller to understand the Kids at Hope philosophy and ultimately to use it every day.

The town was first introduced to the concept after the town's parks and recreation department learned about the program. The department sent the information on to Vecinos Unidos/Neighbors United, so it could apply for a grant offered through Kids at Hope and the National Recreation Foundation to become a Hope Square Community.

The Kids at Hope program works in conjuction with schools, youth groups, police, fire and recreation departments and anyone else who works with children in all 50 states, according to the official Web site.

At Herndon's training, participants included parent-school liaisons, public school personnel, Herndon parks and recreation staff, Vecinos Unidos/Neighbors United board members, Eisenhower Foundation representatives, local business representatives, a member of the Herndon Police Department and other town staff members.

As the first locality of the four communities chosen through the grant to go through the training, Herndon is a "great example" for the rest of the country to refer to, Miller said.

"This is my fourth trip to Herndon and it seems to me that this community really gets it," he said. "Herndon now owns Kids at Hope and that is what we want. We want this to be run from the community, not from a national organization."

After the two-day training, representatives were scheduled to present the information they learned to their various departments. The next meeting of the Kids at Hope committee is scheduled for Tuesday, March 21 at noon at the Neighborhood Resource Center.