HUGS program gets new lease

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 30, 1999

The &uot;Helping Us Grow Stronger&uot; program, or HUGS for short, received a new lease on Thursday.

Since its inception in December 1997, HUGS has operated out of the Margaret Martin School on Homochitto Street. The program is now moving into a building at 1411 Sunset Blvd. with the approval of that lease by the Adams County Board of Supervisors last week.

&uot;We serve ‘at risk’ youth ages 13 through 18,&uot; said HUGS Program Director Gloria S. Jackson, adding that the program has not turned away children as young as 10 or older than 21. &uot;We’re talking about children who have shoplifted, committed petty thefts – we’re dealing with an anger factor,&uot; Jackson said.

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In all, 273 children have come through the HUGS program, she said. Of that number, only four have committed new criminal offenses, three have dropped out of school, and one went to Job Corp. The rest are either in school or moved on to become law abiding citizens.

HUGS teaches anger management and conflict resolution, Jackson said.

&uot;We’re trying to teach children to be mediators,&uot; she said. Jackson’s hope is that children who have been trained at HUGS can be resources for schools with problem youth.

A parent support group was begun in June 1998, and has had 27 parents participate.

In addition to offering free tutoring, HUGS offers arts and craft classes, sewing projects, community service projects, esteem builder sessions, and conflict resolution sessions. The products of the arts and crafts classes are offered as &uot;love gifts&uot; to local nursing homes and shut-ins during the holidays, Jackson said.

Participation in HUGS is strictly voluntary, she said, and all services are free of charge. The program incorporates education, job training, vocational skills, community service, resisting street pressures, developing loving relationships, high self-esteem, self discipline, health physical habits, and more.

&uot;We coordinate our efforts with individuals, organizations, and agencies in the community,&uot; Jackson said.

While the Adams County Youth Court refers some children to the program, Jackson said other participants include latch key children and &uot;youth looking for a positive place to go.&uot;

Supplies for the program have been purchased through fund raising efforts and through a grant administered through the Adams County Youth Court from Entergy Corporation.

&uot;We welcome matching donations for this grant,&uot; said Mary Jane Gaudet, Programs Director for the Adams County Youth Court.

&uot;We’ve found that juvenile crime is at its highest in the hours between the end of the school and 6 p.m.,&uot; Gaudet said. &uot;HUGS helps to fill those hours with positive role modeling. We’re very supportive of this project.&uot;