Program Spotlight: HSO

Program Spotlight: HSO

We know that there are more than 400 middle and high school students impacted by incarceration in Franklin County.

The Facts. 

  • The 2022 Franklin County Youth Survey showed that 15.39% of 7th–10th grade students responded that at least one biological parent was justice involved. 
  • The study also found that 15.5% of 7–10th graders reported that they had a parent or caregiver who was currently or previously incarcerated. 
  • The survey found that these students were overrepresented as a percentage of the total population of respondents reporting lifelong use of alcohol (20.4%), e-cigarettes (22.3%), and cannabis (20.9%).
  • Additionally, 73% of students with a history of parental incarceration were less likely than their peers to report ease in accessing parental warmth/caring. 
  • Compared to their peers, children with a history of parental incarceration were at least 1.5 times more likely to have feelings of nervousness and stress and feeling that difficulties were piling up so high they could not overcome them. 
  • They were at least twice as likely as their peers to report that caregivers generally did not know where they were in the evenings and reported often or sometimes thinking the future seemed hopeless. 

Knowing these facts, we kicked off our High School Outreach (HSO) program in 2022 (with limited resources and staff) to fill a need in Franklin County. We offered focus groups, college and career field trips and started our scholarship program.

In the last few years, we have grown HSO to be a consistent and reliable program for our teens. We have over 50 youth connected to one of our part time staff. We focus on creating personal relationships with each one of them in order to truly connect. For us, offering support during these tough years includes daily/weekly contacts through calls, text messages, school visits, programs and more. Each teen is assigned to one of our youth advocates in order to accomplish this. 

The WJ Approach.

We start with the basics. Our monthly HSO meetup is held at the Franklin County Extension Office and is aligned with Positive Youth Development strategies. Each month, youth learn to prepare and cook a meal from start to finish. Youth Advocates work with their assigned teens to create goals for each month and ways to accomplish them. Teaching our youth life skills and important life lessons over a meal is an important foundation to our program.

We connect with youth at school. Through our in school programs like KRUSH and OMAC, we are able to offer support to our kids while they are surrounded with their peers. We have amazing relationships with Franklin County Public and Independent school systems that allows us to check in on our kids, collaborate when needed and surround our youth with a “family” of invested advocates. 

We value experiences. We take our teens on educational (and fun) field trips. Some include career or college exposure and some are a fun release from everyday life. Our first ever out of state trip to Washington DC in 2022 was a huge hit and plans are already in the works for something similar next Spring. Other outings include Holiday World, events in our community, Activate, the movies, Youth Cafes, family events, programs at our local library and much more.

We meet youth where they’re at and support them from there. Our staff reaches out to check in with our kids weekly or more. We make sure they are getting their daily needs met at home and at school. We connect our families and kids to counselors and mental health professionals. We offer scholarships for extra-curricular activities. We gives rides to those activities and other appointments. We offer resources and support for parents and caregivers. We truly care about our kids and families and that shows in the relationships we’ve built with them. 

The Bigger Picture.

We are building a family and our teens are one piece to the puzzle. All of our programs are meaningful to us, but our high school youth hold a special place in our hearts. We have already seen positive changes in many of our WJ youth. And the relationships we’ve built will not end with a high school graduation walk. We don’t know what those future programs look like yet, but we aren’t going anywhere. 

In January of this year, we brought 8th graders into new WJ programming. This Spring, we will combine our 8th grade group with HSO as we help support them during their transition to high school. Next fall, we will officially kick off our Middle School Outreach program with 6th, 7th and 8th graders in Franklin County. Programs will be similar to our HSO offerings. Our goal for next year is to be connected with more than 100 teens (6th-12th grade) on a weekly basis. 

We have a few big things coming for our teens that we are very excited to announce soon. Stay tuned!

The Wanda Joyce Robinson Foundation is a nonprofit based in Franklin County. We have five full time staff and eleven part time and contract staff. Many of the pieces of our HSO and MSO offerings are done by volunteer group leaders, mentors and unpaid guardian angels. We couldn’t do what we do without community support, grants and our amazing team! We’re working hard to gain more resources and financial support so that we can grow programs like this one and reach ALL 400 youth in this statistic. We envision a day when that happens!