By Eugenia Tavarez | email@example.com
Freshman Taylor Koerner is up to her elbows in paper mache, paint, construction paper, and 3rd graders every Tuesday or Thursday. Taylor and her Phi Alpha Omega sisters became part of Hugs Across the County, a project to help 2,500 of St. Johns County public elementary school students living near or below the Federal Poverty Level ($20k income).
A branch of the St. John’s Education Foundation, Hugs is a non-profit organization dedicated aiding children in Title 1 low income schools in the St. Augustine area. Providing kids in tough situations with clothing, food, supplies, volunteer classroom reading and math mentors and encouragement, high-fives and hugs.
“When we see kids who ask every week, ‘Can you come tomorrow and the next day?’, kids who have a new pair of sneakers or a backpack full of food for the weekend or a child who raises his hand and answers a question correctly…and then turns around and gives us a smile, we know we’re making a difference.” said Brette Reiman, co-founder and full-time mother.
The program began with a handful of moms, like Reiman, from the Ponte Verde Beach area who learned of the distressingly high poverty and homelessness statistics among students at Webster and Crookshank Elementary schools in West St. Augustine. Since then the organization has blossomed from a handful to many more.
“In just one year, we have grown to about 35 volunteers, mostly moms, dads and even grandparents and a few St Johns Co firefighters! ” Reiman said.
Flagler’s Phi Alpha Omega have been the first on campus to partner with Hugs and have resulted in about 20 new classroom mentors, yet the program is still in dire need of volunteers.
“We are always looking for more volunteers and because Flagler students are so close to the schools we think it’s a great opportunity… I am certain that these kids will adore the energy and enthusiasm that we know so many Flagler students bring to what they do.”
Flagler student volunteers, according to Reiman, are being placed at two of the neediest low-income schools in the county.
“I go every week to Crookshank Elementary and all the kids are super sweet,” Koerner, “I went around helping them glue and rip paper for piÃ±atas and just after a few minutes, one of the little girls was following me around and was holding on to my pants all day around the classroom,” she said about her first day as a volunteer.
Any students interested in volunteering can contact Hugs via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out their Facebook fan page “Hugs Across the County”.