Hoping to Help NMUSD Children

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The Project Hope staff family: (clockwise, from top right) programs manager La Shawn Hye, child advocate Gabby Alvarado, executive director Jennifer Friend, and programs & outreach coordinator Susi Eckelman.
The Project Hope staff family: (clockwise, from top right) programs manager La Shawn Hye, child advocate Gabby Alvarado, executive director Jennifer Friend, and programs & outreach coordinator Susi Eckelman.

More than 200 local children and their families with unstable housing situations now have some extra charitable support to help them get back on their feet and into a permanently better situation.

Project Hope Alliance, a nonprofit that helps homeless and unstably housed children and their families in Orange County through education, support services and community advocacy, has recently expanded into Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

The organization helps kids from all over Orange County, and now 254 kids from NMUSD will also benefit from PHA’s support.

“Now we can help serve more of the 28,000 homeless children in Orange County,” said Jennifer Friend, executive director of Project Hope Alliance.

“The programs funded by the Project Hope Alliance eliminate the barriers homeless students experience that prevent them from attending and succeeding in school, and increase family stability by moving homeless families into permanent housing,” the organization’s website states.

Friend feels really blessed to have received help through the Orange County Community Foundation. Both the $30,000 grant from Draper Family Foundation and the $7,500 grant from Mach Family Foundation were connected with Project Hope through the OC Community Foundation.

Funds from both grants will be used specifically for the NMUSD expansion.

Newport Beach-based PIMCO donated 10 computer stations for the blended learning program, Home Depot donated the computer lab, while Taco Bell, Christidis General Contracting, and Kathy Booker of Work Space Consulting, assisted with the build-out of the new Costa Mesa site.

Project Hope moved into an office space in Costa Mesa in May. The new location has a food pantry, school supplies area, blended computer lab, comfortable “living room-like” space and a volunteer center. They are also working on putting together a library.

The charity also has a lot of other exciting changes happening right now.

They are partnering with School on Wheels, a nonprofit that tutors homeless children.

Another recent development for PHA is the “blended learning computer lab,” which combines educational computer learning with live tutors.

“We have found that with our kids, since we have been utilizing this type of educational support, on average we have caught our students up almost half grade level in nine months time,” Friend explained. “When our kids our two full grade levels behind on average, that’s huge.”

“We really feel that with this with expansion of academic support we will help homeless children learn their way to a better tomorrow,” she continued.

Friend is also excited about how Project Hope has been able to increase their kids’ engagement with the arts.

The organization recently took about 30 kids, from kindergarteners to high school students, to University of California, Irvine, to see “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“They were completely engaged,” Friend said. “It was my most enjoyable experience at the theater… It was phenomenal.”

Joseph S. Lewis III, dean  of Claire Trevor School of Arts, is also now on the board of directors. Come September, they will offer more music classes in conjunction with the school.

They have also had kids participate in the Mathbotix Camp at Beall Center for Art and Technology at UCI.

Another new and exciting aspect of the organization is the Youth for Hope program, Friend said. Schools across Orange County, including both Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar high schools, will have student chapters on campus to help with fundraising, awareness and supply drives, and more.

These student chapters will help young people change the way they perceive the homelessness issue, Friend said.

“They think of someone (an adult) with a sign on the road, not their peers, their classmates,” she said.

Plus, the energy and enthusiasm that youth bring is infectious, she added.

“I’m really excited,” about everything going on with Project Hope Alliance eight now, Friend said. “I’m incredibly excited to be able to serve more children.”


For more information, visit projecthopealliance.org

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