01/29/2013 05:01 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

High School Students' Perspective

We asked a group of volunteers from Packer Collegiate Institute to share their experience at HOPE. Read their blog below, and visit our Crowdrise page to join them in giving back!

At the Packer Collegiate Institute -- a private school in Brooklyn, New York -- the tenth grade dedicates a week, generally before the end of the first semester, to community service. Five of us made the decision to volunteer at the HOPE Program. The program's mission is to teach adults living in poverty, who have come out of tough circumstances, the necessary skills to become employed and retain a job. We were impressed by the program's ability to offer their students the skill set necessary to get back on their feet and sustain a stable lifestyle.

On our first day here, one of the first things we were lucky enough to see was a young man walking swiftly around the office with a huge smile on his face as he rang a bell. What significance does this bell have you may be wondering? At HOPE, when a student or graduate of the program has gotten a job, he or she comes back and has the opportunity to let his or her colleagues know he or she has succeeded. Seeing this man ring the bell on our first day was an indication of the happiness and opportunities HOPE brings to people in need.

In our time here, we were amazed by the things we learned and the people we met. Many of the students here have parental responsibilities, a history of conviction and/or substance abuse, or face the struggle of long-term unemployment. That being said, we were blown away by how much so many of the students had already learned in their time here, regardless if they had been here for 10 weeks or two.

We had the opportunity to interview two students, both of whom had amazing stories to tell. Michael and Jasper had both come through great hardships to get back on their feet.

Michael, age 39, has had it tough from a very young age. He described the environment he grew up in; a community in which crimes, drug dealing and jail-time are glorified. For Michael, this led to incarceration by the age of 18. As students who are fortunate to be far removed from this, we often assume that criminals are uneducated or hostile. Michael showed us how wrong we are in many cases. He takes responsibility for his mistakes, and also links them to the environment he grew up in.

Because he respects and loves his mother so much, Michael attempted to keep his wrongdoings from her. She had never condoned drug dealing or the crime in their community. While he served his time, he tried to continue his education and read a variety of books. Michael came to the HOPE program 10 weeks ago to get his life back on track and has been participating in the 12-week program which provides the students the skills they need in order to get and maintain a job. His long-term goal is to create his own business. Michael has successfully drawn out a new life for himself. He thanks the HOPE program for helping him in his journey.

Jasper, 24, has also faced difficult bouts throughout his young life. Dealing with drug addiction, dropping out of high school, and a difficult household situation, Jasper is looking to turn his life around. He is currently living in a drug addiction rehabilitation center and has been clean for an astonishing 14 months. Jasper is finishing his second week at the HOPE program. He is taking part in the GROCERY works program and has recently acquired his GED, taking the first few steps towards a new life and employment. He hopes to continue his education in business while maintaining his drug free lifestyle.

What sets HOPE apart from other organizations is the perseverance of their students and the dedication their employees have to aiding poverty-struck New Yorkers. We are extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity and look forward to helping the cause in the future.
While we learned about the personal challenges of our neighbors, we also realized that HOPE needs our community's support.

We are going to launch a drive for professional clothing at our school, and there are many ways you can help as well. Please visit their Crowdrise page to learn more and make a contribution and contact to learn other ways to give back.

As they say, Stay HOPEful!