Since 1947, Hope Harbor has provided shelter and support for thousands of needy children and families in crisis in Oklahoma and the surrounding states. Today, Hope Harbor restores the hope of at risk youth who, although academically capable, are experiencing serious problems at home, in school and in the community.
The ultimate purpose is to assist these young people to become self-sufficient, productive member of the community. This is accomplished by providing a nurturing home environment, specialized education services and life skills training. Prior to coming to Hope Harbor, most residents were not attending school regularly, if at all. During the course of the average stay of 12 months, students gain approximately 2.5 years of academic progress in core subjects through the alternative school. In addition to a rigorous academic program, student involvement in volunteer service is an integral part of the Hope Harbor experience.
In previous generation, serving others was a necessary part of the life that reinforced one’s value in the home and community. This is rarely true in today’s culture. While youth are exposed through media to extraordinary need both at home and abroad, they are conditioned to believe that they lack the resources needed to be of service to others. For children who are already at risk of school drop out because of learning differences and problems at home, this belief contributes to a strong sense of worthlessness and helplessness. It is well documented that school dropouts are much more likely than the general population to become delinquent, substance abusers, teen parents, and/or welfare dependent. The consequences can be tragic; for the individual, their families, and their communities.
Through participation in a program called TRACE (Team Recreation and Adventure Challenge Experience), all residents of Hope Harbor learn the value of serving others. The program begins with experiential learning exercises, where students learn how to work together to accomplish goals. They also learn to recognize and cultivate their unique gifts, as well as the gifts of others in the group. Then, the team works together to identify needs and plan service projects. The team completes an average of one community service project each month.
Service efforts undertaken by the students are wide ranging and include yard work for shut-ins, coordinating and collecting clothes for a children’s shelter in Mexico, cleanup after natural disasters, baking cookies for nursing home residents, stuffing envelopes for a local grief center and sorting clothing for a homeless shelter. The most ambitious project to date was a day of service to a private children’s shelter in Juarez, Mexico. TRACE participants painted walls, doors and gates, cleaned laundry, prepared meals, scrubbed floors and played games with the residents there.
By participating in a substantive community service program, at risk youth can learn valuable lessons about their unique skills and potential. It is in service to others that some of the most valuable lessons in life are learned.