Touching hearts and healing minds, Hope At Hand, Inc. sparks attention in Jacksonville, FL

The Schultz Center for Teaching & Leadership participated in the One Spark 2014 Festival in Jacksonville, Fla. curating the first themed venue, #EdSpark. Forty-eight education related creators were selected to occupy the #EdSpark venue and many projects, such as Hope at Hand, Inc., broke through the clutter and made their project known throughout Jacksonville.

Let’s take a look at where Hope at Hand, Inc. began, how it became so successful and its plans for 2015.

Hope At Hand, Inc. began in 2009 as a way to reach children who don’t have access to wellness activities. The founder, Steffani Fletcher, was teaching a Saturday class at J. Allen Axson Montessori School when the idea sparked her mind.

“It was so amazing and so beautiful, and I just had this thought that I need to take this out into the community,” said Fletcher. “I had no idea how or where or anything, but that was the initial thought.”

At the time this organization began, Paula Renfro, Fletcher’s partner, was also working at J.Allen Axson Montessori School. Shortly after 2009, she accepted a district position. During this time, Fletcher stumbled upon the National Association of Poetry Therapy, and spent three years completing her 440- hour certification. Once completed, she began her endeavor at the Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless.

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Photo of students and teacher learning positive affirmation words at John E. Ford Elementary. Photo Credit: Steffani Fletcher

Renfro was then assigned to John E. Ford Elementary School to bring a vision, mission and focus to a school which never really had focus.

“I was assigned here to bring about a complete vision for our school and a mission for our work,” said Renfro. “The first thing I did was start looking at school data. One thing jumped out: in addition to lower proficiency levels, we had 900 disciplinary referrals in 180 days.”

Renfro immediately contacted Fletcher and said, “We have got to find a way to bridge this and build some kind of partnership.”

Renfro and Fletcher joined together and created Montessori Peace Education. This unique structure brought yoga, writing and art therapy to the traditional Montessori curriculum. This program taught the kids different ways to positively express feelings without hurting themselves or others, and John E. Ford Elementary reduced disciplinary referrals dramatically.

Now that Renfro and Fletcher knew the power of peace education, they decided to make a big push for Hope at Hand, Inc. and joined One Spark 2014.

“[Fletcher] called me and said ‘you know One Spark downtown? Well they have an #EdSpark venue, so no problem I signed us up! We are going to be a part of #EdSpark,’” said Renfro.

Surprised and excited, Fletcher and Renfro attended the Schultz Center’s meeting and instantly knew the #EdSpark venue was the perfect fit for Hope at Hand, Inc.

“We weren’t sure what was ahead of us, but we knew it was worth the investment because we knew we needed to continue to strengthen this program and framework to help children in crisis,” said Renfro.

Hope at Hand, Inc. came to One Spark 2014 with only 12 partner agencies including, the Sulzbacher Center and John E. Ford Elementary. They set up a room containing yoga, art and writing therapy to show the public how peace education benefits children’s lives.

“People didn’t want to leave our room during #EdSpark,” said Fletcher.

Through the efforts of 75 volunteers and the flood of votes from One Spark visitors, Hope at Hand, Inc. placed 32nd out of One Spark’s 600+ projects. For such a small organic organization, the outcome from the festival, and the #EdSpark venue, launched Hope at Hand, Inc. into the heart of Jacksonville, making the brand and the mission known to organizations, schools and many others.

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Students participate in daily guided yoga session at John E. Ford Elementary. Photo Credit: Steffani Fletcher

“I meet more and more people now, who have heard of Hope at Hand, where before we were relatively unknown. It’s now defiantly starting to take hold,” said Renfro.

Hope At Hand now employs 11 part-time employees and works with 17 different agencies in Jacksonville, FL. Fletcher and Renfro plan to stabilize Jacksonville in the 2015 school year by maintaining contact with current agencies and introducing Hope at Hand’s mission and vision to the Daniel Youth Crisis Center and Children’s Home Society of Florida – Buckner Manor Maternity.

Hope at Hand will also be implementing a Hope Club in schools around Duval County, so older kids can volunteer to participate in writing, poetry and art therapy at the agencies with which it partners.

Learn more about Hope at Hand, Inc. and its growing success by liking the organization on Facebook, following it on Twitter or visiting its website.

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