Folsom's Hope Continues Growth Through Need, Community Support
Mar 25, 2015 01:55PM
● By Bill Romanelli
Back: Gary Burt, Gavin Rogers, Skye Taylor, Vanessa Palomino, Naim Hameed and Brandon Highley Middle (three children): Blaise Heppler, Kyler Hubbard and Diego Rubio Bottom: Carmen Zarate, Kaitlin Vick and Kyleigh Hess - photo by Dante Fontana © Style Media Group
Put a pin in a map of Folsom, on top of Theodore Judah Elementary School, and draw a circle around it representing a mile in diameter. In that circle you’ll find more than half of the Folsom population that’s living at or below the poverty level.
“Folsom is unique—you’ve got a lot of affluence, but also areas of tremendous need,” says Salwa Kasabian, a mother of three who launched Folsom’s Hope when her kids started at Theodore Judah.
A woman of strong faith, Kasabian admits she had concerns about Theodore Judah—based on comments she’d heard about the challenges facing the school—so when her oldest daughter started kindergarten in 2006, she did what most of us would do: She enrolled her child somewhere else.
It was only two years later, in 2008, when her second child was ready for kindergarten—and an alternate school choice request was denied—that Kasabian had a change of heart and began looking at solutions instead of problems. “In the first few months, I saw the needs facing the kids there and it broke my heart,” she says. “That started a journey for me.”
She launched the Judah United Mentor Project (JUMP) the following year, which partners an adult volunteer with a student once a week, over lunch, to provide mentoring and a consistent, caring adult in a child’s life.
JUMP was just the beginning, however. Next came Students Together Achieving Results (STARs), which provides an after-school place to be—and to belong—between 3-6 p.m., when studies show kids are often alone and more likely to get into trouble.
Every year, the mentoring program grew—eventually moving beyond Theodore Judah to other schools, and other programs were offered to support whole families, not just students. When it was time to organize everything under one banner, Folsom’s Hope was the inspired choice. “If you don’t have hope, you don’t have much,” Kasabian says. “We want to give people the help, and an example of Jesus’ love, that will give them the hope they need.”
As research continues to show how investing in kids early reduces dropout rates and ensures they have more choices in life, helps reduce crime, and makes communities better, it’s no surprise that Kasabian’s efforts have been contagious. Several community organizations support Folsom’s Hope, from Twin Lakes Food Bank (after-school snacks) to local churches and private foundations that provide funding to the 100 volunteers who work with the kids.
Even with that support, Folsom’s Hope is only scratching the surface. For every child they help, there are three more still in need. “No amount of help is too small—even an hour a week and a loving heart are enough,” Kasabian says. “For people able to do a little more, our greatest need is for mentors.”
Similar to a Big Brothers Big Sisters’ approach, Folsom’s Hope mentors engage in the lives of students to be a source of guidance, support and friendship, but sometimes that’s just the start. “Often our mentors form a bond with the child and the child’s family, where they can see that the need is broader...as a result, I’ve seen whole families come alongside other families in need. It can be a really beautiful thing.”
For more information and to volunteer or donate, visit folsomshope.org.