The generous and forward-thinking women of Indian River Impact 100 are helping formerly abused, abandoned and neglected teens who have reached the safety of the Hibiscus Children’s Village in Vero Beach to design their way to a better life.
In 2011 Impact 100 awarded the Hibiscus Children’s Center a grant of $100,000 to develop its Career Pathways to Independence program, which provides Hibiscus residents with skills training and career preparation. This past April, Impact 100 women again stepped forward to help build better futures; this time through a $100,000 grant for an extension of Pathways – the Graphic Design Impact Center.
“We’re thrilled Impact 100 had the vision to get a group of ladies together to raise a significant amount of money to make something transformational happen in our community,” says Paul Sexton, Hibiscus Children’s Center President/CEO. “That’s very much in line with what we’re doing as professionals taking care of kids in the child welfare space.”
For the past 13 years teens ranging in age from 13 to 17 have been provided a safe, supportive environment at the 40-bed group homes of the Village. But it is only after they have been given the basic necessities of food, shelter, clothing and counseling that they can really begin to look forward to more promising futures. And the future comes all too quickly for these teens. On their 18th birthday, Hibiscus clients must move out of the Village and make their own way in the world.
The center will provide a platform to help those young men and women launch careers in the graphic design industry, while also honing their social and life skills. Students will learn the design process from concept to completed project through a five-module curriculum that focuses on the elements of design, marketing, development, software and branding.
Lou Boccabella, HCC vice president of project management and regulatory compliance, describes it as “a transformation of our Career Pathways program, where we work with children to develop their independent living skills, work on internships, develop career goals and skills to better their lives.”
The teens say they can’t wait to get started. “I would like to be a part of this graphic design center because I love drawing; it’s part of my life,” one said.
“The graphic design program will give me experience and beginning knowledge,” says another.
Part of the allure is even after turning 18, students can finish the program at the Village, participate in an internship and potentially work in the graphics center as a paid employee.
Although the center is not yet fully functional, one former Hibiscus Village client is currently working as an intern with Kathleen Knowles, the center’s director.
“I’ve recently turned 18 and am now on my own,” he explains. “Working with Ms. Kathleen gives me a chance to learn new skills to use out in the world and to stay connected; keeping me in an environment I know and trust.”
“Life is like design; there are good and bad choices, all attached to outcomes,” says Knowles, a graduate of Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University. “Our program provides youth a vehicle to slow down their thought processes to reflect on what and how they’re expressing ideas through images and words; targeting audiences with specific, measurable outcomes.”
Students will work independently in a classroom setting and one-on-one with Knowles, working on projects from concept to final printed piece. A print shop has been set up with individual workstations, training equipment for visual presentations, a library and open drawing area.
Their first “real world” project will be to design promotional pieces for a variety of Hibiscus events, learning the process while creating a portfolio of items to showcase the scope of the center’s ability to prospective customers.
Knowles sees graphic design as a place where art and business merge, with students learning how to communicate as well as design, noting, “They have to consider who their audience is and grasp what the client wants. If you couldn’t read, would you understand what the message is saying?”
“From a social work standpoint, drawing and singing can be a coping skill,” says Rey Navarro, director of Village operations, commenting that the program is beneficial to individuals suffering from trauma. “Most of the kids have been through several traumas, and channeling their feelings into creating something is a positive way to work through something.”
Sexton says their goal is to introduce socially innovative programs that change the lives of the children they serve. “One way to do that is to expose them to things like the Graphic Design Impact Center,” he said. “We chose graphic design because it’s transformational in a couple of unique ways. It’s a white-collar job, and they can earn a competitive salary. The house has been transformed into a welcoming workspace. Kathleen and some of the kids made a sign, and on Oct. 1 we’ll be ready to open for business.”
“The Hibiscus Children’s Center grant met the four criteria necessary for an Impact 100 grant,” says Brenda Cetrulo, Impact’s grant committee chair. “Our members felt the Graphic Design Impact Center was transformative to the children learning a technology-focused career, the organization through continued connection with their graduates after the abrupt aging-out process, the Indian River County community as these youth enter the adult and local world with the training to make a good life and career that will adequately support them.”
Cetrulo adds that they were particularly impressed by the program’s sustainability through the graphic design work and income that will be generated by program participants.
“We talk about numbers of children in care. We do not tell the story about what would happen if we weren’t serving these 40 kids,” stresses Sexton. “There’s a cost to that. Prison is $89,000 a year. Then there is loss of income potential and mental health costs. When you start adding up the price for one child, it’s huge. Then you look and say because they have this program, they didn’t go to jail, they didn’t end up at a psych hospital, and they did graduate from high school. With a $100,000 investment, Impact 100 probably saved between $3 and $5 million.”
“These kids have been told ‘You’re not worth it.’ ‘You can’t do anything.’ ‘You’re nothing.’ This totally counteracts that,” adds Tracy Savoia, HCC marketing vice president. “It will give them a sense of accomplishment and self-worth for the first time.”
For more information, visit HibiscusChildrensCenter.org.