Community First encourages youth to thrive

by Laura Gasbarro Published:

Hudson Community First promotes positive youth development through leadership, self-esteem building and entrepreneurial programming.

Founded by Hudson City School leaders and local businessmen in the late 1990s, the group's focus has always been empowerment of youth and how to educate them, their parents, and the community at large to help kids to thrive. Cheryl Rauch and I have worked as the co-executive directors since 2005. It is our charge to develop programs and activities that promote the mission of the organization.

Today, Community First is a vibrant organization with four working boards: an executive board led by President Jack Lieske; a 50-member advisory board composed of members of the community and schools; a 45-person volunteer board that helps the organization to raise funding for programming, and youth boards at both of the local high schools. This year, the Hudson Community First Youth Board at Hudson High, advised by Alane Malerick, is 75 kids strong. Western Reserve Academy also has an active board that supports Community First programs.

Programs and Activities

Community First develops programs to coincide with the school year in all schools in Hudson including WRA, Seton and Montessori. In September, we worked with the Hudson City Schools to administer an 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-grade benchmark survey asking about how kids feel about themselves and their community, as well as Community First program recognition. The results were interesting. The last time a similar survey was given, 10 percent of those who took the survey reported being depressed all of the time. Community First leaders thought that was a big number and looked, through programming, to move that number over the past four years. In September, the survey numbers for that question decreased dramatically to under 4 percent.

Every October, Community First celebrates Take a Second Make a Difference month where the community is involved in nominating their fellow neighbors, merchants, students and teachers who make a difference in the lives of kids. Ten community members were recognized this year at the annual Take a Second luncheon at the Country Club of Hudson. The luncheon is sponsored with a grant from the Hudson Community Foundation.

In both November (at Hudson High) and February (at WRA), Community First sponsors a successful Intern for a day/Career panel program. Professionals speak to students about different careers and their educational paths. This highly successful program, now in its eighth year, is sponsored with a grant from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and has attracted students from WRA, Hudson High, Stow High, Revere High, Walsh, and CVCA.

The first Saturday in December always brings the Holiday Gift Shop and Craft Fair to the Middle school via Community First. Preschoolers through age 12 can holiday shop secretly for their parents and siblings. This year the activity was sponsored by Primrose school.

The Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation awarded Community First a sizable grant to sponsor a Mental Wellness initiative in February. Over 100 teachers from various schools, fire and police and community members were trained on both the Psychological First aid for Students and the Red Flags program in a day-long workshop held at the Cleveland Clinic facility in Twinsburg. Each school in the community was given giveaways and their curriculum supported mental wellness in the classroom. Over $5,500 was awarded to teachers for their new, great ideas to promote mental wellness in the classroom.

Also during February, we held our annual Toast to Hudson fundraiser. This year it was held at Lake Forest with over 235 people attending. The funding raised from this activity helps to sustain Community First programming during the year. Also, our High School Youth Board raised over $700 for the Ubumi orphanage through a Valentine's Day flower sale. The youth board is currently in the middle of planning a May 3 community-wide service day sponsored by the Kiwanis in conjunction with the Friends of the Parks.

Service Day

Starting April 1, community members, families and individuals can go online to the Community First website and sign up to work at a specific site on service day. Kiwanis provided a grant to both promote service day and provide T-shirts to all who sign up. The activity gives families with younger children the chance to have a service opportunity in the community, as well as activities for high school-aged youth. Service in all of the parks in Hudson, the Humane Society and Laurel Lake are being arranged. Watch for more publicity about the service day in the Hudson Hub. Community First is working on this project in conjunction with the Friends of the Parks.

During the summer, Community First will work with the Hail to the Chefs/Taste of Hudson committee to sell Ultimate raffle tickets. The drive will begin at Hail to the Chefs and culminate at the Taste of Hudson weekend. Tickets will be $10 which will afford buyers a chance to win big, fabulous prizes.

Community First is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. All programs are funded through individual donors, fundraising events and grants. Contrary to what some may think, the schools and city do not fund Community First. Everyone is welcome to be a part of the Community First boards. Contact me if you have questions, have a great community idea or would like to join one of the organization's boards. To learn more about Community First go to our website at www.hudsoncommunityfirst.com.

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