RALEIGH, N.C. — Utica Cason launched SOAR Outreach in 2014 with a mission to help underserved people in the community and promote learning. The nonprofit has morphed since those first days. Originally focused on helping men become self-sufficient, the group is working hard to help kids and families with two programs that serve those in need in Wake County.
I checked in with Cason, a mom of three boys and two grandsons, to learn more about her work, her mission and how people can help. Here’s a Q&A.
Go Ask Mom: You’ve got a couple of programs. Tell us about your Healthy Hygiene Program, which launched in January 2018.
UC: There can be numerous contributors to poor personal hygiene habits—anything from a lack of education at home and cultural influences to low-income households with limited financial resources. Children from low-income households also may not have access to the personal hygiene products they need, especially homeless students.
The Healthy Hygiene Program provides donated hygiene kits to Wake youth ages five to 18 years old who attend a Title 1 school, are homeless or transitional, or reside in a low-income household.
SOAR Outreach collaborates with the school social workers and community organizations to identify the students who need the kits. The goal is to decrease sickness and bullying and increase self-confidence and the student’s overall quality of life.
GAM: Why can providing a simple thing – like toothbrushes or tampons – mean the world to the kids and families you work with?
UC: Children with poor personal hygiene habits can have lower self-confidence, more mental and emotional health issues and trouble maintaining friendships, which all can impact their desire to attend school.
We are equipping students to give them a vision and hope for the future. Our goal is to further close the gap between opportunity and achievement for our students by providing basic hygiene products such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner, soap, deodorant, body wash, dental floss, mouthwash, lotion and feminine hygiene products.
GAM: And you recently launched Parents Helping Parents in September 2018. What’s that all about?
UC: I experienced this first hand with my oldest son when he was in middle school. It started with a delinquent and undisciplined juvenile petition and being placed out of the home to other facilities. There was no agency or support group that was available during this time for me while I experienced this with my son. There are court counselors and an attorney to help you, but with their case loads, they are not able to provide the necessary information or support to the families.
The mission of the Parents Helping Parents Support Group is to give voice to parents impacted by the juvenile justice system. This group will provide an opportunity for families to share their ideas and personal experience and support each other. I want to be able to assist other parents who are encountering this in their families.
The services that will be provided to parents in this support group include the opportunity for participants to get support and advice and learn about available resources on how to deal with the issues they are facing. The support group will provide a space for open, honest and non-judgmental dialogue among parents. Families also will be provided with information, training and resources to help them become knowledgeable about the juvenile justice system and effective advocates for their children.
We have partnered with social workers, criminal justice professionals, mental health agencies, boys and girls mentoring organizations and lawyers.
GAM: How can people help SOAR?
UC: We always need supporters, volunteers, donations of hygiene items and monetary donations. People can help by contacting us at 919-651-4397 or by email at email@example.com. You also can find out more information on our website and Facebook page.
GAM: What’s your hope for the future of SOAR?
UC: The future for SOAR Outreach is to continue to grow by increasing our partnerships with local schools and community organizations this year. We want to increase to partnering with 30 schools this year and add five more community organizations. We want to take our programs and implement them in other counties in North Carolina. We also want to increase our hygiene item inventory, volunteer base and streams of funding sources, so we can increase our services to be able to support more youth and families