The fifth annual Transition to Adulthood (TTA) Retreat was held at Camp Twin Lakes' Will-A-Way site in Winder, GA from Friday, October 25th through Sunday, October 27th, 2019. HERO staff and sixteen (16) children arrived on Friday evening to begin a weekend of intensive workshops focused on personal development, college and career preparation. The Retreat opened with its traditional pizza party and a short welcome from our Executive Director, Donna Drakes, who also provided an overview of the itinerary and expectations for the weekend. Prior to everyone's arrival, staff was proud to witness an organic exchange manifest on the ride up that would permeate the weekend. This was one of peer advocacy, support and encouragement. Some veteran participants not only shared, but expressed sincere appreciation for, their previous experiences in Retreat career readiness and interviewing sessions, and made reference to their positive impact on their own employment and career achievements thus far. This helped set a tone of anticipation for what this weekend would offer.

Early Saturday morning, students gathered to begin the day of workshops. Each child was provided with a tote bag including writing supplies, a copy of the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey, and a resource folder filled with various handouts, worksheets and reference materials to be used throughout the weekend and beyond. Dr. Waajid from Georgia State University conducted the first session, entitled "College Readiness." She began by guiding the children through an exercise that explored their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to their college and career visions for the future . Next, students completed "Brag Sheets" on which they had to write their aptitudes and proficiencies. They then participated in a role-play exercise wherein they presented themselves as returning campers at a 10-year reunion, sharing their various exploits and achievements. This provided the participants the opportunity to articulate their goals and dreams in a safe space that was encouraging and affirming. Dr. Waajid continued with an exploration of trade schools, honestly noting that the college experience isn't for everyone. However, she emphasized that in no way should this diminish anyone's dreams for a prosperous future, as there are many benefits to trade/technical school training. She shared some very real and personal interactions with service providers in her home (i.e. electricians, etc.) who were earning equal or more income than she does, despite the many more years of education she has (and without the expense and debt she amassed to secure her extensive education).
Next, Dr. Waajid focused on the fundamentals of good money management in her "Financial Literacy" class. She addressed relatable experiences that affect children concerning the pressures of being perceived as "rich." Dr. Waajid differentiated 'needs' and 'wants' as a means by which to help them begin making wise financial decisions that will affect them long-term. The students were then challenged to finance their lives on prescribed incomes. In doing so, they were forced to make hard decisions regarding how to address financial shortcomings when they occurred. Staff were pleased to observe students having serious discussions about making the best decisions for the betterment of their families and long-term financial health. For example, students were heard conversing about whether or not to purchase expensive cars or delay having children.
Next, the students attended the "Career Readiness" workshop, which offered exposure to and awareness of current trends in finding employment. Our Facilitator, Mrs. Tina Walcott (Workforce Development Coordinator with Henry County Schools System and teacher at Dutchtown High School), expanded on material Dr. Waajid covered relating to being prepared to present oneself in the best light via an "elevator speech" exercise. Students were given the chance to 'sell themselves' during impromptu encounters with influential and successful individuals in their identified career fields. Through this activity, students learned about seizing such opportunities by always being ready to pitch themselves appropriately.
Following this segment, Mrs. Walcott addressed approaches to seeking and maintaining gainful employment, including resume' and cover letter development, interviewing skills, proper business attire and workplace conduct. This, again, provided an opportunity for veteran and returning students to demonstrate development and mastery of skills they gained during previous Retreats. Each child participated in a mock group interview conducted by HERO staff and, new this year, veteran students. These veteran students were able to provide context relating to their own experiences, and shared information they learned in this very setting that was most useful to them during interviews.
After a long day of lessons, our participants engaged in a fun, recreational activity before moving to the lake for s'mores by the campfire. This afforded attendees the opportunity for social interaction, development and growth, as several of our introverted campers continued to blossom and share more frequently and interactively, as stimulated by fellow and veteran campers.
Sunday's sessions provided children with exposure to specific career fields they may not have been familiar with. First, Mr. E. Hogan discussed his position as a Cyber Security Manager . Mr. Hogan relayed his entry into this field (including the education and training required) and the remarkable income opportunities available to those who choose to pursue cyber security. The children were amazed to learn that with only a few months of training and/or completion of free, online certification programs, they could earn an annual, starting salary of $40K. Mr. Hogan then shared interesting stories of his work in this field, noting that cyber security touches so many things in our lives today. He spoke of the importance of password security, the breadth of cyber hacking and how it can have profound, negative consequences in the lives of everyday people. In closing, Mr. Hogan touched upon the demand for cyber security technicians/analysts, and the types of people he prefers to hire. He stressed the significance of soft skills, noting that he would employ someone with strong professional character and relatability over someone who lacks those traits, but is skilled in his field.
For our final presentation Mr. Justin Evans, Actor, Stuntman, Dancer, and personal stunt double for Actor Kevin Hart addressed the children. Students were notably engaged and inquired about his experiences on various movie projects of which they were already aware. Mr. Evans discussed his preparation as a dancer with diverse (as opposed to specified) training, which allowed him to take on roles that other Stuntmen could not handle. Mr. Evans noted opportunities he was able to take advantage of because he was always ready to 'sell himself' (which underscored lessons from the day before regarding 'brag sheets' and 'elevator speeches'). He cautioned the children not to turn their noses up at prospects that may not be particularly appealing at first, as such incidents may provide them with the professional experiences and/or put them in the right places to land jobs they do want. Mr. Evans also emphasized the importance of treating everyone with respect and kindness, and shared a story of how a support staff person on a movie later served as a bridge to an incredible opportunity.
Our closing ceremony began with words of congratulations and encouragement from HERO's Executive Director, Donna Drakes, and our Transition to Adulthood Program Consultant, Philippe Desamours. Various prizes and awards were distributed to students for high performance in the areas of participation, growth, leadership, teamwork, advocacy and respect for their fellow students. Finally, the overall top student was awarded with a brand new Dell laptop. This student was profoundly dynamic and distinguished herself in the above areas. In addition, she consistently expresses appreciation for the Transition to Adulthood Program as a whole, and every opportunity she's afforded to participate in with HERO. She has lofty goals for her college education and this prize will definitely serve her well in pursuit of these goals.
The 2019 Transition to Adulthood Retreat was an impactful experience for our participants, as it furnished them with valuable information, tools and insights that will enable them to make wise decisions as they identify their paths and work towards rewarding careers. We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those who made this intervention such a success: Transition to Adulthood Program Consultant, Mr. Philippe Desamours; Program Assistants, Ms. Arielle Singley and Mr. Chavius Boykins-Brooks; Workshop Facilitators, Dr. Waajid, Mrs. Walcott, Mr. Hogan and Mr. Evans; and finally, members of UGA HEROs. A special "Thank You!" goes out to the staff at Camp Will-A-Way for their kindness and commitment to maintaining a friendly and safe environment for all.  
H.E.R.O. for Children, Inc. is one of the charities participating in GAgives on #GivingTuesday. Help us raise awareness and funds for children affected by HIV and AIDS by saving the date and making a donation online on Tuesday,  December 3rd, 2019  at .
The Holiday of HEROs (H.O.H.) program allows us to partner with other AIDS organizations and hospitals in Georgia to provide children with one item they need and one gift they want during the holiday season. Our partner organizations include Jerusalem House, AID Atlanta, and Live Forward, as well as pediatric AIDS clinics in Atlanta, Macon, Augusta, Albany, and Savannah. An HIV/AIDS diagnosis for those living in low-income families, which is our highest service population, usually comes with great financial difficulty due to healthcare costs and the inability of an infected adult to work consistently.

Last year, the commun ity helped H.E.R.O. for Children provide gifts for 255 children! This success was due to the commitment of businesses, churches, community partners and individuals who sponsored children's "wish lists," supplied gifts and gift cards, and provided monetary donations. This year, we are inviting businesses, community partners, churches and individuals to get involved, once more, with this exciting program.


The Super HEROes Mentoring Program  is a community-based, one-on-one mentoring program serving children infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. The program provides these children with the opportunity to have a positive role model through a mentor and to strengthen their life skills, self-esteem, communication skills, goal-setting and academic performance.

Why HERO children need mentors? 

Approximately 33% of HERO children are HIV positive and the other 67% are affected (i.e. someone who has an infected parent, sibling, residential relative, or has lost a relative to HIV/AIDS-related complications). Twenty-five percent (25%) of HERO children have lost a parent as a result of HIV/AIDS-related complications, and almost 90% of HERO children come from low-income families (household incomes are $20,000/year or less).

Many of our children struggle with day-to-day challenges including low self-esteem, social difficulties, academic underachievement, self-destructive behavior, etc. You can help change this!

Responsibilities of a Super HERO Mentor:
  • Spend one-on-one quality time with a child at least twice a month, a minimum of two hours each time.
  • Participate with the child in a bi-monthly group activity organized and sponsored by H.E.R.O. for Children.
  • Be a positive role model for the child.
  • Contribute to strengthening the child's self-esteem, social adjustment and life skills.
Eligibility Requirements:
  • Be at least 22 years of age.
  • Be willing and available to comply with H.E.R.O. for Children's policies and procedures.*
  • Have dependable automobile transportation, maintain a valid driver's license, verifiable automobile insurance and abide by Georgia vehicle codes (i.e. seat belts, speed limits, etc.).
  • Have a suitable home environment.
  • Pass background checks, including motor vehicle record, sex offender registry, national criminal background screening and social security verification, prior to serving.
*  Training and continuing education provided.

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019 | 6- 8:30 PM | Roswell, GA

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019 |Roswell, GA

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 | 6- 8:30 PM | Roswell, GA

Saturday, December 21st, 2019 | 12 PM - 3PM | Atlanta, GA
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