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Helping People Succeed Organization Focuses On Parents And Children In The Treasure Coast Area

Every parent cherishes that memory of the first time they cradled their newborn in their arms, marveling at the details of this tiny person who is so totally and completely dependent on them.

Totally and completely. 

With that realization, awe and wonder can morph into “Ah!” and the wonder: how on earth can I handle this massive responsibility?

“I can still remember bringing my first daughter home and thinking, ‘What have I done?’ I couldn’t get her to stop crying,” remembers Suzy Hutcheson, president and CEO of Helping People Succeed. “Eventually, I figured it out.”

With the support of spouses, family and friends, many of us do finally figure out a formula for comforting an upset baby and coping with the endless responsibilities parenting requires. But many others don’t—at least, not without some assistance. 

Enter Helping People Succeed, a more than 50-year-old non-profit that offers comprehensive services, programs and partnerships that cater to new families, at-risk children and people with disabilities.

The organization serves the Treasure Coast and Okeechobee. Here are some numbers to consider from the U.S. Census Bureau: 

With a median household income of $51,593, Martin County is home to 158,701 people with 11 percent below poverty level. St. Lucie County’s median income is $43,459 with 16 percent of its 306,507 residents in poverty. In Indian River County, there’s a $45,798 median income, and of its 151,563 residents 13 percent are in poverty. In Okeechobee County, the median income is $35,405 and 23 percent of the 40,314 residents are impoverished. 

All told, that’s 95,473 people at poverty level or below. 

Why? The explanations for poverty are legion: societal biases, underfunded schools, limited resources, bad breaks, broken homes, addiction and more. While the explanations matter, Helping People Succeed focuses more on emphasizing personal responsibility and providing programs that instill self-sufficiency. 

“We can help each one become productive members of our community,” Hutcheson says.

Help by any other name…

In 1964, several parents weary of their disabled children doing little more than watching TV all day started Pioneer Occupational Center for the Handicapped. This was the first, and one of many, monikers the organization adopted before becoming Helping People Succeed in 2004.

With a combination of state and federal grants—and invaluable contributions from community donors—Helping People Succeed serves its four-county region with a $5 million annual budget. 

The non-profit recently moved into a new location in Jensen Beach, and it hopes to eventually purchase the 20,290-square-foot former Braille manufacturing facility. As the headquarters to most of its 125 employees, it offers office space for field staff and therapy sessions and ample room for events and social interactions.

BRAIN power

Through its BRAIN (Building Readiness Among Infants Now) program, Helping People Succeed ensures each year thousands of newborn babies and their parents in Martin and St. Lucie counties receive home visits from a hospital nurse and developmental specialists for a quick physical assessment, breast-feeding support, immunization scheduling and home-safety tips. The program started in conjunction with the Children’s Services Council of Martin County. 

“That person comes out as a support mechanism for the mom and the family,” says Glenna Parris, gift-planning officer. 

The visits include gift bags with information on a baby’s brain development and the value of nurturing, a list of key community resources and even a letter from a superintendent welcoming the new arrival to a future high school with the appropriate graduation year filled in. 

Handling with care

The parenting education process expands through a range of services available in the Healthy Families program. Staff from Helping People Succeed teach baby-calming techniques. Music & Movement classes and parent-child sessions on playtime provide essential bonding and child brain mapping, which might sound like common practice among parents but remains unknown to many. 

“Many of our families had no prenatal care,” Hutcheson says. “They go to the hospital, have babies and go home.” 

Susan George is a family support worker with the Healthy Families program, going into homes, working with families, playing with children and falling in love with them along the way.

 “The hardest part is letting the families graduate out of the program,” she says. “We’re in the home weekly and watch the babies grow.”

Game changer

After receiving the remaining assets from the Frances Langford Foundation, the Martin County Community Foundation sought non-profits to support in addressing a significant area of concern. 

The foundation’s seven-person committee reviewed dozens of applications, conducted site visits and narrowed down organizations for four impact grants and one “game changer” grant. The award totaling $100,000 was given to Helping People Succeed. 

“Based on the application, based on the site visit, based on the number of partnership agencies that were committed to the literacy program, we felt the timing was right and leadership was strong, and we needed to look at literacy with a broader lens,” says Elizabeth Barbella, executive director of the Martin County Community Foundation. 

Children’s mental health

Last year, Helping People Succeed worked with 850 children and their families, instructing on ways to improve functional abilities for children with emotional and behavioral disorders. Its Behavioral Health Services offers an after-school program in St. Lucie County where students who’ve fallen behind academically can regain credits and get back on track.

The eight-week summer program Camp Success uses arts and crafts, field trips and other activities to impart a love of literacy and communication for children with behavioral and mental-health issues. Transition programs help young adults on the autism spectrum learn skills for independent living.

Real beneficiaries 

Through the employee services and Community Connections program, Helping People Succeed assists individuals with disabilities in finding employment. And if jobs aren’t available for whatever reason, Helping People Succeed connects them with volunteering opportunities through organizations such as House of Hope, Meals on Wheels, Florida Oceanographic Society and Humane Society of the Treasure Coast. 

“Now you have someone with a disability that was not included, now involved and volunteering and they feel included,” Hutcheson says. 

Joys to have on staff

Project Search is one of the organization’s most successful programs. Produced in conjunction with Martin Health System, Martin County School District and ARC of Martin County, it prepares and places students with disabilities in jobs, primarily in hospitals. 

“What I say all the time is, ‘Martin Health gets more out of this program than the kids get out of us,’” says Rob Lord, president and CEO of Martin Health System. “We learn to appreciate more than we might otherwise, and I see this spirit of love and caring where our own associates adopt them and take great pride in all they do. 

“There’s a young man down in our cafeteria, if I’m having a bad day I go looking for him,” Lord continues. “He greets me with a smile and hug. He’s just a ray of light on a cloudy day.”  

This employee, Lord recounts, rode to work each day on a bicycle with no seat and only pegs for pedals. The members of the hospital’s engineering department offered to fix up the bike and unbeknownst to him, they took up a collection and bought him a new bike.

“When they presented it to him he sees it and says, ‘That’s not my bike,’” Lord says. “The guys say, ‘We bought you a new bike.’ He comes out and he’s crying. No one’s ever done anything like that for him before. That’s the effect the kids in the program have on our culture.”

Happiness – A sleeping baby

The broad scope and size of the impact Helping People Succeed has on our region is perhaps best captured in the little things it helps people achieve.

“Once that baby is sleeping and cooing and happy and smiling,” Hutcheson says, “it makes all the difference in the world.”

Support the cause

Pinot & Picasso: An Evening of Fine Art and Wine

Enjoy festive food stations, an art gallery and wine tasting.

6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 18

Helping People Succeed,
1601 NE Braille Place, Jensen Beach

Cocktail attire