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Garden of Hope: A Michigan nonprofit helping girls be their best

Garden of Hope: A Michigan nonprofit helping girls be their best

As a middle school student, Asia Jones was inspired to help other girls around her succeed. Growing up in Mason, Michigan, she noticed that some of her peers weren’t getting the same kinds of opportunities that she was. “I realized that not all of my friends had the village of support I had, and I wanted to fix that,” she said. She and her mom, LaShaunta Waller, began hosting workshops for friends at their house. As Jones began helping girls at her school, she realized the larger need around the Greater Lansing Area.

Jones and Waller created Garden of Hope, a nonprofit organization to support girls around the community to become the best they can be. An acronym for “Helping Other People to Excel,” Garden of Hope offers personal and leadership development in a safe environment. For the last five years, the program has utilized key components for preparation, success, intervention, exploration, and awareness for middle and high school girls.

Jones currently oversees the administration and programming of the organization, all while studying biology at Lansing Community College to pursue a career in public health for the Air Force. She has given countless hours of her time directing and developing Garden of Hope. In 2020, she was given the 2020 Y-PIF™ (Youth Passing It Forward) award from ePIFanyNow™ in recognition of her work, and for passing kindness forward and making contributions to the local community.

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Jones’ favorite part of creating Garden of Hope is the impact she has been able to create, as well as the lasting friendships she has made. she said. “It’s amazing to see how life-changing it has been for so many,” Jones said. “I would not have been able to meet some of the girls without this program, and that’s such a blessing and a benefit.”

Helping Girls Succeed

Over a six month period, Garden of Hope offers girls expansive programming in a safe environment to explore their interests, learn life skills, and prepare for their futures. They host workshops with volunteer mentors on subjects like vision board building, goal setting, and financial literacy. The nonprofit also offers a range of classes for the girls based on their needs, including self defense, etiquette, practical skills like changing a tire, self-esteem programs and  even a career day. The girls learn about a range of fields including medicine, law, and engineering. Mentors help the cohort create resumes, and the girls get the chance to do mock interviews with the professionals.  

A key component of Garden of Hope is the focus on public service and becoming a confident leader and community member. Participants have completed projects such as packing thousands of lunches for Meals on Wheels, collecting and donating dry and canned goods for local food pantries, and more. At the end of the program, one of the participants will win a $4,000 scholarship. Garden of Hope chooses the winner based on who has had a lot of growth and improvement, as well as financial need. Previous winners have been able to use their scholarship award for educational expenses, personal and technology investments like a new computer or car, and even helping purchase a new home for their family.

The scholarship is awarded at the culminating event of the program, the Cinderella Ball. At this black-tie event, the girls are celebrated for their accomplishments in the program in front of their friends and family. “It’s a beautiful ceremony, and we try to end the program with a great final event for everyone,” Jones said.Cinderella-Ball.jpg

While COVID-19 impacted their host events in person, Jones worked hard to maintain the program virtually. Meetings, workshops, and events moved virtually to still connect with and support the participants. “It was definitely a change, but we were able to figure out a way to do it for the needs of these girls,” Jones said.

Future Plans

Garden of Hope continues to grow in the number of girls served through community service projects, mentoring, and leadership workshops. Jones hopes to continue to expand Garden of Hope to more girls around the country. With the partnership of friends and family, Garden of Hope serves girls in Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia. She and Waller travel to meet each group of girls, attending large events like the career day and Cinderella Ball.

Jones is also interested in creating a similar opportunity for boys and young men. She says she is constantly asked if something like Garden of Hope exists for boys, and sees the need for it around the community. Jones hopes to explore the possibility of a new program in the coming years. To learn more about Garden of Hope and get involved, please visit gardenofhopescholarship.org.

 

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