ROCKINGHAM – Kelly Hutchinson had a vision in 2006: how to help young men who, for various reasons and due to different circumstances, were in need of assistance.
That “vision” – Hutchinson is a Christian with a prayer-inspired faith-based plan of action – evolved into the R.E.F.O.R.M. program: Rescuing Everyone From Offenses 2B Real Men.
“I knew these four guys who were good people, but just needed some guidance,” said Hutchinson in explaining how she first conceived of the R.E.F.O.R.M. program. “Some of them had criminal records and were having difficulties finding a job.”
While on a trip to Atlanta, Hutchinson witnessed a “testimonial” from a man who had overcome similar circumstances. And this is when her epiphany moment occurred.
Returning to Rockingham and soliciting help from her sons, Kendrick and Kenta, as well as her mother (now deceased) and a few close friends, Hutchinson applied her educational background in human services and criminal justice (she has since added degrees in sociology and mental health services to her credentials) to the establishment of R.E.F.O.R.M.
“We only had about six participants initially,” Hutchinson related. “They were all young men, but soon younger boys were attending as well, and then word spread so that women were coming also.”
In 2015, Hutchinson determined that a need existed to form a separate “sister” organization specifically designed to address issues (threats and/or attempts of suicide) affecting young girls. Thus, Growing Into Real Ladies Soon (G.I.R.L.S.) was established.
It has now been 11 years since the initial commencement of R.E.F.O.R.M. (with G.I.R.L.S. beginning two years ago) and the momentum continues. Hutchinson conducts two monthly meetings (on alternating Saturdays), and counts approximately 40 youth “students” and a varying number of adults among her following.
Two of these group members are Armond Martin, 15, and Xa’Nyah Malry, 13. Martin stated that “mutual respect” is a primary focus of the R.E.F.O.R.M. model, and that his experience since joining the boys’ enrichment program this past summer has “been real nice,” adding that he wishes that some of his buddies would join as well.
One such “buddy” is Casanova, who, though hesitant to offer his given name, was nonetheless exceedingly anxious to relate his view as to the intrinsic value and general “good time” that the enrichment program provides.
Malry was even more enthusiastic in her praise for the G.I.R.L.S. program, noting how much she has learned (and come to appreciate) in her year under the tutelage of Ms. Hutchinson.
“She’s great,” Malry said of Hutchinson, “and she makes everything fun, even though we know how serious the topics are.”
Such topics include general life skills, self-awareness, self-esteem enhancement, drug and alcohol awareness, entrepreneurship, mental and emotional wellness, skill building and practical, hands-on sessions.
One such “learning period” was provided on Saturday morning by Monte Little of Little’s Automotive Service on Main Street in Hamlet.
“Kendrick (Hutchinson’s son) came in for service one day and we started talking about the kids – I just wanted to do something to help,” said Little.
He certainly did more than “just help.” Normally closed on the weekends, Little opened up his shop specifically to teach Hutchinson’s group the proper technique for conducting an oil change.
Under the supervision of Little, the seven boys and girls who participated were all provided with “hands-on” training, even down to looking up the proper grade of oil to be used on a particular automobile.
Skill building classes such as Little’s oil change instruction constitute a core aspect of the R.E.F.O.R.M. and G.I.R.L.S. approach to enhancing self-esteem and confidence.
“We have a three-element ‘recognition and adjustment’ perspective on how to help persons achieve more in life: mindset, behavior, and lifestyle,” explained Hutchinson. “All three of these things combine to determine what we do and who we are, so we address them all together.”
While these three focal points and lessons associated with them are primarily directed toward the adult R.E.F.O.R.M. members (particularly those with criminal histories, and/or substance abuse issues), the younger participants similarly benefit from numerous programmatic opportunities (that are designed specifically for youth) to guide them in life.
Although no particular type of funding is available to her, Hutchinson hopes to not only continue the existent programs, but expand services further.
“We are trying to establish a scholarship program for truck driving training next summer, and will also focus specifically on young people who are having – or may be at risk for – problems finding work,” Hutchinson said.
The scholarship will be named in honor of Apostle Bruce Almon, Jr., who was instrumental in helping Hutchinson with the R.E.F.O.R.M. program until he passed away recently.
A “Work Experience Program” for youth will span six weeks during the summer. It will be comprised of intense classroom sessions, as well as “hands-on” job shadowing experiences as part of the curriculum.
A “Leadership Academy” is another visionary approach that Hutchinson hopes to establish for students of high school age.
It was Hutchinson’s focus on classes and training sessions of this nature that drew Shanetta Strong to enroll her three children (two girls and a boy) in the program(s).
“I met Kelly at church and liked what she was doing,” said Strong. “Not only does it keep kids off the streets, but it gives them a place to go and something to do that teaches them so much in such a short period of time.”
R.E.F.O.R.M. is also hoping to establish a program whereby persons with a criminal history may be able to more easily benefit from any available possibilities to expunge their record as allowed.
“R.E.F.O.R.M. works to make a difference in the lives of participants regardless of their past, present or any obstacles that stand in the way of them having a successful life,” said Hutchinson. “R.E.F.O.R.M. works with men and women through life skills training and supportive services needed for employment, education, housing, and a second chance in their community.”
Hutchinson has managed to maintain R.E.F.O.R.M. and G.I.R.L.S. now for 11 and 2 years, respectively, with no substantive funding beyond private donations. Although Kelly has never asked for any special consideration, anyone wishing to assist her in any way with this ongoing cause of helping our youth can contact her at 910-417-1604, or at KMHutch66@AOL.com.