Thirty children between the ages of 8 and 14 participated in a clinic called Hugs not Drugs in Chester. The clinic was held at the George E. Carter Boys and Girls Club, sponsored by The Mission Project.
“A lot of our kids are being told they will not accomplish anything, and a lot of our young men aren’t being raised by their fathers,” said Darren Laws, founder and president of the mission. “Some of these kids don’t know what it feels like for a loved one to hug them. The program Hugs not Drugs was about inspiring kids in Chester. A lot of people don’t know that just a simple hug or a word of encouragement can go along way. For a lot of these kids, it makes the difference.”
Established in 2010, the Mission Project is a nonprofit agency based in Chester. The program offers workshops on gang prevention, conflict resolution, gun violence education, intervention training, and money investment. The program also offers mentoring and motivational speaking services.
“I’m a community service specialist and court representative for Delaware County and Glen Mills, so I was seeing a lot of our young men and women getting locked up and not making the best decisions,” Laws said. “A lot of these kids aren’t bad kids, they just don’t have any guidance or a structured home. I started the organization to address some of those issues.
“Chester is not the only city that has problems with violence and drugs. These are issues that are happening everywhere, so we’re reaching out to other communities like Upper Darby and Philadelphia. We’re also getting the parents involved, because awareness about these issues starts at home. I know I’m not going to be able to save everyone, but I will try my best to save the majority of them.”
The event included workshops on underage drinking, drugs, leadership, and self-esteem. The guest speaker of the event was Michael Cooper, who was recently released from jail after serving 17 years. He is the nephew of former heavyweight boxer Bert Cooper.
“The kids didn’t know that Michael Cooper was the guest speaker, so when they heard his story they were shocked, but they were listening,” said James Saad Blackwell, senior vice president of the mission. “They interacted with him and asked him questions about his life and what he went through. It was an experience that they definitely won’t forget. This program is all about reaching kids before they go down the wrong path. I’ve made some mistakes in my life, we all have, but these kids don’t have to make those same mistakes. They deserve a chance, but most of all they need our love and support.”