Learn more about the origins and future of Hugs.
It all began with a teddy bear...
Throughout the 2006-2007 school year, Rachel Bervell, founder of Hugs for Ghana, had a vision. With the opportunity and resources close at hand, Rachel formulated an organization focused on children, the most vulnerable, yet able individuals, of Ghana, West Africa. As a first generation Ghanaian-American herself, Rachel was familiar with the lifestyles of the many disadvantaged children, and saw her visit to Ghana in the summer of 2007 as a catalyst to serve.
Reaching out to several of her peers, Rachel along with Candace Wanner, Elise Wolff, Michelle Kim, and Abbey Blackwell were able to defy the traditional roles of high school students. They showed that anyone had the ability to create something great in others’ lives. During a 14-day period beginning on 29th of May through the 15th of June, advertisements, posters, and flyers were set up and distributed among the high school students of Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, Washington, United States, requesting that students should support the motivation of their peer students, and bring, as a first project, stuffed animals and teddy bears.
All the stuffed animal toys , the students were told, would go directly to children of Ghanaian hospitals and orphanages. Because of the joy that a stuffed animal could bring to a child, drive was called Hugs for Ghana. The collection of the toys was administered and sponsored by the Kamiak High School students in various classes and clubs; the Viscom Broadcasting class announced the progress and reiterated the objective of the drive through out May and June, the Newspaper class covered Hugs for Ghana's story, the Leadership class aided the setting up of posters around the school and collected teddy bears from classrooms, and the Kamiak Key Club (a community service group) created articles and collected toys, as well. Because of the charitable goals of Hugs for Ghana, the prospective organization at the time collected over one thousand stuffed animals, which would all encourage the spirit of a Ghanaian child.
The growing movement
Michael Bervell was Hugs for Ghana's Director between 2013 - 2015. After seeing a pressing need in his community, Michael founded "Helping You Grow" (HUG) a local branch of Hugs for Ghana. This grassroots operation focused on tutoring local elementary school students, performing at local retirement homes, and maintaining a 100-student strong volunteer board. The volunteer board met on a monthly basis in order to discuss Hugs for Ghana related issues and volunteer opportunities. All volunteers were thoroughly educated on the history of Hugs for Ghana and its life-changing effects.
Michael also oversaw Hugs for Ghana's first ever sports drive which raised over $20,000 worth of sports supplies. With help from Coca-Cola, the Mukilteo YMCA, the Mukilteo Boys and Girls Club, and three schools within the Mukilteo school district, Michael and the Hugs for Ghana board successfully showed the community that it could make an international difference through the simple gift of a ball or pair of shoes.
The idea for this drive started in the spring of 2013 while Michael was kicking around a soccer ball with one of his close friends. After this simple event, Michael realized the impact of having access to recreation. In December of 2013 Michael hand delivered the supplies collected from the sports drive to students at Tikobo II Elementary School.
The move to education & health
Joel Bervell is the co-founder and Chief Operations Officer of Hugs for. He served as the president of Hugs for Ghana at Kamiak High School from 2009 - 2013. In addition to continuing the Teddy Bears for Ghana project, Joel decided to direct Hugs for Ghana's initiatives towards improving the education and health care of Ghanaian children. Realizing that many children did not have access to proper education because of a lack of the necessary equipment , Joel enacted multiple school supply drives at his high school called "Project Educate" and "The Health Initiative."
Through "Project Educate," Joel encouraged peers to donate school supplies. Students were told that all the supplies collected would be hand-delivered to Ghanaian children in schools, orphanages, and remote villages. During these school supply drives students at Kamiak High School were allowed to donate any school supplies ranging from backpacks to pencils to pens. In order to make it easier for students to donate, multitudes of boxes were colorfully painted, labeled and placed into each 3rd period classroom. For three weeks, Joel and his team of students would pick up supplies that classes donated each Thursday. By the end of the school supply drive over 6,000 pencils, pens, backpacks, etc. were collected and the following summer the items were hand-delivered to children at Tikobo II Elementary School and Hobor Elementary School.
On a prior trip to Ghana, Joel had also seen the need for healthcare equipment, leading him to begin "The Health Initiative." Through a partnership with Seattle Children's Hospital, crucial medical equipment including blood pressure cuffs and thermometers were donated to Ghanian hospitals. Funds were raised through donation drives like "100 Cents Saves a Life," a free will donation drive that focused on allowing high school students to donate to Hugs for Ghana throughout their lunches. Donations did not have to be dollar bills but could be anything as simple as a penny. In fact, students were encouraged to donate cons rather than dollar bills since the goal of the drive was not only to raise money for Hugs for Ghana and buy medical supplies for the upcoming Ghana trip, but also to help students realize that there was a world in need beyond their limited view.
In this spirit, the Ghanaian Culture night was started as a fundraiser that allowed the community to see what youth were doing to better the world. Throughout the night the audience enjoys performances by traditional Ghanaian dancers, drummers and singers all while eating a cultural meal. As Hugs for Ghana's main fundraiser, all donations from the night are put towards current projects that Hugs for Ghana is working on as well as offsetting shipping costs.
"Hugs for Ghana" becomes "Hugs for "
Momentum for Hugs for Ghana has done anything but slow over the years. After the success of Hugs for Ghana at Kamiak High School, other students in different school districts wanted to join the movement. Some students even wanted to expand the impacts of Hugs beyond Ghana.
Thanks to incredible grass roots donations, Hugs has now been able to help establish numerous branches across the United States and help students start their own Hugs for commitments. Tyler Choi from Bellevue, WA traveled started Hugs for Tanzania to deliver school supplies to students. Alvin Makori from Wooster, Ohio traveled to Kenya to donate books, toiletries, and school supplies to students at Blessed Hope Elementary.
Selfless global leaders like Tyler and Alvin embody the core values of Hugs: service, community and leadership. If you are a high school student and want to become involved in crafting the future of Hugs, learn how here!