Laura Champ started Hopeful Tomorrow so that underprivileged kids could follow their passion. The sole mission of the charitable organization is to provide scholarships for disadvantaged and at-risk children and young adults to participate in various arts and sports programs.
Champ and her son, Lee Caswell, started Hopeful Tomorrow in 2008 with a $10,000 gift from her father, in memory of her mother.
Champ, 51, had experience working with at-risk kids as a coordinator for a Kentucky family resource community center that focused on juvenile delinquency. Many of those youths were ordered by the court to participate in certain programs and, "getting them to go was like pulling teeth," Champ said.
"I thought if we could sit down and talk to the kids and find out what they are passionate about and ask them if they could do anything in life, what it would be, that would be great. We match them with a mentor in that art or sport, or whatever it may be. … They're getting the benefits of a positive role model and a positive peer group around them. They just blossom."
Hopeful Tomorrow simply paves the avenue for children to participate in arts and sports programs, she said. "It is the instructors and mentors who are the real heroes."
Based in Seminole, Hopeful Tomorrow is a nationwide charity with 350 schools participating, 273 kids currently on scholarship and 47 on a waiting list. The youngest scholarship recipient is 3, and the oldest is 20. The charity gets referrals from guidance counselors, social service agencies, law enforcement organizations, church officials and parents.
After the intake and mentor match, the charity contracts with the teachers/mentors for $75 per month (tuition is generally double that), and the kids then have unlimited access to them, whether they meet twice a week, every day after school or through the weekend. "It's a safe haven for them," Champ said. Children can participate in martial arts, drama/theater, fine arts, dance, music, gymnastics and boxing.
The organization is always raising money, and all participating schools are contracted to hold at least one fundraiser per year with kids helping out during the event.
"Whether we raise $100 or a couple thousand, it all goes right to the kids," Champ said of her nonprofit, which is staffed by volunteers with no paid salaries.
"We've streamlined all of our administrative expenses so that the bulk of the money goes directly to helping the kids," she added. Hopeful Tomorrow operates with 80 percent of funds going to provide scholarship tuition for the children.
Constantly looking for ways to raise money, the nonprofit recently held a second-chance prom, a trivia night and a bowling tournament. At every Rays' home game the charity staffs the garlic fries concession stand. A percentage of proceeds goes to Hopeful Tomorrow. "It's a fast-paced three hours," said Steve Nichols, a volunteer at the booth. "And it's a great feeling knowing that the funds raised help support the kids in the program."
The next fundraiser is Art Fest on Saturday in Pinellas Park.
The charity's board members are Robert Roemer, Champs' dad; Lee Caswell, her eldest son; Julie and Steve Lang; Laurie Reuter; Cindy Stehlen; and Joseph Ferrior.