PrincetonScoop’s Outstanding Non-Profits in the Greater Princeton Area: In Conversation with Elizabeth Casparian, CEO of HiTOPS
1. What is the cause/mission of your organization?
HiTOPS is a health education and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring every adolescent safe passage to adulthood by proving comprehensive sexuality education and promoting healthy relationships and supportive connections.
HiTOPS accomplishes its mission through these initiatives:
• Reduce rates of HIV, STIs and unplanned pregnancies through medically accurate and age appropriate curriculum.
• Reduce rates of intimate partner violence (including sexual assault and dating violence).
• Reduce incidences of self-harm as well as physical assault, harassment and bullying, with particular attention to LGBT youth.
• Create healthy, supportive peer/adult connections by training adults and peer leaders, and offering support groups
2. What is the history or background of your organization?
HiTOPS is 27 years old. Founded as an offshoot of Familyborn Birth Center – HiTOPS sought to address the reproductive and sexual health needs of adolescent clients through risk reduction education, support groups and adolescent focused health care. HiTOPS was formed in response to growing need within the community for sexuality education in schools, community-based settings and juvenile justice centers. Through health educators and peer leaders, HiTOPS delivers 50 or more educational programs to youth and the adults who work with youth, every month throughout the state of New Jersey.
3. Why did you start this organization or can you tell me who started it?
Bonnie Parker, RN founded HiTOPS in response to a growing need in Mercer County for reproductive health care and health education for youth. Familyborn Birth Center midwives weres providing prenatal care and delivering babies and they were seeing many young people coming through the doors looking for reproductive health services and not knowing where to go. The midwives decided to start a clinic exclusively for adolescents. As more youth came to the clinic seeking care, it became evident that they were not getting the educational programs in their schools that were allowed and mandated by the state. HiTOPS midwives and health educators began providing programs on pregnancy prevention, HIV and STD prevention and date rape prevention in the local schools. As more and more people heard about HiTOPS, we began getting requests for parent education, teacher training and support groups for young women who have experienced sexual assault, as well as LGBTQ youth and their allies. Over time, and in direct response to needs in the community, HiTOPS has sought funding and support to be able to address those needs through programs and services. We offer a wide range of programs and services to youth, parents, teachers and other professionals. We work with divers populations including faith-based communities, incarcerated youth and youth from inner city and rural schools where resources are limited.
4. What is your role in the organization?
I am currently the Executive Director. I served on the Board of Directors for 4 years. I was the Director of Educational Programs for 4 years, and I have been the Executive Director for 7 years. I was also a Familyborn client for 2 of my 3 children, and was a volunteer for HiTOPS soon after it opened – I co-chaired many of the fundraising events. In fact, I even did some of my dissertation research with staff at HiTOPS.
5. What about your organization are you most passionate about?
I think that my passion comes from two things – one is that HiTOPS staff members really care deeply about young people and believe in them – so we LISTEN to what they are telling us about their experiences and their needs. Then, we align what we offer with research and best practices to bring programs to young people that will have the greatest overall POSITIVE IMPACT on their lives. We hear and see daily that we are making a difference, and we are working hard to be able to document that impact and ensure that our work is relevant and purposeful.
6. What are some of the goals you want to achieve through the work of your organization?
If we teach comprehensive sex education, promote healthy relationships, and create supportive connections, then more youth will have the skills, knowledge and confidence to make informed, respectful choices which will lead to increased health enhancing decisions and reduced violence, self-harm and risk-taking, and ultimately healthy adults and a healthy community
7. What is the best way for people to get involved with, volunteer or support your organization?
They can go to our website www.hitops.org and look around for opportunities, or they can just reach out to me directly. firstname.lastname@example.org or (609)683-5155, ext 215 or http://hitops.org
As told to Carolyn Walsh for PrincetonScoop