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HiTOPS Announces Expansion of Facility, Programs for Princeton Teens, Parents

Candace Braun

HiTOPS, Inc., Princeton's teen health and education center, announced on Tuesday that it has reached the halfway mark in its $2 million endowment campaign to expand the facilities, programming, and clientele at its home on Wiggins Street.

The endowment campaign, which will run through June 2006, has been in its silent phase since September 2002. Funds raised will be used to support adequate professional staff, to provide needed health and education programs, to decrease disparities among young people accessing healthcare, and to support community teenagers and their families.

Thus far HiTOPS has received $1 million in pledges, representing gifts from 117 families in the community.

The center will expand its facilities to the building behind its current location at 21 Wiggins Street, its original home when it was founded 19 years ago. After its first nine years the center moved to the larger of the two buildings and rented out the other facility to various tenants, including Music Together. Now, thanks to a grant from the Fannie E. Rippel Foundation, HiTOPS is reacquiring its old facility, which will become the clinical center. The current center will be used as its headquarters and educational programming facility.

During a press conference Tuesday morning, Bonnie Parker, executive director of HiTOPS, explained that its current headquarters is "bursting at the seams." When the center was first founded, it provided services for approximately 37 clients, and had a staff of four. Now the center boasts more than 1,000 regular clients, a staff of 14, and an active board of directors.

"We feel like we're a resource for this community…. And we're going to be here a long time," said Ms. Parker, noting that while HiTOPS' mission has always been to promote a healthy well being, over the years it has expanded its offerings to including several workshops during the week that address teen and parent issues.

"Our parent programs have expanded tremendously over the last few years," she said, noting that one program scheduled for Wednesday night is already filled to capacity.

The support that HiTOPS has received from the community, clients, and its own board was a large contributing factor when the center decided three years ago that it would expand, said Carolyn McQuade, the president of HiTOPS Board of Directors, and an employee of Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies.

"This is going to be a huge year for HiTOPS and a huge year for the community because of that," said Ms. McQuade.

The expansion of HiTOPS's facilities means that a number of new programs will soon be offered, including a stress reduction program for teens, which will provide instruction on relaxation and breathing techniques, as well as guided meditation.

HiTOPS has also brought Latino liaison for Princeton Human Services Yvonne Clark on board. Ms. Clark is helping the center reach out to Princeton's Latino community to inform them about the services that HiTOPS can provide their families.

Another group that HiTOPS is hoping to get more in tune with is young teens, including even children in elementary school. The average age of youths who come to the center is 19, which is often too late to inform them about the risks of rushing into sexual intercourse and the dangers of eating disorders, said Ms. Parker: "We want to offer more preventative care."

One member of the HiTOPS board, Jenner Beck, became involved with the center after she realized how much good it was doing.

"I've lived in this community for so long and I wasn't sure how HiTOPS fit into my life," she said, adding that after attending a mother-daughter workshop with her 9-year-old daughter she saw how much support and education the center offers.

The center is also looking to offer more programs for adolescent males, as well as one-on-one counseling for parents and their children.

In an effort to raise more money toward its campaign, HiTOPS is offering donors the opportunity to have one of the center's buildings named for them, if they contribute $500,000. For information on how to donate, call (609) 683-5155, ext. 16.

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