Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 46
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
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Enjoying Good Organizational Health, HiTOPS Sees a Changing of the Guard

Ellen Gilbert

Lori Heninger’s last official day at work, December 31, marks a tenure of a little over two years at the helm of HiTOPS, the 22-year-old non-profit organization that seeks to promote adolescent health and well-being.

“I’ve done what I can for HiTOPS,” she observed recently. “I’m very good at coming in, getting things organized, establishing a structure, and developing a strategic plan. HiTOPs is there now,” she added.

With HiTOPS in good organizational shape, “it needs somebody to take it to the next level. Elizabeth is that person,” said Ms. Heninger. “Elizabeth” is HiTOPS’s current Director of Educational Programs, Elizabeth M. Casparian, who will now become executive director.

“If there’s one thing I can bring to the position it’s my connections to the community,” Ms. Casparian recently observed, noting that she has been a Princeton resident for 21 years. Ms. Heninger was quick to point out that Ms. Casparian’s credentials go well beyond that; she has a PhD in Educational Leadership in Health and Sexuality and is “a nationally recognized” figure in her field. “It so feels like the right place for me based on everything I’ve done,” added Ms. Casparian, also noting that Ms. Heninger’s lessons about frequent organizational reevaluation are being implemented in the decision to refrain from refilling the position Ms. Casparian is leaving. The Educational Department has undergone an “organic evolution,” she observed, and its new direction will be determined by everyone involved.

Looking toward the future of HiTOPS, Ms. Casparian expressed the hope that there will be greater collaboration among the community’s youth services organizations. She particularly likes the idea of creating a Teen Center for area youngsters. Rejecting what she sees as a common “fear of adolescents,” she suggested that with “supervision, tools, and respect, kids are capable of making good decisions.” Despite its Mercer County location, HiTOPS programs are being emulated nationwide; its Teen Prevention Education Program (Teen PEP) has shown evidence of making a difference in increasing the knowledge, skills, and behavior that promote sexual health among high school students. 

While the current economic downturn has engendered “a fair amount of anxiety,” Ms. Casparian reported that HiTOPS is “working strategically to secure our future.” Funding for HiTOPS’ smoking cessation program, “I Quit,” was recently renewed, she reported, and a new grant will support depression and eating disorder screening for every young person who comes to the center. “Not everyone knows that their kid is using us, or it may be the kid sitting next to yours,” observed Ms. Casparian In either case, supporting one young person benefits others, and “it’s the right thing to do in a community.”


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