GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Detroit organization that helps children whose parents are incarcerated is expanding to Grand Rapids.

The Pure Heart Foundation was created by a Detroit native whose own lived experience of incarcerated parents pushed her to start the organization. Now, she hopes to bring that same help to families in Grand Rapids.

“Society sees them as a number, but to their children, they’re mom, they’re dad, and they mean everything to their children,” said Sherelle Hogan, Pure Heart Foundation Founder.

Hogan said the organization is all about breaking the cycle.

“We really take pride in making sure that we can create a space that young people can brag and rag on their parents without feeling judged or scrutinized,” said Hogan. 

According to the Annie E Casey Foundation, more than 180,000 kids in Michigan had parents behind bars in 2020. 

Pure Heart helps them realize they’re not alone.

“When you’re going through things and you’re coming around and being around other kids that are kind of like, going through the same thing you’re going through, it’s kind of like a relief,” said Victoria Henry, an alumni of the program.

The foundation helps them by providing a holistic approach by providing programs like yoga, meditation and art therapy, academic help and more. 

“In the summertime, we had tutors, we were able to go to the Pure Heart center and get extra educational help,” said Henry. 

Pure Heart also connects children to their incarcerated parent(s).

“Doing prison visits, funding the phone calls, the prison visits and the letter writing sessions. Anything that we can do to make sure that those relationships are staying connected,” said Hogan. 

Scholars, as the participants are called, are given opportunities to develop fun childhood memories.

“We went to the Detroit Pistons and we were dancing and stuff like that with each other creating a bond,” said Henry. 

As an alumni of the program, Henry is what they call a “cycle breaker”. She is a high achiever despite overcoming much adversity. Graduating high school at the age of 16, Henry is now in college working toward becoming a licensed cosmetologist and eventually a salon owner. 

“Even though we graduated high school, she’s still calls to check up on us to make sure we don’t need anything, any care packages … making sure we have our necessities. Any needs, she calls and checks up on us and she’ll be there for you, or the whole program will be there for you if you’re in need,” said Henry.

Plans are underway to open a location in Grand Rapids similar to what they have in Detroit.

“This program is not race-driven, status-driven,” Hogan continues. “This is a very unique population of families, and it can impact anyone.”

“To the kids, I would like to tell them to be strong, everything’s going to be okay. Better days are coming. It might not look like it now, but they are going to come. The parents, I would just say, if you’re looking for a program that could really benefit you and the child, definitely take that opportunity and run with it,” said Henry. 

Pure Heart has a bowling event for Grand Rapids families and the community next week on April 29. It will take place at Spectrum Entertainment Complex in Wyoming. It’s the fifth annual “Bowl with Pure Heart.” You can register at the Pure Heart website.

“We’re so excited to bring it to Grand Rapids. And the goal is to intersect the community with our scholars. So we’ll have all of the Grand Rapids scholars there. And we’ll have some of our supporters. And it’ll just be a great opportunity for people to learn more about the organization, but then also actually see the community that we’ll be serving and the scholars,” said Hogan. 

Open enrollment for 100 scholars is currently being accepted in Grand Rapids.