Where did OhanaHC come from?

Ohana of Howard County (OhanaHC) is modeled on the amazing work of Thread, founded 18 years ago by Sarah Hemminger in Baltimore. The name Ohana comes from the Hawaiian culture. In Hawaii, an Ohana describes a person’s social network that includes family and friends. In your Ohana, you have a responsibility to care for them and they have a responsibility to care for you. That is the essence of OhanaHC.

What is an Ohana?

For OhanaHC, Ohana means our extended community family.  Three volunteers will work with each student and become their Ohana

Who is involved/leading the organization?

Susan and Steven Porter are the co-founders of OhanaHC and are acting as staff with the support of a full-time Executive Director, Board of Directors, nine committees, and approximately 150 mentors. In March 2020, OhanaHC was incorporated. 

Is there a contingency plan in place if social distancing is still required due to Covid-19?

Yes, strict Covid-19 precautions are in place and have been since the start of the program. We will continue this practice until it is safe to do otherwise. 

What involvement, if any, does the school have?

Each school’s involvement may be a little different. OhanaHC partnered with Wilde Lake High School for the 2020-2021 pilot year. Principal Marcy Leonard has been involved since the beginning to help us flesh out the initial development of the program. She is also on our Board of Directors. Wilde Lake is extremely supportive and is collaborating with OhanaHC to ensure the success of the program.

For the 2021-2022 school year, we piloted programs at Hammond, Long Reach, and Oakland Mills high schools and returned to Wilde Lake for a second year. We hope to develop a strong public/private partnership with the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) to develop more successful students and community members. 


Why 9th-grade students? Shouldn’t you start with younger students?

OhanaHC starts with 9th graders because we are following the Thread model that has proven to be successful for over 15 years. In addition, there are other resources available for younger students (i.e. A-OK Mentoring). Students in the 9th grade are beginning to have the maturity to understand that now is the time to begin taking control of their lives. For many, high school will be their last opportunity to be in a controlled school environment where positive support can really make a difference. 

Why must students commit to 10 years?

Following the Thread model, it makes sense for a life-long change. Too many students graduate from high school and don’t know how to move in a meaningful direction, especially if they were not planning on going to college. Those additional six years will take a person through a very vulnerable time in their lives when they’re trying to make it in the world on their own. OhanaHC will work with them to make sure they have the resources to achieve their goals in life.

Are the student’s parents expected to participate in the program?

The student’s parents or guardian will need to sign a permission slip allowing the student to be a part of the program and provide OhanaHC volunteers access to the student’s academic records. Aside from that, they are not expected to participate in the program; however, we would love for them to join us in any way they are comfortable. 

Are students required to go to college to remain in the program?

No, students are not required to attend college in order to remain in the program. 


Is a background in education required to become a volunteer?

No, the main requirements are a willingness to work on becoming a consistent and active partner with your student and the other members of your Ohana

Beyond being a partner with the student, what else is required of a volunteer?

Volunteer requirements:

  • Minimum one-year commitment
  • Cleared background check
  • Complete all onboarding paperwork
  • Attend a Meet and Greet session
  • Support our annual fundraiser
  • Participate in training sessions provided by OhanaHC
  • Volunteer in the school community
  • Connect with other Ohanas and villages
  • Meet with your Ohana
  • Meet/talk with your student on your designated day(s)
  • Document interactions with your student in OhanaHC’s Slack application

How much time will be required of a volunteer each week?

All mentors are expected to dedicate six hours each month to OhanaHC. One hour is dedicated to each of the following:

  • Monthly Training – To improve your skills and deepen your learning
  • Village Meetings – To practice what was learned through training and connect with other mentors through their experiences in the program 
  • Community Care – Volunteer in the community or at the schools we partner with through community service efforts or other neighborhood events
  • Mentee Connection – Connect to your mentee, whether with another mentor or not, by meeting in person, reaching out via phone or text, or at an event
  • Mentor to Mentor – This is a time for you to build relationships with the mentors in your Ohana
  • Mentor Choice – Select any of the previous options 

What training will volunteers receive to prepare for the program?

Starting with our onboarding session that takes place in August, volunteers will have monthly training with the goal of developing each Ohana to have the skills necessary to connect with and better understand incoming 9th graders. Some of our training will cover topics like racial equity, neurodiversity, mental health, team building, and more!  

Is there a minimum age requirement to be a volunteer?

Volunteers must be 18 years or older. OhanaHC currently has volunteers ranging from 22 to 70-years-old; however, we encourage all age groups to apply. We would love more volunteers from the 18-35 year age group, and so would the students! 

What is the expected/anticipated financial commitment to volunteer?

A one-time federal and state background check will be required of most volunteers at a cost of approximately $27 each. The cost for registered students will be covered by OhanaHC.

Each year, we host an annual fundraiser and encourage all mentors to purchase a ticket to support the organization and attend. 

Some mentors may want to take their student out for ice cream or a slice of pizza, but this is not required. In general, if the Ohana wants to make a small purchase, such as tickets to the movies, to celebrate an improved report card, for instance, that’s perfectly fine! Costly items are not encouraged and would require the permission of the Board of Directors.

Do all Ohana Members provide the same skills?

No, all volunteers come from different cultures, backgrounds, experiences, skills, and personalities. The diversity within each Ohana will provide the foundation for all participants within the group (volunteers and students) to learn from each other and develop meaningful, long-term relationships. 

Ohana of Howard County, Inc. is following the CDC, Maryland, and Howard County recommendations to ensure the safety of students, volunteers, and staff. At this time, we will be moving to in-person programming and masks are optional. When appropriate, we will provide hybrid or virtual options for engagement.

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