Nonprofit Spotlight: Giving Providence's Most Vulnerable a Head's Up Rhode Island Nonprofit HeadsUp Helps the Most Vulnerable

HeadsUp operates with the understanding that nourishing the mind and creative spirit is as important as providing shelter and hot meals.

This post is in partnership with CITGO

Founded in 2000, HeadsUp (an acronym for "Health, Education, Arts Developing Strength, Unity and Peace") was a grassroots effort focused on reaching downtown Providence, Rhode Island’s vulnerable populations, including those diagnosed as HIV-positive, at-risk children and families, and residents emerging from a low-income or homeless background.

With the foreclosure crisis still a crippling factor in the economy, HeadsUp provides direct support for many of those displaced in the Providence area. Over the past 10 years, there has been a 51 percent increase in the number of people who are homeless for the first time, and many come from middle class, college-educated backgrounds. The Providence in Town Churches Association Community Meal program provides 350 hot meals each week on average. The hypothermia shelter takes in overflow from neighboring homeless shelters during the winter. The nonprofit practices a "radical hospitality" that welcomes clients unconditionally.

Feeding and housing the homeless provide direct community-level support, but what makes HeadsUp stand out is a creative, fresh approach to programs, which stand true to the name of "Health, Education, and Arts."

In addition to the cold weather shelter and hot meals, HeadsUp also hosts the Tenderloin Opera Company, a theater training program bringing together homeless, homeless advocates and members of the Brown University community; ArtsReach, arts and music classes for HIV-positive and others; and Harvest Kitchen, a 15-week culinary training program for at-risk youth that sources its produce from local growers.

Karen Gager, executive director of HeadsUp, prides herself on the organization's outside-the-box thinking. "The most rewarding thing about HeadsUp is bringing together various nonprofits to collaborate and create innovative programming that helps empower people," she says.

HeadsUp's vision is to be "an oasis in the heart of downtown Providence" and operates with the understanding that food for the body is essential, but nourishing the mind and creative spirit are also a vital component to serving those in need.

The organization is currently in the running to win free gasoline in the CITGO Fueling Good contest. With so many different communtities and arts programs served on the one-to-one level, what would HeadsUp do with free gas? "We would distribute the free gas gift cards to those who are in the most need,” says Gager. "We get a lot of requests for bus tickets, so we would look for a creative way to distribute them. A lot of people need gas to get to work—it's critical for them to maintain their employment."

Do you know of an outstanding nonprofit like this one in your own community? Share which one inspires you and you can help the organization win $5,000 worth of donated gas in CITGO’s Fueling Good contest. Learn more here.

Image from Harvest Kitchen

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