Q&A-Sherelle Hogan: Helping Detroit children with incarcerated parents thrive

Source: Special to Michigan News

Sherelle Hogan

Even before she graduated from University of Michigan-Dearborn in 2013, Sherelle Hogan knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. She wrote down the idea for the Pure Heart Foundation while she was still in school and launched it in May 2015. The Detroit nonprofit provides holistic services including academic support, mentoring and family reunification to young people with incarcerated parents. The organization serves about 201 scholars ages 4-24 out of its new home at the Marygrove Conservancy.

What inspired you to start the Pure Heart Foundation?

When I was six my mom went to prison, and when I was seven my dad went to prison. When my dad was released I was 10 years old and he died two months later. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to help children so that they didn’t have to experience what I experienced.

I researched that 228,000 youth in Michigan had parents incarcerated before age 10 and four in 10 children in Detroit. No one was addressing how they feel. I wanted to be that person who made them feel loved and supported. 

What kinds of support does Pure Heart provide?

We provide a holistic program model. One is mental health support, to make sure they’re improving mentally and emotionally. We also make sure our young people who desire to are connected to their parents by video chatting, visitation, letter writing and phone calls. 

Another component is mentorship. We match the scholars with community members for positive reinforcement. We have recreation and the arts — when a parent is incarcerated, some families can’t afford to go bowling or to the movies.

We make sure they are overachieving in their studies through tutoring and after-school support. We’ve served nearly 2,500 scholars and nine have graduated high school — that’s how we measure success.

Tell us about your new space at the Marygrove Conservancy.

We created a different space tailored to each pillar. There’s a program center for academic enrichment and tutoring. We have an innovation lab sponsored by the James H. Cole Legacy Foundation and we offer robotics and coding.

We have a gaming lounge with a TV and an Xbox. The Pink Room is my favorite spot. It’s a girly environment with a hair chair for stylists to donate their services. We also have a barber chair. There’s a mental health wing and a meditation room where they learn to calm themselves.

We still need a full computer lab and a library and we’re fundraising to get those.

How did Pure Heart pivot during the pandemic?

The beginning of COVID was horrific for us. We had a Pure Heart house on the East Side and the day before we were set to open, someone broke in, vandalized it and stole everything. It was terrible. The next week we got the stay-at-home order.

We were able to give each scholar a desktop or laptop computer and headphones and make sure each home had access to the internet. We gave out close to $50,000 in financial assistance to make sure they had what they needed. We did mental health wellness check-ins virtually. So many inmates passed away from COVID and that was very hard for our young people. 

How did your time at the University of Michigan-Dearborn shape you into the CEO you are today? 

U of M really gave me tenacity. I was commuting from home and although I didn’t have that on-campus experience, I gained so much on how to live my day-to-day life and still learn. I was a psych major and focused on child development. I learned so much about attachment theory and things that speak to the young people I work with now.

What do you envision for Pure Heart in five or 10 years?

I envision satellite locations throughout the state of Michigan and throughout the country. I see it being a national model in how to serve children with incarcerated parents. I see it as an avenue for children to reimagine their lives and be seen, heard, loved and supported.


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