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Hoodie Heroes: Recognizing Reach Incorporated’s DC Teen Tutors

Books have an unmistakable power over people of all ages. Their stories have the ability to broaden horizons, connect cultures, and take readers on journeys and adventures that go beyond their wildest imaginations. By the third grade, however, that experience stalls for more than half of students who have fallen behind in reading in the Washington, DC area

Mark Hecker, Executive Director at Reach Incorporated, an after school tutoring program, started his journey as a social worker in the DC foster care system. He noted that many kids experiencing chronic stress or trauma were also experiencing significant academic challenges, including difficulties with reading. According to Reach Incorporated’s site, “reading ability is a strong predictor of high school completion, college success, and stable employment.” Mark says, “There were very few programs addressing the literacy needs of this population.” 

Director and Tutor speaking at an event

Mark Hecker, Executive Director at Reach Incorporated and Hoodie Hero, Jada

Mark learned from seasoned educators that, in order to improve kids’ and teens’ literacy skills, they would need to practice reading at, or slightly above, their current reading level. He also knew that these same kids and teenagers would be less likely to engage with the program if it made them feel like they weren’t as bright or capable as other children. With this in mind, Reach came up with an interesting solution. They planned to connect teens who hadn’t yet found school success with third-grade books and third-grade students. When working together, both kids benefitted, and it grew from there.

Young woman junior staff member holding her custom hoodie

One of Reach Inc.’s Hoodie Heroes, Shawma

In Reach’s core after-school program, they hire area teenagers to work as reading tutors at elementary schools. They attend training twice a week and tutor twice a week while supporting younger students and building their own academic skills. These amazing teenage tutors have the chance to work toward promotions based on their performance, allowing them to earn titles like Lead Tutor and become part of the Leadership Council. The ultimate honor, however, is being promoted to Junior Staff, and earning the coveted Reach Hoodie which, according to Mark, often brings recipients to tears. 

Young tutor receiving a custom hoodie after getting promoted

Reach Inc. junior staff member, Doc, receiving his custom hoodie

Although the design is fairly simple, boasting just the logo on the front, the hoodie carries significant meaning. Fewer than twenty tutors and staff have been able to get the hoodie in the nine years the Reach has been active! 

Reach incorporated logo on blue hoodie

The coveted Reach Incorporated hoodie

Due to having a connection at Custom Ink through his alma mater’s singing group, Mark knew Custom Ink would be a great way to bring the Reach hoodie to life. Custom Ink’s easy and intuitive website allows Reach the ability to order their hoodies simply and quickly, giving them more time to focus on their students, staff, and tutors. 

Since its introduction, the Reach hoodie has had a strong impact on the staff. “We know it’s an effective tool because we see how emotional young people get when they earn the hoodie,” Mark states. It’s even become the subject of several books the Reach teens have authored. 

Young tutor wearing custom hoodie after promotion

Junior staff member, Rashaan, wearing his Reach Inc. hoodie

What’s next for Reach Incorporated? “We’re continuing to grow our program in DC,” Mark says. “In addition to the success we’ve achieved at the high school level, we’re beginning to provide additional support as our teens transition to college or career. 

Reach Incorporated is an amazing example of how rewards aren’t always just the physical, tangible product. They’re the feeling of inspiration, passion, and success that they symbolize. 

If you’re interested in discovering a way to use apparel and accessories to reward and recognize students and staff in your in-school or out-of-school programs, check out our trend alert page for more information on what you can do and how to get started! 

Monica has been working with Custom Ink for about 7 years. Although she mostly works as a Designer on the Art & Design team, she enjoys bringing different worlds together through words. When not designing or writing, you can find her traveling to various cons, sporting events or just hanging out with her dog, Benny

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