Brette Reiman is the founder of Hugs Across the County, an all-volunteer, 501c3 nonprofit organization that provides emergency assistance to St. Johns County children in-need.
Can you please briefly tell us about your background?
Philadelphia will always be in my heart (fly Eagles fly and, of course, go Jags!). I grew up in the suburbs there, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. I worked in public relations consulting in Washington, D.C., where I met my husband of 26 years, Dan. After many moves, we landed in Ponte Vedra in 2002, where our three kids attended and were very active in the public schools. Twins Jake (Bucknell University graduate program) and Kylie (Teach for America) are, coincidentally, both back in Pennsylvania. Our youngest, Tess, is a sophomore at Davidson College, where she plays lacrosse. After being very involved with the kids’ schools and sports teams, I started Hugs Across the County, an all-volunteer, 501c3 nonprofit in 2010.
What’s the story of Hugs Across the County? How did it form?
As our kids grew older, a small group of women volunteered at Webster Elementary, a Title 1 school in St. Augustine. Each week, we saw firsthand the poverty and homelessness that so many local kids face. Students were hungry, they had shoes that were two sizes too small (literally) and they lacked school supplies. I formed Hugs Across the County to raise awareness of the overwhelming needs of hundreds of children throughout St. Johns County, and also to help provide basic necessities to these sweet kids. Today, we are a “tiny but mighty” group of volunteers. Sandy Calvin, Holly Ross and I are all volunteer officers. Sandy and Holly are incredible; I am always amazed by the work they put in every week. We all look forward to Stephanie Cills joining soon! Our small volunteer group is humbled by the support from hundreds of others — from second graders to high school students to adults — whenever we identify a need.
Our mission is to support children in-need throughout St. Johns County. We provide clothing, toiletries, food, school supplies, reading books and more to children recommended by St. Johns County school counselors and homeless liaisons. We also receive referrals from the Betty Griffin Center, St Augustine Youth Services (SAYS) and the Homeless Coalition. We are proud to support all of their incredible efforts in our community.
Do you have any current or upcoming initiatives you’d like to share?
Our programs run year-round!
Clothing: Hugs works year-round to provide Clothing Care Packages to students referred by counselors. We provide these packages (clothing, undies, shoes, toiletries) to hundreds of students in-need at just about every school in St. Johns County. Our clothing storage is generously sponsored by the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach.
Food: Food insecurity is real in St. Johns County. We just started to stock school-based food pantries with kid-friendly food items at six local schools. We are also gearing up for our No Hungry Holidays winter break food program, which we hope supplements the incredible initiatives managed by The Furyk Foundation and Blessings in a Backpack.
Diverse Books: We are excited to launch a new program to help provide more books featuring diverse main characters to our Title 1 schools.
Mentors/Classroom Volunteers: We work year-round to help steer volunteers to much-needed mentoring and classroom volunteer positions at schools throughout the county.
How can people become involved with the nonprofit?
I like to call Hugs a “community of volunteers” rather than a nonprofit organization, and we welcome anyone who wants to help local kids in-need. We have been so fortunate to receive support from the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, THE PLAYERS Championship, the Ponte Vedra Woman’s Club, the Ponte Vedra Women’s Civic Alliance, Advanced Disposal, Art Company, Amy’s Turn and more. We have also been fortunate to partner with incredible students, staff and families from local schools. They all have been so huge-hearted in helping us collect donations that go directly to local kids.
We enjoy brainstorming with potential volunteers about their interests — whether it’s helping sort clothing donations, organizing a community food drive or mentoring a child — and then choosing the opportunity that best meets their volunteer “wish list.”
Readers can email or follow us on social media (Facebook: Hugs Across the County or Instagram: stjohnshugs) for volunteer ideas.
What do you enjoy most about living in Ponte Vedra Beach?
Like everyone here, I love Ponte Vedra Beach because it’s truly one of the most beautiful spots in the world. It’s the people who make Ponte Vedra really special. I’m very fortunate because in the work I do with Hugs, I get to meet hundreds of very kind-hearted “Ponte Vedrans.” People here really care about each other, and about so many beyond our little beach town.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I am definitely a homebody, and enjoy spending time with my husband, kids and dear friends. My favorite things to do are visiting our kids and family, international travel and workouts with X Factor Fitness.