It started with a need to help kids in a small North Texas town.

As most life-changing things do, it started with a need. A need to help kids in a small North Texas town, kids who were dealing with the stress of life events beyond their control, the kind of stress that impacts a person for years to come.

Enter the THRIVE Program. THRIVE stands for Together Harnessing Resources to Give Individuals Voice and Empowerment, and it’s been key to helping improve the lives of underserved students in North Texas. With the help of two Texas Health Resources grants, the Sanger Independent School District (SISD), along with First Refuge Ministries, First Baptist and New Life churches of Sanger, and the City of Sanger, implemented THRIVE to aid those students in need.

The initial grant, with the support of student services coordinator Ann Hughes and SISD principal Tony Love, provided students with the Ripple Effects resiliency training and support services, including counseling and low-cost or free medical and mental health care. Studies show that one in four children have experienced adverse childhood trauma in their lives, including risk of homelessness, violence, divorce, and food insecurity. Through the resiliency program, middle and high school students learn the skills to help them cope and move forward.

That grant also helped start a grocery store inside the Linda Tutt High School in Sanger. Program champion and Executive Director at First Refuge Ministries Paul Juarez said, “The idea of a grocery store started evolving while on a drive with my wife.” Soon, the “what-ifs” turned into “why-nots” and the idea grew.

Paul, who has a background in the grocery business, saw the grocery store as a possible solution to many problems. First, it provided students and their families convenient access to food. It also provided a chance for students to use what they learned through the Ripple Effects program. Students run the store themselves, and goods are purchased with points earned by students who perform good deeds or exhibit kind or resilient behaviors.

With the second grant, the district was able to fund a community garden, called Community Strong Farms. The garden is located on 14 acres donated by the New Life Church in Denton. Produce grown in the garden will supply the grocery store and other community food banks and will be sold at farmer’s markets to help fund the garden.

Looking Forward: EXPANSION!

The THRIVE Program and grocery store have been so successful that plans are underway to start similar programs in other communities. In fact, thanks to a $30,000 grant from Albertsons, DeLay Middle School in Lewisville will open a student grocery store by the end of the year. And the Cigna Foundation has already committed to a $100,000 grant in 2022. Catherine Oliveros, vice president of Community Health Improvement at Texas Health said, “The ability to bring on key partners like Albertsons is a testament to the success of this program. Kids that work in the store are gaining important job skills that can translate into a career in the grocery business. Being able to bring on these types of partners wherever THRIVE is replicated can contribute to ending the cycle of poverty in communities.”

While the preference is to keep the original THRIVE model as is, flexibility is important. Some adaptations may be necessary for other communities, while striving for the same success as the pilot program. Texas Health Foundation is working to raise $2.6 million to expand to 10 new locations throughout North Texas over the next three years. Those funds, plus the support of community leaders and business partners, will help at a critical point in these students’ lives. For more information how you or your organization can help contact Jennifer Atchison at 682-236-8420 or

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