UGA Heros

Between the Zell B. Miller Learning Center and the Tate Student Center, oversized cut-out letters spell out “HEROs” by a table surrounded by students. This setup is a part of the University of Georgia’s HEROs’ hybrid, virtual and in-person spring 2021 recruitment. (Courtesy/Naomi Chernowski)

Walking through the corridor between the Zell B. Miller Learning Center and the Tate Student Center, oversized cut-out letters spell out “HEROs” against a table surrounded by students. This setup is a part of the University of Georgia’s HEROs’ hybrid, virtual and in-person spring 2021 recruitment.

UGA HEROs is a student-run organization which works to improve the quality of life for children affected and infected by HIV and AIDS. Through past recruitments, UGA HEROs has been able to organize over 2,000 students on campus to serve 300 kids, according to their website.

Elise Kim, a sophomore journalism major, currently serves as the WOW chair for recruitment and morale for HEROs. Over winter break, she created the theme “Be the Change” as the center point of spring recruitment, which began on Jan. 27 and ended on Feb. 3., Kim said.

“[During recruitment] we still had [in-person] tabling where we would talk to people just walking by,” Kim said. “But we also included social media components, like running ads, direct messaging and texting people and posting a lot of graphics and videos on our Instagram.”

This digital component was incorporated into HEROs’ recruitment tables at Bolton Dining Commons and East Campus Village as well. During this tabling, individual paper slips were provided with a scannable QR code to direct each student to a HEROs interest form.

Despite limited in-person contact, HEROs succeeded with a higher member conversion rate this semester compared to previous recruiting seasons, gaining exactly 300 new committee members, Kim said.

“Trying to predict what the numbers were going to look like from limited in-person tabling was the biggest challenge,” Kim said. “But it ended up turning out really well.”

At the end of recruitment, members attended a socially distanced kickoff in Tate Student Center’s Grand Hall to hear from the executive director and sign up for specific committees.

Courtney Hanft, a freshman with an undecided major, serves as one of two Alpha Omicron Pi team leaders to facilitate sorority relations with HEROs. Hanft’s recruitment duties involved spinning a wheel with true or false questions about HIV and AIDS to educate students about common misconceptions and handing out promotional items like pizza, masks and buttons.

Hanft said she first learned about HEROs when her older brother got involved as a freshman and became passionate about their cause.

“My favorite part of HEROs is definitely the people,” Hanft said. “It’s so nice to branch out and meet new people, and we all mesh together so well. Everyone is from all different areas and walks of life but we all come together like a family.”

The name “HEROs” stands for “Hearts Everywhere Reaching Out for Children,” with a lowercase “s” for “students.” The UGA chapter is a branch of the Atlanta-based, parent organization, H.E.R.O. for Children.

According to H.E.R.O. for Children's website,  Georgia has the sixth highest rate of pediatric HIV and AIDS cases in the country. Of these children, 96% come from households that make less than $10,000 annually.

“A lot of them don’t have the kind of opportunities most kids have,” Kim said. “The money we fundraise goes towards their summer camp, mentorship and transition to adulthood programs to help them prepare for their futures, including jobs and a higher education.”

Hanft said that the children are why she would recommend other students to get involved with HEROs.

“You’re not just donating money to donate,” Hanft said. “You actually get to hang out with the kids and see their stories and meet their families. It’s so much more personal and lets you get involved in a way that’s tangible where you can see the impact you’re making.”

HEROs’ first kid-oriented event of the semester will be on Feb. 21 with a virtual escape room to help the children stay connected in a fun yet safe way.

Even though formal recruitment is over, students are still able to reach out directly to HEROs on Instagram to become a member of one of their nine different committees. Applications for the Hang Out with HEROs mentorship program are also available until Feb. 26. This yearly program pairs students up one-on-one with a child to help form a deeper connection within the communities HEROs serves.