When he was a teenager, Hugo Mullins saw first-hand how one person could foster a change in the life of another.
At the time, he was a 10th grader in a public high school in Brooklyn in New York City. His math teacher suggested he take a test, he said, and he ended up winning a scholarship to a private boarding school in upstate New York.
“That kind of changed my direction,” he said.
He went from a high school where his fellow students asked one another whether they would go to college to one where students talked about which college they would attend.
“It gives you a sense of how fortunate you are sometimes, and how one person can make a difference in your life,” he said.
He went on to the State University of New York in Albany, where he earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in social work, he said. The 56-year-old now heads Family Ties Inc., a Sandy Springs-based agency that works with families in crisis.
On Jan. 20, Mullins received the city of Sandy Springs’ Humanitarian Award for 2014. He was presented with the award Jan. 20 at Sandy Springs City Hall, during the city’s ninth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
The city created the Humanitarian Award to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions in the area of community service.
“Dr. King once said, ‘Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.’ We honor Hugo Mullins for his tireless efforts in helping children gain the confidence they need to take many first steps,” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said.
Mullins, who has worked in social services, family preservation and mental health care in the metro area for more than 25 years, said his work is based on the belief that strong children make strong adults; strong adults make strong families; strong families make strong communities; and strong communities make strong cities, the city said in a press release.
“Every day we should be thinking about how we can help people less blessed than us,” Mullins said. “Many times, I look at people we work with and see myself as a young boy growing up in Brooklyn and I say, ‘My life has been blessed.’”
Mullins said it was realization of how important one person could be that pointed him toward his career. “That’s the reason I went into social work,” he said.
His agency, founded in 1994, now employs 125 people, he said, and works with families in 11 metro Atlanta counties. “I have a wonderful staff,” he said.
He said Family Ties works to support children heading into the state’s foster care system, tries to help families keep children from going into foster care, and works with families to have children returned from foster care. “Sometimes we want to talk about changing behavior as if it’s an easy thing to do,” he said. “It’s a difficult thing to do. We’ve got to give the extra push to make that change.”
After winning the award, Mullins was both grateful and surprised by the honor.
“It was actually very surprising and humbling,” he said. “You almost sometimes feel embarrassed for getting recognition for things you feel you should do. It’s humbling. It’s very humbling, is all I can say.”