WINNSBORO — Teens gathered May 28 at Drawdy Park to celebrate a milestone moment toward improving their community.
With samples of healthy foods and with activities to promote healthy lifestyles, the evening emphasized the HYPE (Healthy Young People Empowerment Program). The HYPE program is administered in partnership with Fairfield Behavioral Health Services and Eat Smart, Move More Fairfield.
“We work in community to improve and build skills of youth in the community,” member Zarretrious Evans said. “The (new Drawdy Park) walking trail and bike rack are healthy things that will help produce healthier lifestyles and result in healthier people.”
The commitment included 20-plus hours of time per student with HYPE training plus work to prepare themselves to present that project to the community. Vernon Kennedy, director of Fairfield County Behavioral Health Services, said the youth attended a summit in Columbia and shared their research and aspirations.
The group meets twice a month to do activities that reinforce its approach to youth empowerment. The five phases used for youth empowerment are 1. To Think 2. To Learn 3. To Act 4. To Share and 5. To Evaluate.
After brainstorming ideas and settling on a walking trail, the teens conducted 697 surveys with 74 percent of respondents saying a walking trail would improve community health. While 64 percent said they never walk in the park at present, 54 percent said they would use the trail.
Research leads to support
Armed with that research, the group needed funding for the project. When Mary Lynn Kinley heard of the program and saw results of surveys, she came on board and promised a portion of the $500,000 in recreation funding coming to District 6 via a bond initiative that would be used to fund the walking trail and bike rack.
The vision and passion for public health inspired Kinley, who represents District 6 on Fairfield County Council.
“This will inspire your classmates, brothers and sisters … and so I am supporting this (every step of the way),” she said. “My hat is off to you young people for taking such a proactive approach to good health.”
She mentioned how high blood pressure ran in her family and that her mother died at just 49. In response she adopted a healthier lifestyle including using a home gym and having a better diet. Now 70, she used herself as an example of beating those odds, something she said she wishes for her county’s residents as well.
Kinley mentioned the new football field being built at Drawdy Park and the positive social changes that can come about from having activities for young people. Kinley said she supports the program because young people are the future leaders of the county.
Great chemistry, work ethic
HYPE is a federally funded program offered in all states, but Fairfield County received one of the larger amounts of funding due to the organization of the youth and their leaders and the presentation and vision they had. Fairfield County is one of three counties in South Carolina to receive the HYPE funding.
Kennedy said the program has been a tireless effort since May 2012. He said it was a testament to what teamwork can do to build community and help young people.
“We had great chemistry with these youth,” Kennedy said “This is not the end with a walking trail and bike racks. We are hoping to expand the HYPE program to offer programming after school.”
Two other HYPE programs are funded through the Healthy SC Initiative. One deals with a recreation complex and concession stands in Irmo and another focuses on a park in Pickens.
“This (Fairfield) group has been very successful. It’s great this is youth-led and great leadership here in Fairfield to put this team together and stay on the right track,” said Trimease Carter, project coordinator of South Carolina’s Eat Smart, Move More.
At the community kickoff event, members of the Man Cave group volunteered to grill turkey burgers. HYPE members and community members served cherries, trail mix, fruit juices, vegetable juices, veggie fries and raw vegetables with healthy dips.
Mixing fun and education, mixing exercise and daily life is part of the HYPE initiative. For instance, while parents have their children at baseball practice, they could walk on the trails.
“It’s great for teens to get together and care about the community,” said Lori Schaffer, director of the Fairfield County Recreation Department. “It is very important for the youth and the public to engage in physical activity.”