Barnwell HYPE team helps low-income families and influences more improvements for public housing

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 43 percent of children under the age of 18 in Barnwell County live below the poverty level. Because of their parents’ economic status, those children face more health disparities and inequities than others. For the majority of those children, it means living in affordable housing, also known as public housing.

Affordable housing communities can be found in almost every area of South Carolina, and Barnwell County is no exception. You’ve seen them around—complexes of multi-unit apartments with some green spaces but no visible outdoor recreational structures and no park within a safe walking distance. The HYPE team in Barnwell County saw the same thing. The lack of playgrounds in multiple affordable housing communities concerned them enough to do something about it.

Key partners were rounded up.

A HYPE team member helps with the obstacle course setup.

Barnwell County HEALing Partners, the local healthy eating and active living coalition, sponsored The Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) Project®. Of course, every partner organization of the coalition supported the youth and helped by actively participating in the chosen civic action project.

As soon as the HYPE team decided to focus on improving access to outdoor recreation in affordable housing communities, they turned to the South Carolina Regional Housing Authority No. 3 (SCRH3), the organization tasked with managing public housing and connecting residents to community resources. Getting buy-in from SCRH3 was integral to the success of the project.

“Our kids need something to do. You know, society complains a lot about this particular population, and I mean those residents who live in low-income housing, but they don’t provide any resources,” said Lisa Creech, resident opportunity and self-sufficiency service coordinator at SCRH3. “If you don’t want them to do something in particular, you have to provide another outlet, another resource for them. And I think that’s where we were lacking.”

Prior to joining SCRH3, Creech worked at an agency that wanted to partner with local housing and provide some recreation resources to the kids. As the HYPE team entered the picture, the affordable housing communities received basketball courts. But according to Creech, the kids wanted more.

Creech said on partnering with the HYPE team, “Many of these properties don’t have playgrounds, and for the ones that do have the basketball courts now, that’s all the kids have. So, we were really hoping to give them an opportunity to just be kids.”

Barnwell youth leaders take action.

Children play with the parachute as one boy has fun with tug of war.

With funding from Wholespire, Barnwell County HEALing Partners (funding from Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas) and other leveraged sources, youth were able to follow The HYPE Project process of observing their community, collecting data, and choosing their project focus area. They chose to increase access to physical activity in six local affordable housing communities located in Barnwell, Williston and Blackville. The team relied on a needs assessment they conducted the previous year to determine what type of physical activity to provide through their project.

They already knew SCRH3 and Barnwell County HEALing Partners hosted a field day event, which was successful but needed a little work. So, they analyzed the needs assessment and community feedback from the event and decided to enhance the activities of the field day and take it to multiple affordable housing communities during spring break.

“I thought it was very important that the youth take the lead on this project, and they did so well. I’m so pleased that I did not even imagine they would take it on the way that they did. But I think it’s because we made them understand that this is your project, and I think that message took it to another level,” said Pamela McKnight, HPHC project coordinator at Axis 1 Center of Barnwell, the fiscal agent for Barnwell County HEALing Partners.

The HYPE team planned the improvements from start to finish, adding additional (and traditional) field day games, purchasing recreation equipment, increasing the frequency from once a year to twice a year, and creating a HYPE Tour that would take the event to multiple affordable housing communities in the county.

The obstacle course tested everyone’s agility with the use of pool noodles, cones and other affordable materials.

“We brought out all the games that we played as kids for Field Day. We had tug of war; jump rope, hula hoops; obstacle courses; the large parachute—all things field day. The kids came out in droves, and they had a great time. We provided healthy snacks, and they got to be kids,” said Creech.

Not only was the purpose to increase access to physical activity, but it was also to give those particular community members a sense of community and belonging.

“I think it actually gave the parents and the children the opportunity to do something together because, when you think about it, everybody’s lives are busy. You have parents working long hours, and then you may have an older sibling taking care of the younger kids while the parent is working,” said Susan Ingram, HYPE advisor and project coordinator at AXIS 1 Center of Barnwell. ”But this project allows the parents and the children to play together. It was a beautiful thing to see.

In addition to field day games, McKnight said the HYPE Tour also included arts and crafts, health and wellness information from local vendors, and healthy snacks. “We also use that opportunity to show parents how easy it is to have a nutritious snack, and the children loved it. We did fruit kebabs with yogurt, and the children absolutely loved it. Nine times out of ten, none of those children had fruit or yogurt.”

Leveraging the HYPE Project for a greater impact.

Tug of war was popular among everyone.

Since the HYPE Tour, Creech says that she has noticed a change. “Since the field day, I do see the kids out playing, but it would be really nice to have some permanent structures for them.”

When you leverage a policy, systems and environmental change project for a greater impact, it means you influence additional change. You brought more attention to the needs of the community, and another entity or partner is investing in the community’s future. The HYPE team in Barnwell County did just that. Their actions and concerns about the lack of outdoor recreational structures in affordable housing communities put a brighter light on the situation.

According to McKnight, there have been conversations about adding some permanent structures to some of the low-income properties. Things could change for the children, and the HYPE team would play a role. Barnwell County HEALing Partners is considering building naturalized play areas on the properties because, through this project, they realized that not all of the affordable housing communities have areas for children to play. The health coalition continues to research naturalized play areas.

“Another project we were looking at in concert with the Housing Authority is sidewalk play,” says McKnight. “We want to make it permanent. So, permanent sidewalk directives like do jumping jacks or do hopscotch on the sidewalks to give children something that they could do.”

The HYPE team has inspired Barnwell County HEALing Partners to do more to improve access to physical activity throughout the county. There are tons of ideas, big and small, and several larger projects in the making. It’s safe to say that the movers and shakers of all ages in Barnwell County are doing some pretty big things that other communities can learn from, and a lot of it involves youth engagement.