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

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.

Dillon Youth asks City Council to improve Harmon Field

Dillon Youth asks City Council to improve Harmon Field

The Dillon County HYPE Team
The HYPE Team on the steps of City Hall after they advocated to City Council for park improvement

A group of young changemakers at the Dillon County Girls and Boys Youth Center in the City of Dillon have sparked significant improvements in a local park and influenced elected officials to address other outdoor community amenities. Through the Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) Project, youth learned how to assess their community, advocate for change and make Harmon Field a destination for everyone.

In 1924, Harmon Field was given to the City of Dillon and “dedicated forever to the plays of children, the development of youth, and the recreation of all.” The dedication plaque speaks volumes about the intentions of the HYPE team’s civic action project – reinvigorate Harmon Field for everyone.

“We had been taking the kids to a park, not far from us, and the park had to have had the same equipment as I had when I was a child,” says Annie Smith, Dillon County Girls and Boys Youth Center and HYPE Advisor. “The only people that would use the park were our kids (Youth Center) and maybe a few more kids you might see, but everything was dilapidated. It was just terrible.”

As a HYPE advisor, Smith’s responsibility is to lead the youth through the HYPE curriculum and help them learn the process of choosing and implementing a civic action project focused on healthy eating or active living. Once the HYPE team understood what they were doing, they quickly knew they wanted to make Harmon Field a more comfortable and safer place to spend time outdoors.

They used their HYPE grant funds to paint benches, but they had their site set on something bigger, something huge, something that required a lot of courage and determination. They wanted the City Council to devote some of its budget to improvements that would help get Harmon Field back on a path to greatness.

girl using water fountain
A HYPE team member demonstrates the new working water fountain at Harmon Field.

Speaking on behalf of the HYPE team, Smith says, “Our main concern was water. There was no water fountain for the kids. There was no water fountain for anyone. There’s a walking trail there, so you know people will get thirsty while walking. And there is no bathroom.”

Backing Up Their Big Idea

Although the youth knew what they wanted to do, they still needed to collect data and information supporting the need for improvements. They had to assess the park to determine exactly what was missing. Then, they had to get the community’s opinion on the park. While some HYPE teams may choose to conduct a survey, this HYPE team was confident that the community would support their desires. So, they petitioned as many people as they could.

“The kids went to the park on a daily or weekly basis to get signatures from anyone there. They could’ve been students, their parents, their grandparents, anybody in the neighborhood, and visitors,” says Smith. “We have people that visit from out of town. Roland (NC) is right across the border, and I have seen people having a cookout a couple of times. And still, there was no water and no bathroom.”

After collecting around 250 signatures, the HYPE team was ready to approach the City Council. When advocating for something we want, many of us know that we have to be prepared before approaching leaders with a request. Elected officials and decision-makers at all levels want information about the issue, proposed solutions and community support before making any decision. For youth, it took courage to overcome such an intimidating task, to find their voice and speak to elected officials in a public setting.

Advocating to City Council

When advocating for something we want, many of us know that we have to be prepared before approaching leaders with a request. Elected officials and decision-makers at all levels want information about the issue, proposed solutions and community support before making any decision. For youth, it took courage to overcome such an intimidating task, to find their voice and speak to elected officials in a public setting.

new play equipment
The new playground equipment exceeded the team’s expectations.

Smith said about 15 youths attended the council meeting and showed solidarity wearing their HYPE t-shirts. It was their first time attending a City Council meeting for all of them. The HYPE advisors identified one youth who was outspoken and very active on the team to address the City Council.

“We made a folder and passed it out to everybody on the City Council so they would follow along with us as we talked. We showed them pictures of what the park looked like. And at the end, we showed them a convenient bathroom that wasn’t that expensive that they could actually put out there, and the bathroom had a place to put a water fountain in front of it”, says Smith. “We talked about statistics. It was all written down, and they had it so they could see it, visualize it, and see where we were coming from.”

Council members were surprised to hear from youth, a group of citizens who usually don’t speak at meetings or talk about issues or business that may affect them. Several residents complained about the lack of running water at the existing water fountain, but no action was taken. Perhaps that’s why the City Council agreed to fulfill most of the HYPE team’s requests.  

The City Council did not agree to install a bathroom, citing concerns about misuse of the facility, such as potential crime, drug paraphernalia being left behind, lack of staff, and other deterrents.

“We’re going have to keep going back. I understand their concerns, but we’re still going to try to work on them and find a grant that would fund an employee because they desperately need a bathroom.” 

The Proof is In the Pudding

new play equpment
The HYPE Advisors were surprised by the amount of new playground equipment.

Since installing new playground equipment and a water fountain, Smith has noticed an increase in adults and children at the park. They’re staying longer, playing longer, and enjoying the great outdoors. Even teens have been spotted using the walking track.

“I am so excited to go to that park now. They have a water fountain that’s working, and the equipment is beautiful. They put new equipment everywhere. I went to the park twice last week, and there have been so many kids out there playing. It actually made kids come to the park! It’s just beautiful to be sitting in the park now. You’ve got older people coming out there walking their dogs. We’re still excited about what we started.”

The ultimate goal of this HYPE project was to increase physical activity in Harmon Field. While there is evidence of that goal being met, the HYPE team gained an experience they can be proud of. They used their influence and voice to express a desire and a need for community health improvement.

“It’s a good thing for kids to get involved,” says Smith. “It’s something they get to call their own, something they can be proud of. They get a chance to use their input, and we get a chance to listen to them.”

Ava Dean, BSN, MPH, Out the Lifeline: A Mission to Families and HYPE Advisor, added, “I was going to say the same thing, to let them have ownership of it and not to let us as adults come up with the project, but to allow them. Once you allow them to do it and see the final project, they will walk away knowing, ‘Hey, I had something to do with this,’ and they will be proud of that. They will forever have that accomplishment.”

The HYPE team in Dillon indeed started something. The City Council plans to update the playground equipment in all its parks. The City Manager approved Dean and the Tobacco-Free Health Disparities Coalition to place a “Clean Air is Fair” sign to keep the park smoke-free. Smith and Dean have also discussed possible collaboration amongst local coalitions to volunteer and remove graffiti from the park shelter.

So, while the HYPE team certainly had a successful civic action project and learned new leadership and advocacy skills, they have also influenced other groups to answer the question, “What’s next?”  

Motivate local teens to lead a civic action project through The HYPE Project®

Motivate local teens to lead a civic action project through The HYPE Project®

The HYPE Project

Are you interested in hosting a Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) team to increase access to healthy choices in your community? HYPE teams learn the process of creating and implementing a civic action project through a five-phase curriculum. The project they choose can impact many people.  

HYPE projects must address a policy, system or environmental (PSE) change within the community. PSE strategies are improvements that stand the test of time. They’re sustainable and available to anyone in the community. 

The HYPE Project® is a curriculum-based approach to youth empowerment designed to build advocacy skills so teens can become a strong voice in their community. HYPE motivates teens to address the problem of obesity and other chronic diseases. While HYPE focuses on healthy eating and active living, teens can use the skills they learn to be lifelong champions of positive change. 

HYPE was created to help teens get involved in community health improvements. Any group or youth-serving organization can host a HYPE team. Examples are community health coalitions, church youth groups, schools, nonprofit organizations, civic engagement organizations, youth development organizations, and more.  

The benefits of HYPE are plentiful and depend on how engaged individual youth are with their HYPE team and the process of creating healthy change. The program benefits teens by leading efforts to improve the health of their community. One of the primary personal benefits is acquiring new knowledge and skills that can help with future education and employment goals. It’s a chance for youth to make decisions, share ideas, influence change, get involved in their community, and be proud of their contributions and accomplishments.  

If you’re interested in hosting a HYPE team, email  

The HYPE Project® Evaluation leads to a new curriculum, a new look

The HYPE Project® Evaluation leads to a new curriculum, a new look

The HYPE Project logo

At Wholespire, we know the importance of evaluating projects and initiatives to determine an impact or to make improvements to future endeavors. After 10 years of implementation and collecting feedback from adult and youth participants, The HYPE Project® underwent a thorough evaluation and makeover. Working with evaluators at The University of South Carolina and designers at TRIO Solutions, Inc., Wholespire revamped the curriculum and brand to provide participants with a more inclusive and engaging experience.

“We recognized that HYPE needed content updates as best practices of healthy eating and active living, youth engagement and advocacy had evolved over the last ten years,” said Executive Director Meg Stanley. “We wanted the initiative to look relevant and align with the Wholespire brand. Plus, our strategic plan identifies the sustainability of HYPE as a priority.” 

In 2021, Wholespire contracted with the Youth Empowerment in Schools and Systems (YESS) lab at the University of South Carolina School of Psychology, an applied research group focused on translating theories of child development to pragmatic prevention and intervention strategies.

YESS evaluators analyzed all existing HYPE resources, tools, and data to pinpoint strengths, weaknesses, and improvements needed to fully engage youth and their adult advisors. They developed a new logic model following a series of five strategically facilitated discussions with Wholespire staff.

New Logic Model

Download the Logic Model

The new HYPE logic model provides a visual representation of Wholespire decision-making and goals as well as the process by which youth experience The HYPE Project and the respective outcomes. New points of interest within the logic model are:

Philosophy – Seven main values guide Wholespire decision-making, planning, and training for The HYPE Project:

  1. Positive youth development (PYD) is an intentional approach to engage youth within their communities, schools, organizations, and more to provide opportunities for youth to enhance their interests, strengths, and abilities. Wholespire uses the PYD Developmental Assets Framework within HYPE to foster positive development through external assets and internal assets.
  2. Youth empowerment is a strengths-based process to engage youth in building skills, knowledge, and resources to control and influence decisions, reach greater well-being, and promote positive community change. Youth specifically build skills related to advocacy, youth organizing and civic, sociopolitical development, and self and collective efficacy.
  3. Policy, systems and environmental (PSE) change is a way of changing and improving the community for its members. PSE changes also reflect population- or community-focused efforts. Using PSE change, youth are engaged in critical thinking processes in HYPE training to build awareness and skills to promote PSE change related to healthy eating and active living in their communities.
  4. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI): To center DEI, Wholespire seeks to focus on racial equity throughout the entire organization. Wholespire seeks to address health disparities in South Carolina communities and increase access to healthy eating and active living options. HYPE trainings are developed to be age and culturally relevant so that youth can be effective champions for change within and beyond the program.
  5. Leadership involves efforts to be champions for change and experts of best practices to promote wellness in communities. Using leadership, youth are engaged in a youth-led project to create PSE change related to healthy eating and active living. Youth are also prepared to be allies regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion within their communities.
  6. Collaboration is the process of people and/or organizations working together transparently to determine similarities in intentions and efforts. To prioritize collaboration, youth collaborate with peers, adult advisors, and community members in efforts to make PSE changes related to healthy eating and active living. Youth share HYPE projects and results with community members and stakeholders.
  7. Sustainability involves doing work in a way that ensures the viability of an organization and support to the community. Thinking about sustainability in The HYPE Project, youth projects focus on sustainable change related to healthy eating and active living within their communities. Additionally, HYPE alumni have career and social support from the organization.

Outcomes – Process, intermediate and long-term outcomes are the resulting changes or impacts of the program that youth are expected to experience as a result of completing all phases of HYPE. Outcomes are influenced by philosophy and values and can be influenced by available resources and services provided by Wholespire through The HYPE Project.

  1. Process Outcomes: These are the immediate intended impacts of completing a certain part of a program. For The HYPE Project, the process outcomes are an acceptable level of engagement and a positive climate during training sessions for the first two phases of the curriculum, and the completion of the sessions.
  2. Intermediate Outcomes: These are the intended impacts immediately following the full completion of a program. After completing the last three phases of the curriculum, outcomes are an increase in skills and motivation for healthy eating and active living in regard to community action and PSE change; an emerging critical consciousness; increased skills for identifying and considering health disparities; increased planning, goal-setting, and critical thinking skills; and increased physical and mental health.
  3. Long-term Outcomes: These are the intended impacts months to years after fully completing a program. Six months after completing HYPE, youth will have increased: critical consciousness, community engagement, leadership and advocacy, social capital, ability to access valid information, resources, and services to promote health, physical and mental health and career and social support for HYPE alumni.
    Outcomes are measured by surveying youth during and after their HYPE experience. This new methodology is necessary to ensure the integrity and viability of The HYPE Project.

New Curriculum

In addition to improving the logic model, YESS evaluators looked at the content and activities in the curriculum. Considering feedback from youth and adult advisors collected in 2018-2020, YESS evaluators suggested:

  • Integrating Youth-Led Participatory Action Research (YPAR) Projects for future training structure to engage youth in projects that specifically address and promote issues that are important to youth in their communities. Through YPAR, youth specifically have opportunities to engage in more hands-on and service-learning activities to enhance youth skills regarding National Health Education Standards (NHES) related to goal-setting and self-management
  • Integrate concepts and activities from Youth Empowerment Solutions (YES) MVPA, a modular curriculum for promoting positive youth development related to behavioral and socio-emotional health skills. YES MVPA curriculum focuses on self-care as it relates to activism in order to support youth health and well-being as they work for social and systems-level change.
  • Identifying the NHES as they apply to each section within the curriculum.
  • Incorporating new activities, games and breaks.
  • Incorporating relevant topics or recent issues into discussions.

All of the suggestions made by YESS evaluators and through past HYPE youth and adult advisor surveys were carefully considered and included in the revised HYPE curriculum.

New Branding and Tools

Wholespire worked with designers at TRIO Solutions, Inc., in Mt. Pleasant, SC, to redesign the HYPE brand and curriculum and to develop a supply kit for adult advisors to use when teaching the curriculum. A more modern and relevant logo and curriculum design was produced that aligns with the Wholespire brand.

“Our goal was to give adult advisors and teens a better visual and hands-on experience when learning about PSE change, community health, bias, stereotypes, and how the information impacts individual behaviors and access to healthy choices,” says Stanley.

Wholespire recently launched the new curriculum and tools at an adult advisors training. During the training, representatives from eight new HYPE teams in South Carolina gathered to gain a better understanding of the requirements and expectations of The HYPE Project. They received an overview of the Think and Learn Phases and tried many of the new activities.

So what’s next for The HYPE Project? Wholespire is currently talking to organizations outside of South Carolina that are interested in implementing HYPE. Our ultimate goal is for HYPE to be nationally recognized and used widely across the United States.

Pickens County leader looks back on HYPE experience 10 years later

Pickens County leader looks back on HYPE experience 10 years later

Founder & President, Columbus and Edith Rogers Mansell Foundation

When The Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) Project® began ten years ago, Wholespire knew teens’ potential impact on their communities. What we didn’t completely realize were the impacts The HYPE Project would have on the adult advisors. 

Cathy Breazeale, former director of prevention services at Behavioral Health Services of Pickens County (BHSPC), was one of the first HYPE adult advisors to pilot the new youth engagement program in 2012. We caught up with Cathy for the 10th anniversary to learn about her experiences with The HYPE Project. 

What motivated you to become involved in The HYPE Project as an adult advisor?
In looking at the program it spoke to me about helping youth understand that the way you perceive food and exercise at an early age can help you in the long run. I’ve never seen a program like this and I was really excited to be a part of it.

When you were the lead adult advisor, what was your position?
I was a Director of Prevention Services and I had staff – Tiffany and Ben. I was responsible for looking at the budget and the action plan. When we said that we were going to do something, I made sure that we did it. All of us made sure the youth engaged like they were supposed to. To be honest, when we first started, it didn’t happen that way because it was new to us. We weren’t sure how to make The HYPE Project work on top of our other projects. When you’re meeting for two hours, you don’t have a lot of time to plan community events and work on these types of projects. We had tobacco projects, and alcohol projects and so I was kind of like the person that steered to ensure that we did do what it is we said we were going to do.

Your HYPE Team was composed of the BHSPC Youth Board. What is the youth board?
The youth board is a group of youth that are advocates for behavioral health issues related to alcohol,  tobacco, and other drug issues. It’s about community. What it is environmentally that they see in their community that they think needs to be changed? They get other youth engaged in their community and on the youth board. They’re also a spokesperson for issues that they were working on. But, they first have to buy into what that is.

After completing their PhotoVoice project, the Pickens County HYPE Team chose to focus on improvements at Haygood Park. They assessed the park and found some concerns:

Pickens County HYPE Team members assessing Haygood Park in Easley, SC, as Cathy Breazeale observes and advises.
  • No signs posting map and event/rental information
  • No bike racks
  • No water to drink
  • Restrooms need improvements
  • Dangerous big hole
  • Poor maintenance and landscaping
  • Litter and graffiti 
  • Playground 
    • No benches
    • No shade
    • No lights

The HYPE team presented their concerns to the Parks and Recreation Department, and they were successful in getting making the park more appealing with landscaping. However, since the completion of their civic action project, Pickens County has made improvements to Haygood Park and it’s being used more by residents and visitors. There’s even a dog park!

Do you remember any of the reactions from the youth about participating in HYPE?
Well, negatively they didn’t want to do it. They wondered why we were looking at what they were eating. But, I can still remember the presentation comparing the weight of fat to the weight of muscle. It brought about a conversation. Sometimes, we downplay health because we think small people are healthy and larger people are not healthy. That’s what our brain tells us and so even talking about those particular things — the weight of fat and muscle — brought about a conversation and impacted the youth. Also, I would say 80% of the HYPE team played some type of sport, and so once again, they are thinking ‘I play sports, I’m healthy.’ Uh, but so it did. It brought about a lot of different conversations about those things, but in the end, I believe that The HYPE Project changed behaviors. 

Youth used the Community Park Audit Tool developed by Kansas State University and the University of Missouri.

How has your experience influenced the way you work with the youth now?
When we hosted a lot of events, we used to always get sodas. But, I always tried to make sure that we had water there. We would tell our event participants that they can drink sodas, but they need to drink X amount of water per day. And so [The HYPE Project] helped. It helped me, personally. I also use [healthy choices] even now at our local church where we work with youth. I just try to give them the things that I know they want, but also put in some of those healthy choices too.

Is there any advice that you would give new adult advisors?
Uh, yes. I would advise them to build a plan of action with participation from the youth at the beginning, instead of waiting. I do that even now when I look at grants and proposals to send. Don’t just look at the money. You know you’re on this timeline and it’s happening, and now I gotta do something. When we take that approach, sometimes doing something is something we didn’t put a lot of thought into.

I would also say from the beginning, act like the funding ends in a week. Come up with ideas, several ideas, and then use those ideas to streamline the project within those months that you have to do it. This lets you say, ‘We’re going to do this, or we’re going to do that. We’re gonna add this and I believe that it would be better.’ The project would be better.

If you had another opportunity to lead a HYPE team would you volunteer again?
I would, because of the previous statement that I made of the things I’ve learned and even in working with [the Columbus and Edith Rogers Mansell Foundation] and knowing that. Our target group isn’t just teens, but it’s parents with youth ages 5 to 17. So now I know that. That’s our target population. 

The HYPE Team assessed all features of Haygood Park, including the volleyball court.

The parents at the beginning will be involved because I’ll get it. It’ll be a balance, even though the youth will be the ones that will do the project. We will let them do the planning of it and then the parents would come in and we have a meeting of the minds so that they can talk about as young people what it is they see in their community and what they feel needs to be changed. 

So being a part of something like that, it’s kind of like being able to take the test again. This time I’m going to study. And not just okay, I know it’s a test. I just need to make a 75. I wanna make 100 this time.

Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share?
HYPE is a, uh, it’s a unique program because you don’t hear about healthy living a lot concerning youth. I know we talk about obesity this and that in our states, but HYPE should really be nationally known. I feel it should be.

We couldn’t agree more with Cathy! Several of the Pickens County HYPE Team moved on to college and are starting businesses and careers in healthcare. Many are still involved in their community. And Haygood Park is thriving with recreational sports, squealing children, and happy dogs. 

YPD youth address food deserts and access through their churches

YPD youth address food deserts and access through their churches

The HYPE ProjectWhether you live in a rural community or the middle of a city, healthy foods can be hard to come by. That’s because South Carolina is filled with food deserts. Grocery stores in neighborhoods and towns close all of the time due to their bottom line — sales and money — and some communities may have never even had a grocery store at all. When people can’t rely on grocery stores for easy access to produce, a food desert is born. Fortunately, teens in the 7th District AME Church are changing the landscape of their food supply.

Through a partnership between Wholespire and the 7th District AME Church, youth involved in the Young Peoples Division (YPD) took advantage of opportunities to give their communities access to healthy foods through The HYPE Project®. After learning about policy, systems, and environmental change and how the food choices a person has affect their health, many youth teams began focusing their community-based projects on community gardens.

“Church gardens seemed to be popular projects, not only for the youth but also for the entire congregation,” said Trimease K. Carter, youth engagement manager at Wholespire. “I think they are popular because youth found out that gardens are a fun, learning experience. Plus, the congregations get excited about helping with the gardens, watching the produce grow, and getting to take some home.”

During the final round of funding for YPD programs in the 7th District AME Church, a few youth teams focused on building new church gardens, while other youth teams, who were previously funded, chose to maintain their gardens based on the success of their initial garden project.

Singleton AME Church GardenAccording to Pastor Clearance Mitchell from Singleton AME Church in Georgetown, SC, “Our success was in our garden beds. Although this year we endured interesting weather changes that caused some damage to our garden beds, we were still able to reconstruct and be a blessing. Although our giving numbers were lower than last year, we still were able to give fresh produce to a few senior citizens.”

In Turbeville, SC, the youth team at Oak Grove AME Church was funded all three years. Their first project focused on policy changes, like removing salt shakers from church dining tables. Church leaders approved the policy and left the youth wondering what to do next. So, they focused on educating their congregation on alternatives to salt. To do this, they decided to build an herb garden to use in taste tests and church meals as a way to replace or reduce salt. Their efforts have seemed to pay off.

Oak Grove AME Church Herb Garden

“Our church is located within the stroke belt of South Carolina. Persons tend to eat an abundance of fried and fatty foods,” said Dr. Ila McFadden, YPD director at Oak Grove AME Church. “Through The HYPE Project®, our youth have helped our congregation think differently, and they have given them the desire to improve their overall health through proper diet, nutrition, and the importance of water as a beverage.”

Just like Wholespire’s mini-grant opportunities, funds awarded to the youth teams were used to purchase supplies and support their initiatives. Youth teams worked on multiple projects at the same time and took on active roles with each project. From brainstorming and setting church policies to planning and implementing healthy eating, active living, and safety projects, the youth of the 7th District AME Church YPD program truly stepped up to the plate. They showed their leadership skills and influenced not only their peers but also adults. They demonstrated what youth engagement can be for community coalitions and other youth groups in South Carolina.

For more information about The HYPE Project®, email Youth Engagement Manager Trimease K. Carter at