How do you continue a grant project during a health pandemic while social distancing? That’s a question many communities are answering, including Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) Project teams in the 7th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Through funds provided by SCDHEC, 82 youth from nine AME Young Peoples Division (YPD) programs in seven counties successfully addressed challenges related to COVID-19 restrictions while continuing to work on their healthy eating, active living, safety, and injury prevention projects in their respective churches. The AME churches are located in Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Greenwood, Richland, Sumter, and Union counties.
First, many youth teams had to figure out how to connect virtually to discuss their initial project plans and any changes needed based on safety guidelines for COVID-19. Then, they had to figure out how to implement their projects with closed churches and community facilities. On top of that, some teams even dealt with the direct impacts of COVID-19 within their congregations.
“COVID-19 has presented social obstacles for all of us, especially the elderly,” said Trimease K. Carter, MSW, youth engagement manager at Eat Smart Move More South Carolina (ESMMSC). “The YPD projects allowed church members to safely connect and be active even when the church building was not open.”
Carter added, “Churches got creative with their gardens allowing people in the same households to sign up for shifts to work in the gardens together. One team even created Rec 2 Go Kits for families to remain active while at home.”
Youth were able to support efforts to curve the spread of COVID-19 in their churches and communities. Most were able to provide personal protective equipment (e.g., masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and wipes) and share COVID-19 prevention tips.
In addition to addressing safety and prevention, youth teams also worked on healthy eating and active living projects. These projects included community/church gardens, church health bulletins, safety signage and handrails, community/church walking clubs, and church-based healthy eating and active living policies. Collectively, the HYPE YPD Teams were able to pass 14 policies at their churches. The youth also took on many roles in implementing the projects. They wrote policies, planted and maintained gardens, established physical activity equipment use guidelines, and delivered presentations to their pastors, congregations, and communities.
Youth at Browns Chapel AME Church in Richland County focused on revitalizing a community basketball court to increase access to a safe place to play. According to their Adult Advisor April Alston, “The Arthurtown basketball court is looking a lot more refreshed these days. The once weed-covered court now has a flash of sprawling color.”
Leroy Belton, president of Arthurtown Community Association, said, “The revitalization of the court will make a dramatic, positive impact on our community. Neighborhood kids and adults are excited to play on the court and the HYPE team is proud to play a small part to make a big impact on the community.”
In Union County, youth at Bethany AME Church focused on a garden to provide church members with fresh produce.
“Without this grant, this garden would have been impossible. A lot of churches struggle to have extra funds to do projects such as a garden, so it’s just wonderful to start something that we can continue for a long time,” said Adult Advisor Rena Goode. “We’ve always wanted to have a garden at the church, so this was just a great opportunity.”
Goode added, “What really made me smile was when one of our youth said when he grows up, he wants to have a garden. I told him ‘You don’t have to wait until you’re adult, you can have a garden right now.’ It’s really good to engage our youth in community projects. It encourages them to think out of the box, get hands-on experiences, but most of all have a positive impact in the community. I hope other AME churches will join in this great opportunity next year.”
This grant round marks the second year of partnering with the 7th Episcopal District AME Church. The next round of grants will open in early 2021.