Youth Advocacy: Laurens County Youth Achieve Success with Safer Environments Projects

For decades, youth have led social movements across the United States. They’ve been in the news a lot, lately, speaking out against and for issues that are important to them. But, did you know that youth have been leading a healthy eating and active living movement here in South Carolina? It’s called the Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) Project, and youth are finding out just how powerful their voices are, especially in Laurens County.

Through a community health improvement project, the Laurens County HYPE Team, hosted by Bridging the Gap Advocacy, a non-profit that addresses youth development, and in partnership with Eat Smart Move More South Carolina, recognized that their community isn’t as safe as it should be. They identified one of many important areas of need: safe passages near Sanders Middle School.

Like many adult-led community coalitions, youth ranging in ages 12-17, set out to make a difference in their community. They conducted a walkability assessment near Sanders Middle School, developed an action plan, and rallied to present their findings and request for improvement to the Laurens County Council. Youth asked County Council to make the area surrounding the middle school safer for students to walk, through the addition of sidewalks, street lamps, stoplights, crossing guards, and signage. Council agreed to purchase warning signs near the school. This success was just the tip of the iceberg, and they’re not giving up on the rest of their safety requests. They want to encourage decision makers to do more to make the area safer around the school.

These up-and-coming young leaders in Laurens County are continuing their mission of making their community a healthier place to live. They’ve already worked with a local master gardener, started a community garden, and given the harvest to residents. Plus, they received permission to revitalize an abandoned baseball field and built community support for improvements to make it a safe place to be physically active. Bridging the Gap Advocacy has held kickball tournaments and other physical activity events for the community at the new and improved field.

Youth plan to follow up with County Council regarding requests for making school safety a priority; host an after-school walk to Bridging the Gap Advocacy and invite decision makers to participate; start a petition regarding improvements near the school; and design and send postcards to decision makers regarding the need for improvements.

Through the HYPE Project, middle- and high school-aged students are learning how to become effective advocates for change in their communities. There are currently 13 HYPE teams in South Carolina; the majority of these teams are focused on safe and accessible places to be physically active and nutrition. Youth like the Laurens County HYPE Team are making change happen!