Health officials say providing kids with educational experiences and a safe place to spend their leisure time increases their chances of becoming productive adults. HEAPC is a non-profit organization in North Rapid City's Lakota Homes that is keeping kids occupied with healthy activities, and keeping them out of trouble.
The Health Education and Promotion Council or HEAPC is working from the Oyate Community Center in the heart of Lakota Homes in North Rapid City. HEAPC is situated in Lakota Homes to make sure the kids growing up in this predominantly low-income neighborhood have positive activities to participate in, and access to quality educational experiences outside the classroom in a location where it is safe to learn and play.
HEAPC Executive Director Favian Kennedy says that although the organization is based in North Rapid City, any kid that wants to take part is welcome.
“Our vision is really to synchronize science, education and culture to improve education, social well-being, and economic outcomes to strengthen communities,” says Kennedy.
Kennedy says HEAPC offers year-round educational and cultural programs to keep kids engaged and out of trouble. He says HEAPC provides kids with access to information in the S.T.E.M fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – information many of these kids may have limited access to otherwise. He says an understanding of these key subjects gives these kids a better life, a better chance of prospering.
To expose the kids to science, Kennedy says a local neurosurgeon came to speak at the Oyate Center.
“And brought a human brain. And so the kids were actually be able to hold that brain. At the same time they were learning about the different functions of the brain,” says Kennedy.
In addition to science the kids play basketball, they do art projects, play on the playground, they participate in Junior Naturalist programs, and have summer camp. They are shown how to use public transportation, and they help prepare meals.
The kids are also being taught how to start and maintain a garden – they call it the Teaching Garden.
“We wanted to be able to plant things that could be put into a soup, so we have tomatoes, we’ve got zucchini, we’ve got onions, we’ve got different kinds of peppers, we’ve got beans,” says Kennedy.
There are rocks and old tires that line the Teaching Garden that the kids have painted and personalized. Herbs are planted inside the tires. There are also pumpkins in the garden that the kids will decorate for Halloween.
Kennedy says experiences like these can spur a child’s interest and help them explore their talents - and inspire them. He says increasing contact time with youth and exposing them to high-quality educational experiences helps break the cycle of poverty. He says his programs are available to any child at no cost to the family.
The neighborhood kids say they like having something fun to do that's close to home.
“It’s really fun and we do activities every day. We learn about God. There’s something to do here instead of just staying home. They give you like prizes, and they bring out jumpy houses and stuff like that. We have fun stuff. Sometimes we even go on field trips. I’ve learned a lot, I learned to be nice and respect things,” say the children.
“Of course we have all of these learning opportunities that we want to expose the kids to, but I think the bottom line is that this is a place where kids can come and have a good time and be safe. The main thing that our kids want is somebody to pay attention to them. If we just came and spent time with them and didn’t do anything else they would appreciate that. To be honest with you, the youth are mainly concerned that there’s somebody here listening to me today,” says Kennedy.
Camaraderie is encouraged and there are people of all ages and different ethnic backgrounds to interact with and learn from.
Trivia Afraid Of Lightning Randle is HEAPC’s Resource and Development Coordinator. She says she came to the Oyate Center as a child, and now her children do too. She says it’s never too early to reach out to young people.
“I believe that we catch them right when they come in the door as little ones. We plant the seed of education. Not only education, but health, mind, body, and soul. You have to be healthy mentally, you have to be healthy in your heart, and physically,” says Afraid Of Lightning Randle.
Afraid Of Lightning Randle says many kids in the neighborhood keep coming back.
Executive Director Favian Kennedy says that tells him he’s making a difference.
“Hope is what we’d like to give. Not just to the youth but also to the adults. We believe that the family, the extended family, and the community all have to be healthy in order to really thrive. So hope is really what it’s all about,” says Kennedy.
Kennedy says he hopes to expand current programming and continue to offer learning opportunities and keep kids on a steady path to being successful adults.
If you’d like to find out more about HEAPC visit HEAPC.org.