IRMO, S.C. (WIS) - When petty crimes began happening around Harbison Gardens Apartments in Columbia, Irmo Mayor Barry Walker wanted to work across city lines to help solve the problem.
By partnering with a local church and educators, the HeartEd Youth Zone was created.
“They come here, they’ve got it, they’ve got the help,” Mayor Walker said. ”They’ve got the access they need. We’re hoping to keep these kids grounded so they don’t fall too far behind.”
Keeping them grounded with a free afterschool program at Universal Outreach Church called HeartEd Youth Zone where kids from Harbison Gardens can find a way to grow.
“If you take a seed, and you put them in fertile soil, then that seed will grow, and it will produce fruit,” said Dr. Akil Ross, the program founder. “That’s our concept.”
Providing transportation, food, and help with homework, this program started in 2020. At its launch, the program provided an outlet to 8 kids. Now, it’s expanding, and children from Harbison Gardens and Irmo Village will be able to participate, free of charge.
“If a child is failing, a family is failing,” Rev. Alonso Johnson said. “We believe that a church is doing its job, its job is to help families succeed.”
Tylea Yarborough is one mom who says she hopes more parents will take advantage of what’s being offered.
“It’s a great opportunity for children to actually be able to do something different than just to be sitting at home or playing around or doing nothing,” Yarborough said. “That’s how people’s kids get in trouble.”
With the program now able to take up to about 80 students, leaders say they hope more parents get their kids involved to see just what their kids are capable of.
“If we help children from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. in the evenings, then they will thrive in the mornings at school from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.,” Ross said.
Organizers say if you live in Harbison Gardens or Irmo Village and you’d like your child to participate, all you have to do is apply.
They’re hoping to expand the free program to other neighborhoods in the future.