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Youth Zone Program in the IRMO community

Irmo, SC 04/02/2021 - When some citizens expressed their concerns with Mayor Barry Walker and the IRMO Town Council about the supervision of children in the community and the increase in juvenile criminal incidents, a decision was made to find a positive solution. Instead of rounding up young people and putting them into the Juvenile Justice system, they created A Youth Zone Program in the IRMO community.

“The HeartEd Youth Zone in IRMO has quickly become a positive way to help reach kids in our community that were wasting time after school and causing trouble for residents in IRMO’s Beacon Hill and other areas within Columbia’s Harbison Community,” IRMO Mayor Barry Walker said. “Since the program began several months ago, juvenile crime in the area has drastically reduced.”

Walker credits Dr. Akil Ross who founded the HeartEd Youth Zone, as well as Rev. Alonzo Johnson, Universal OutreachChurch, Harbison Community Association, Harbison Garden Apartments and the Town of IRMO for partnering in the program. The Youth Zone formula originated with Dr. Akil Ross and his HeartEd Youth Zone nonprofit.

The former principal of Chapin High School and the 2018 National Principal of the Year, Dr. Ross attributes his home, his elementary school, and a recreational center for teaching him how to face early adversity and obstacles in his life. Dr. Ross created the HeartEd Youth Zone in IRMO, SC to provide programming for children living in affordable housing – empowering kids with academic, athletic, and artistic opportunities. His Youth Zone Program is the vehicle the Town of IRMO used to begin driving the children living at the Harbison Garden Apartments to after school activities. In July 2020, there were eight students enrolled in the program. Today, 80 students are eligible to attend free of charge with continued growth expected.

Along with the other partners, the Mungo Foundation and Ken and Jondy Loveless have made significant contributions. The Universal Outreach Church, meanwhile, has a non-profit group that is licensed through the state Department of Social Services as a Temporary Child Care Center, serving school-aged children who are in virtual or hybrid school programs. It also offers afterschool programs and partners with HeartEd Youth Zone. Thanks to the donation of a bus from the Harbison Community Association, daily transportation for students from Harbison West Elementary to the afterschool program at Universal Outreach Church is provided.

Much of the seed money was provided through HeartEd, LLC. The Town of IRMO has contributed a portion and is hoping other municipalities impacted by the positive changes will commit to contribute to the program. “Currently, all children living within the IRMO Youth Zone area can attend for free but those outside of the area may pay a fee,” Mayor Walker said. “Additional funding would help alleviate that cost for those kids and get more of them into safe and productive afterschool mentor programs.”


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