This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Bolstered by a $5 million, three-year grant, Get HYPE Philly! is mounting an effort to reach out to 50,000 young people, to promote healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle, and train 1,000 youth leaders who will embrace the mission and spread the message. The coalition of Philadelphia students and community organizations celebrated that work May 6 at its first year-end celebration.
About 250 students and Get HYPE (Healthy You, Positive Energy) members gathered at the Enterprise Center in West Philadelphia to celebrate the group’s successes. They capped off the evening by giving out $51,000 in grants – ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 – to 18 community groups that shared the organization’s goals. The grants were awarded by the group’s Youth Leadership Council, which set the criteria for the awards and reviewed all the applications.
“It makes you feel good that young people are doing the right things, the good things – making the city better,” Mayor Kenney told the gathering.
“In four, five, six years, you will be in charge … and I can see what you are doing now to prepare yourselves and others for the opportunity to take over.”
The $10,000 grant winner was Mill Creek Farm, in West Philadelphia, which grows food that it sells and donates to the community, brings schoolchildren to its site, and prepares young people for leadership roles. The grant money will help boost the teen leadership effort and will pay for four young people to attend two national conferences that address issues of food, race and economics, said Aviva Asher, Mill Creek’s director of programs and operations.
Another West Philadelphia group, Camp Sojourner, was awarded $5,000. It holds a one-week sleepaway camp experience for girls and works year-round with a smaller number in its Teen Leadership Institute (TLI), said executive director Alisha Berry. Its focus is on team building, leadership development, self-expression through creative arts, and appreciation of nature. It also engages in community-based “food justice” campaigns, seeking to provide more access to healthy food for West Philadelphia residents.
Bethany Barnes, 14, a longtime camper and an 8th grader at Wissahickon Charter School, is one of the TLI students. She said that the group “builds your self-esteem and helps you become a leader.”
Get HYPE Philly! has chapters in 61 schools and is working with 450 youth leaders, with two more years to go on the grant, said Aunnalea Grove, a program manager with the Food Trust, which is spearheading the initiative. Get HYPE builds on an earlier Food Trust campaign with a similar name; last year, with a $5 million grant from pharmaceutical giant GSK, the new group came into being, forming a coalition of 10 community organizations.
Those partners include Common Market, Greener Partners, the Norris Square Neighborhood Project and the Village of Arts and Humanities, which have urban farming and gardening projects and youth leadership initiatives. The Free Library of Philadelphia is holding cooking classes that emphasize healthy food choices and the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA’s Columbia North branch is offering a variety of exercise outreach programs. Other groups provide program support and evaluation.
Norris Square Neighborhood Project’s executive director Justin Trezza said that Get HYPE Philly! funding has allowed his group to “dramatically” expand and develop several of its programs for teens, including a creative and performing arts effort and a gardening program that also includes cultural and physical fitness activities. Two of the group’s teen activists were among 10 who received Outstanding Youth Leadership awards at the celebration.
Several Get HYPE student activists who were at the celebration said their involvement had led to big changes in their outlooks and accomplished much in their schools.
Doha Ibrahim and Angie Gutierrez, 8th graders at the Hamilton Disston school in Tacony, said that their 15-member Get HYPE chapter had helped promote sports teams at the school, promoted the introduction of healthier lunch food, and worked for the introduction of usable water fountains. The chapter also helped pick equipment and plan the layout for a new playground at the school.
“It’s making our school better. It’s changing in small steps, but it’s changing,” Gutierrez said.
Ibrahim added, “I’ve changed a lot of things in my life because of [Get HYPE Philly!]. I’m making so many healthier choices. We’re bringing changes to our own lives along with changes to our school.”