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Pro-Youth's Color Run to Support HEART

Feb 25, 2015 02:04PM ● Published by Brandi Barnett

Color for Love

March 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos courtesy of Visalia Pro Youth/Heart Program

This article will begin where it ends, with a name, a place, and a question – and an answer. Twenty years ago, Kelly Scott, a 35-year-old father of two, was shot and killed while waiting at a stoplight near Ben Maddox and Houston. Flowers probably no longer mark the place he died, and few remember that Scott was the first innocent bystander killed by gang violence in Visalia. Few remember how his death stunned the community, all the anger and grief, the outcry and questions that followed.
   
Shocked residents asked themselves, “How could this happen? How do we respond?” Violence like this wasn’t supposed to happen here, not in Visalia, not in this agriculturally based, family-oriented community.
   
Even Los Angeles, long inured and resigned to the realities of gang violence, seemed surprised that it had finally caught up to this quiet town north of the Grapevine. A week after the shooting, the Los Angeles Times published an article, New Town, Same Old Sad Song, which paints the portrait of a smaller, quainter, almost innocent Visalia. It describes mourning community members pouring into City Hall, filling its seats and foyer, standing outside, together saying: not Visalia, not again.

But if Scott’s death raised a question, the community didn’t have an answer. The police chief, the plumber, the teacher, mayor, and mother – like caricatures in a play, they offered suggestions. What these kids need is more discipline. No, another said, compassion. Or better parenting, communication, more jobs.
   
In this community snapshot, one thing was certain: they were resolved not to let this happen again. Still, a question hangs at the end of the article. Is Visalia really any different? It’s in the title: it’s just the same old sad song.
   
Perhaps through the eyes of an outsider, Visalia appeared caught off its guard, destined to succumb to the inevitable tide of gang violence. But when those community members walked out of City Hall 20 years ago, they set out to write a different song.
   
Truth is, Visalia wasn’t unprepared. In 1991, volunteers founded Visalians for a Gang-Free Community in response to growing concerns. In ’93, the group gained nonprofit status and changed its name to Pro-Youth, and began emphasizing education. By 1994, Pro-Youth existed on a small budget of $21,000.
   
Pro-Youth CEO Daryn Davis says 1995 was a turning point for a community stirred by Scott’s death. “Out of that tragedy, we built a real community consensus that as a community we need to respond. This isn’t a problem with one neighborhood, or in one part of the county. This is everybody’s problem.”
   
The following year, Pro-Youth renamed its signature event the Kelly Scott Memorial Walk/Run, and the community rallied in support. With renewed momentum, Pro-Youth reexamined ways to care for the children in Tulare County, “to keep the kids safe after school,” says Davis. “I think it’s as high as 90 percent of all crime involving juveniles occurs between 3 and 6pm. So let’s keep them safe during those hours.”
   
As funds became available, Pro-Youth started programs for kids during crucial after-school hours. In 1998, Pro-Life started its flagship program, HEART: Homework, Enrichment, Acceleration, Recreation and Teamwork. In that first year, with eight people on staff, HEARTserved 220 children at three school sites.
   
HEART has grown rapidly since. “Now we’re at 46 sites, have 500 staff, and 10,000 kids a year that we have the privilege of supporting,” says Davis. Beside HEART, Pro-Youth offers other programs, High School XL, HEART Reads! and Growbiotics, programs “meant to engage students into becoming lifelong learners,” Davis says.
   
The reality, Davis says, “is that our students face every challenge, in terms of poverty, in terms of lack of support, regardless of circumstances.” And while these programs are an alternative to the street, they also exist to help students “make the right choices to become future leaders in our community.”
   
Such a goal requires community by example, which Pro-Youth has in plenty. “Community support,” says Davis, “is our backbone. Kaweah Delta, Food Link, all of the school districts – law enforcement,” she continues, “has been one of our major partners from the very beginning; the sheriff department, probation.” In fact, once a week, the probation department sends an officer to each of the 46 school sites “just to spend time with the kids, to throw a basketball.” Community, Davis says, “makes it possible to grow and serve more and more students. We look for the day when we’ll be serving every student in Tulare County.”
   
In the meantime, the reality is that Pro-Youth programs exist thanks to funds. So last year, when the national organization Color Run contacted Pro-Youth looking for a local nonprofit partner to benefit from their run, “we jumped on it,” Davis says.
   
The Color Run is a 5K “race” during which runners are doused, head to toe, in different colors at every kilometer. The original paint run, Color Run calls itself the “Happiest 5K on the Planet,” and its runners’ smiles prove the point.
   
Last year, about 3,000 people ran the Color Run, and this year Davis hopes for an even larger turnout. But the purpose isn’t only to raise money, says Davis. “It’s to raise money that goes straight to our program, since at any time we have 1,000 kids on our waiting list,” she says, “but also we want this to be an event for the families.”
   
Unfortunately, Davis realizes some families see HEART as free daycare. She hopes the Color Run might challenge that perception while encouraging parents to participate in the program in a healthy way. “We push for everything from exercise to emotional wellbeing to making good choices, and were looking for ways to promote positive family experiences,” she says. Since many kids in the HEART program come from economically strained families, Pro-Youth is making the Color Run free to children 12 and under.
   
At 9am on April 4, runners will start at the Rawhide parking lot and race a course along Goshen to Demaree and back. Runners will no doubt have fun, but they will also get the opportunity to hear about Pro-Youth. Last year’s run “reached people with our message that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reach,” Davis says.
   
Significantly, the Color Run will be held downtown, which in a way brings the community back to the streets where this story begins. The tragedy of Scott’s death woke the community to a problem that had been long coming, and forced the community to seek answers. Twenty years later, Pro-Youth has proven to be one of those answers, and it remains a testament of this community’s resolve by caring for the county’s children. The Color Run might only be a five-kilometer race, but really, it represents a much longer course that stretches back 20 years. Because, says Davis, this run “is commemorative of our roots, and commemorative of where we’ve come from and how far we’ve come.” In that sense, this run also symbolizes that this community has every intention of running the race – and moving forward. 

Pro-Youth: proyouthheart.org • (559) 624-5810
Color Run: www.thecolorvibe.com to register
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