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Heal the Hood Foundation helps kids and creativity grow in Hickory Hill

By A.J. Duggar III, High Ground News

Located inside the former Hickory Ridge Mall, Heal the Hood Foundation of Memphis has been a positive force in the lives of Hickory Hill residents and other nearby communities for over a decade.

“Our mission is to impact youth using creative methods of the arts and media science, to impact the youth lives in the Mid-South [and] surrounding area,” said Betina Hunt, chief financial officer for Heal the Hood.

The nonprofit has two full-time employees and 20 dedicated volunteers.

Melissa Caldwell is a HTH volunteer, and her 16 year-old daughter is active in its teen programming. Caldwell began volunteering for HTH seven years ago.

“I decided to see what all they do,” said Caldwell. “I started bringing my daughter and her friends along. I see it’s a good cause. It will help children.”

“I think Heal the Hood is a blessing for Hickory Hill. It gives the kids and families a way to have fun. They do good work for the community,” said Vanessa Pearson, who has taken her grandchildren to several HTH events. “We always have a good time.”

What They Offer

Among HTH’s most successful youth development programs is Shockwave Productions.

“It’s a film studio. We do film and music projects, all of it is message-driven,” said Hunt.

Phases Mentoring is another keystone HTH program. Hunt describes it as a mentoring program that helps young adults with life’s changes and stages from elementary school to college.

Caldwell spends most of her time in the Phasing Mentoring program, which is held every second and fourth Saturday of the month.

“When we do the mentoring on Saturdays, I normally do the food,” she said. “I feed the kids every two weeks.”

HTH’s Evolution School of the Arts is jam-packed with lessons and activities.

“We have art classes, dances, martial arts classes and music classes, which consist of piano lessons, guitar lessons and drum lessons. All of that is through our Evolution School Of The Arts,” said Hunt.

Other programs include the Wake Up Tour, The Evolution Comic Book Series, The Vision Team and the HTH Worldwide Music Group.

Much of HTH’s teen program happens at the Hero Empowerment Center, also referred to as the Justice Hall.

The center was once an arcade, and is now a super-hero themed space for artistic therapy and skill development where teens learn to practice values like self-respect and respect for others and cultivate their talents to positively shape the community around them. The center houses HTH’s comic book, dance, martial arts, career and leadership, college prep and music programs, as well as the recording studio and the Hero Store.Heal The Hood’s founder, LaDell Beamon, educates and entertains a group of children at a Hickory Hill elementary school. (Heal the Hood Foundation of Memphis)

Starting The Healing

LaDell Beamon founded HTH 12 years ago but began mentoring youth when he was just 19 years old.

His years of mentoring taught Beamon many things. Among them, young people are influenced by media, arts and entertainment.

In this personal development, Beamon found a love for writing and producing films and found an innate talent in songwriting. Over time, he began to fuse his own development interests with his service to youth. He developed new projects including the Vision Team and Stop The Insanity concert series.

His early ventures eventually evolved into a formal foundation.

Hunt said patience, understanding and fun are ideal ways to help youth cope when harmful behaviors or difficult or traumatic situations arise.

“We encounter many youths who deal with a lot of things,” she said. “A lot of times, youths are not heard or understood or they don’t feel like they’re being heard. And in a lot of cases, they have a lot of valid reasons for feeling the way they feel.”

Hunt said sometimes adults are stretched too thin or unequipped to dive deep into why their child is acting out. Youth may then be labeled as problem children because they lack the supports and understanding they need.

“[The negative behavior] really is a cry out for help,” said Hunt. “We really get involved with the youth and their families to find out what’s going on, all the while having fun. We’ve had kids who wanted to come out of gangs, but it was hard because it was their atmosphere at home.”

“There’s so much that we’ve done and that we do to help the youth in the community to decrease the violence, increase peace and just bring about awareness that the youth are dealing with that many people shun off,” she continued.

Good Times on the Horizon

HTH hosts four annual community events.

In April, the Living The Dream Community Empowerment Summit celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On October 19, they’ll host their annual Taste Around the World benefit dinner & silent auction. The event was started by the late Chef Gary Williams of DejaVu Restaurant in 2014.

“Chef Gary wanted to do something for an African American organization,” said Hunt. “Chefs from around the city would come and provide tasting samples, and we’d have a silent auction to raise funds.”

On November 9, it’s Hoops For The Holiday at Hickory Ridge Middle School, and in December, HTH will facilitate their annual 12 Days of Christmas, adopt-a-family program.

“We adopt single-family homes with 3 or more children and provide Christmas for those families,” said Hunt.

This year they’re also running a 97 Days of Hope campaign beginning October 21.

“That is going to help Shelby County Schools decrease suspensions and increase attendance and peace within the schools. It will end in mid- to late-January,” said Hunt.

In the longer term, Hunt said Heal the Hood is on the lookout for a new location and new partnerships.

“We’re definitely looking for community partners and businesses to partner up with,” she said. “We plan to increase staff, increase mentoring numbers and programs among the youths.”

“We’re [also] looking for a standalone building similar to an arts mall, which will cater to everything we do in addition to retail, arcade, movie theater, restaurant, basketball and sound stage for movie and film production.”

Heal the Hood Foundation is located at 3725 South Hickory Ridge Mall. For more information, call (901) 566-0743 or visit www.hthmemphis.org.

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