New youth program aims to improve Evansville’s south side

“South Side Stars Zone” works with Tepe Park Neighborhood to build a better future

New youth program aims to improve Evansville’s south side
South Side Stars Youth Zone (Source: WFIE)

EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - A new youth program is aiming to fight the odds in Evansville’s most poverty-stricken neighborhood.

It’s called Southside Stars Youth Zone. Two mothers in the Tepe Park Neighborhood started with the idea a year ago.

Lisa Barnett and Cathy Davidson said they wanted to keep kids out of trouble.

“It’s bittersweet," said Davidson, a leader within the United Neighborhoods of Evansville, who has turned a lot of her attention to the new program recently. “You get to see how they grow and thrive. But, you get to see all the other deficiencies. There’s only so much you can do, but, we can try the best we can."

Davidson and Barnett started getting kids together for fun on the weekends, sporadically. The gatherings developed into weekly activities, and the Evansville Parks Department allows the group to use the green-brick painted home at 1212 S. Garvin Street, located directly across from the neighborhood playground.

Now officially called the Southside Stars Youth Zone, children, teens, and sometimes even parents come to the house for support. Local businesses, nonprofits, and corporations are taking notice, too. Davidson tells us the program has already received donations from Vectren, the County Health Department, and Community One.

It’s an escape from reality for some, but for Davidson and Barnett, it’s also where harsh reality sinks in.

“We have older youth that are 9 to 10 years old, and they can’t even read full sentences, or even the sight words. We have kids that are constantly in food insecurity. That’s why we decided to step up and feed them meals," Lisa Barnett said.

According to 2015 Census data, the Tepe Park Neighborhood has the highest poverty rate in the city, at nearly 34.25%.

“A lot of the kids cant access other programs. They don’t have transportation. They don’t have the money," Barnett said. “It’s how we can make an impact. It’s how we can make a change. That’s worth everything."

The program is part of a much larger organization in the Evansville Promise Zone, which is a partnership between the federal government and local leaders. The Zone makes Evansville more competitive in receiving grant money.

“We have a bright future ahead with this program,” Davidson said.

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