Three Local Charities Support Knoxville Youth
Story by Valerie Lick | Photography by Hobe Brunson
Whether you’re a parent or not, whether you’ve got an empty nest or a full house, whether you work with children or just remember being a child, you know one thing: every child has a lifetime of potential.
It takes a village to raise a child to that potential. Every parent wants to give his or her children the necessary tools to grow up strong and successful in the world, but they need support from their community. That’s where nonprofit organizations come in.
Knoxville’s nonprofits offer an overwhelming show of support to local families. That support is everywhere. That support is in schools, medical programs, youth sport and leadership and art organizations, and in all the dozens of faith and family-focused nonprofits in Knoxville.
And what better way to prove it than by looking at those organizations’ success stories?
Joy of Music School, Knoxville Inner City Kids’ Outreach, and Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding help kids in vastly different ways. One thing that they have in common, however, is that they’ve changed children’s lives for the better. Here are three Knoxville kids organizations achieving excellence.
Reaching Young People Where They Live: Knoxville Inner City Kids’ Outreach
The Knoxville Inner City Kids’ Outreach non-profit (KICKO) goes into Knoxville’s underserved communities and reaches children, the vast majority of whom are not be able to travel elsewhere, where they live—lifting them up and giving them the tools they need to succeed and ultimately to transition to adulthood.
The genesis of the organization has multiple points The concept is modeled after a program KICKO’s founders, Bill and Janice Clark, were introduced to at a world evangelization in the late 80s. After hearing a dynamic speaker on an another inner city program elsewhere, Janice felt she should go back to school to study missions. She did, and by the early 90s, KICKO was up and running in two of Knoxville’s neighborhoods that were most notorious for gang violence. This is their mission: to reach kids who are “left behind” by other programs and to meet them “in their neighborhoods,” as current director Michael Clark says.
In an age of video games and instant messaging, KICKO builds lifelong interpersonal connections. One of those connections is a multi-generational legacy. Jourdan Elder-Richardson, who made her first Knoxville friends as a child at KICKO’s activities, now brings her son Malachi to the organization’s meetings every week.
“I was one of their students, one of the kids that they welcomed into their ministry,” she says. Jourdan, then only 8 years old, was a recent transplant to Knoxville. Awakened one day by loud music, she left her house to see colors, games, and–most of all–other kids.
“Everybody was on the same page, it was a common energy,” she says. “I think that KICKO helped me think about more than myself; think of myself as a member of a community rather than me against other people.”
Years later, when she had a child of her own, Jourdan saw a face from her past: Bill Clark, the founder of KICKO.
“I was telling him, ‘You definitely look like a man who used to minister to me,’” Jourdan says. “He said, ‘Yes! That’s me, and I know my wife is going to remember you when I tell her about you.’”
The memories all came flooding back. Bill invited Jourdan to bring her child to a KICKO meeting, where another generation was dancing, singing, and learning.
Immediately, Jourdan’s son Malachi fell in love with the organization. While he enjoys meeting new kids and dancing, his favorite activities are the games. Through memory games, kids learn Bible verses with the goal of applying the lessons to their lives.
“It’s to help kids believe in God,” Malachi says. The usually-exuberant 10-year-old enunciated this point clearly and solemnly. “And help kids make good decisions.”
Like many kids his age, Malachi has some electronic pastimes. But more and more, he spends time playing football and basketball and bouncing on the trampoline. He thinks that KICKO’s active, outdoor enthusiasm has helped him and other kids be healthier. “You get fresh air,” he says wisely.
Creativity and Community:
Joy of Music School
For many kids, music is pure joy. At Joy of Music School, over 100 local musicians encourage and nurture that joy by giving free private lessons.
Through Joy of Music School, kids are able to learn, grow, and challenge themselves without the often-prohibitive cost of private lessons.
Since 2013, Caleb and Chloe Weaver have been a weekly presence at the school. The twins, who are now high school seniors, say that the organization made huge experiences possible in their lives.
“A little before seventh grade, my dad lost his job with the company he worked with. So the first thing we had to cut was our music lessons,” Caleb says. But everything changed when the twins’ family found out about Joy of Music School’s free music lessons for school-age children. “So we came here,” he continues, “and we’ve been here ever since.”
While both Weavers had taken piano lessons since age five, the duo branched out into different instruments with the aid of their instructors. Caleb took up bass guitar, while Chloe found her rhythm in drums.
With the school’s help and their own passion and energy for music, the twins soared to great musical heights. In the summer of 2018, they each won full-ride scholarships to a five-week program at Berkeley College’s School of Music. “It was only possible through Joy of Music,” Caleb says.
The twins feel that Joy of Music School is a positive, happy environment for kids to keep learning even outside of their regular classrooms. “I guess when you walk in here, you can tell that there’s good work being done,” Chloe says. “You can tell that the kids are happy to be here, they’re happy to be learning… it’s just fun to them.”
More than anything, the Weaver twins feel that music is an important mental and emotional outlet. “If a kid takes up a musical instrument and he likes it, then that means he has an outlet and he can connect with other people through it; he can do whatever he wants with it,” Caleb says.
Skills for Special Needs Students: Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding
At Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding (STAR), lessons aren’t just about riding. It’s about learning and strengthening skills that will serve special-needs students all their lives.
Through weekly therapeutic riding, kids and seniors with physical, mental, or neurological disabilities can improve in diverse areas–some of them unexpected. Jackson Miller is the most cheerful 12-year-old in the world. He’s also one of the hundreds of students who learn in unexpected ways at STAR.
A student on the Autism spectrum, Jackson has to put in extra work to improve his spatial awareness, balance, and fine motor skills. “He can do higher level math, but he struggled to tie his shoelaces,” his mother Jennie Miller explains. After standard therapy did not have the results that Jackson and his family hoped for, Jennie got in contact with STAR. “I started thinking about what else I could do. So I called them and asked if they could help. They said yes.”
And help they did. After weeks of grooming horses, using tack, and navigating equine obstacle courses, Jackson found his skills improving. He and his family were surprised and delighted. “I never even thought that equine therapy could help with that kind of stuff,” Jennie says. Before she continues, Jackson chimes in. “It’s helping with all of it, really!”
Before coming to STAR with Jackson, Jennie had only a vague idea of what sort of special needs the program served. “I don’t think I understood the diversity of struggles riders have,” she says, explaining that STAR served everyone from deaf students to disabled veterans.
“It’s not just about physical challenges. It’s about mental challenges, learning self-control, and learning to be aware of yourself. There’s so many things I didn’t think about,” she continues. “It really is helpful in a lot of ways.”
In fact, when STAR put on its annual summer show, Jackson won third place in the obstacle course. He had come a long way–equine obstacle courses would be difficult even for a 12-year-old without spatial awareness issues.
“I’m happy about myself. Or proud,” Jackson says, smiling broadly. “I can’t wait to do it next year. Maybe I’ll get first.”