INDIANAPOLIS — A near east side youth development program that focuses on educating, engaging and encouraging youth is receiving some much needed assistance from the community.
"If you've never been here before it's a place where you have fun, you can play around, you can do clubs," D'Marcus Spencer said.
Spencer is one of more than 80 kids who spent the summer at Brookside Community Church.
"When I wake up I'm excited to come here only because when I come here it makes me feel happy and I don't have to take care of my baby sister," he said.
Brookside Community Development Corporation launched its play initiative in 2016, as part of the church's effort to address the need for youth development on the near East side.
They serve kids in K-12 through summer camp, after school programming, and a year round education and employment academy for teens.
"In an underserved population like this that already has some obstacles to overcome, this past year was detrimental, and so for us to be able to provide a safe place for them with caring adult relationships, that means the world to these kids," Andrew Neal, Chief Operation Officer for Brookside CDC said.
Recently, around 100 sports, business, and community leaders took part in the Pro Experience fundraiser at Top Golf to benefit the non-profit sports ministry, Athletes in Action. Money raised from the fundraiser is going to three community service projects, including more than $1,200 for Brookside's Play initiative.
"That Project Play project is a beautiful representation of what Brookside is doing to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood and make a difference in the whole community," Darrin Gray with Athletes in Action said.
According to Brookside CDC, research shows many children living in low-income neighborhoods are subjected to childhood trauma on a daily basis. Whether it's having a family member incarcerated, wondering where their next meal will come from, or being a victim of abuse or neglect.
"Every day we see children walking by that you can tell they don't have any structure at home they don't have food or food is very scarce and that has been very eye-opening," Rick DeMulling said.
That's where Brookside's Play initiative comes in, giving students skills to move past survival mode and into the mentality of development.
DeMulling is a former Indianapolis Colts offensive who now lives in Brookside and is invested in the community.
Just days after the fundraiser, he joined members of Athletes in Action to work on character development skills with the Brookside kids.
"Anytime we can expose these kids to new speakers new opportunities and give them a dose of hope we are doing a lot for them," Neal said.
DeMulling hopes the kids at Brookside CDC take away this message from their visit: "That they know they are loved wanted and needed, he said.
Money raised through the Pro Experience fundraiser is also going to help the Athletes in Action Leadership Academy. It will also assist the High Impact Ministry's Juvenile Offender program by providing bags full of essentials to those in local detention facilities.