Full Circle Youth Program

If you think back to playing dodge ball in your younger years, and your primary memories are of red welts and the 3-on-1 rushes from the other team, you may appreciate the preference for Gaga Ball at the Full Circle Youth Program.

Full Circle Youth Program, an out-of-school program through the Lawrence Douglas County Housing Authority, provides free activities for kids receiving housing assistance to promote their educational, physical, and emotional growth.

Gaga Ball, implemented at Full Circle by coordinator Chris Lempa, uses only one ball, which is hit underhanded and has to be aimed at the knees or below. Like in dodge ball, players are out when the ball hits them, but gaga ball rules allow for players to return to play in certain instances. The rules also create a focus on fun over competition and socializing over winning, such that gaga ball fits well into Full Circle’s efforts to help kids challenge themselves, take healthy risks, and make positive choices.

“We’re about building relationships,” says Lempa of a theme that underlies all the programs of Full Circle.

Lempa plans programming at the Edgewood-based headquarters for an average of 25 kids a day. Art, education, health, and environment are all foci of programming, geared towards kids’ engagement and interests. The ZOMBIE health initiative, for example, addresses six aspects of health (Zoning, Outside, Movement, Body image, Ingredients, Exercise) for youth learning and practice. A recent community mural led by local artists Nicholas Ward and Amber Hansen brought together participant ideas of what was special to them about their neighborhood. Youth artists helped create and paint the imagery representing their collective vision of community. Tutoring, snack preparation, gardening, recycling, and sports of all kinds encourage positive and constructive interaction among the participating youth.

Into these programmatic efforts, Lempa integrates KU service-learning students who are studying community health with KU professor Jomella Watson-Thompson. Watson-Thompson’s students relate course concepts to the programs at Full Circle, volunteering with the program and observing in Lempa how to effectively and appropriately support community health with real-world programming.

Lempa provides KU students options of how to work at Full Circle—some relish interactive time with the kids, while others prefer to help with administrative efforts, for example by creating a healthy cooking handbook or by working on the Full Circle website.

For both the youth and KU students, Lempa emphasizes the effort and undertaking as the key outcomes. “The process is really the important part. If you tried and worked hard, it was a valuable experience—you’ve succeeded.”