TERRE HAUTE —
Even on a hot and muggy July morning in Terre Haute, there’s no better way to start the day than to take a walk and get some exercise.
That’s the message Gov. Mike Pence and First Lady Karen Pence gave to youth at the 14th and Chestnut Community Center as they strolled around the neighborhood Wednesday on a “Mile with Mike” hike.
“We really believe in healthy living and in taking time every day for exercise,” the governor told the dozens of youngsters that attend the summer programs at the community center.
With youth counselors herding the energetic children into groups, the governor and his wife led the walkers south on 14th Street to Wabash Avenue where they turned west and continued to 11th Street, walking north to Chestnut, then turning east back to the community center.
After a group photo, in which the governor encouraged the children to say, “macaroni and cheese” for the photographers, the youth headed back inside for their regular activities. A few lingered to request and receive hugs from the governor and his wife, who spent much of her time on the walk talking to girls about their education and the future.
Among the youth were a group of “NERDS” from Rapture Temple Ministries where Rev. Arnick Shouse leads a faith community that has numerous outreach programs to youth and adults.
“What are NERDS?” Pence asked youth wearing the colorful slogan.
“Now is the time to edify, restore, direct and save,” the Rapture Temple youth and leaders said in unison.
Rev. Shouse walked with the group as well. The outgoing pastor had been in Indianapolis on Tuesday to receive the Achievement in Civic Leadership Award from the governor at the Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration at the Indiana Convention Center.
Shouse and Rapture Temple were recognized for providing services for the homeless, ex-felons and those serving in-home detention sentences in Terre Haute.
Community-based programs such as youth groups and community centers are one of the best ways to make a positive difference in the lives of children, Pence said, commending both Rapture Temple and 14th and Chestnut Community Center.
Sitting in the shade of the building after the walk, Pence said he was anxious to see the community center.
“About 120 kids a day are here getting love and encouragement in an atmosphere that affirms them,” Pence said. “It’s a priority for our administration to continue to see how we can improve the lives of Hoosiers — their health and well-being — especially our children.”
Recognizing that Terre Haute has a high rate of child poverty, as evidenced by the high number of school children enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, Pence said the best antidote for poverty is economic growth and jobs for parents. But filling that gap is the important role of community centers and individuals who work with youth.
“Ultimately, the real solution is to have programs like this to pour love into the lives of the kids here,” Pence said. “There is no limit to what these children can accomplish.”
Rev. Bill Felts, director at 14th and Chestnut, told the governor that the community center draws children from a 15-block radius. In addition to the summer program, the center offers after-school activities and meals during the school year.
The center, housed in a former United Methodist Church, operates on donations from individuals, the community and businesses, as well as grant funding.
“This will be awesome,” Felts said of the “Hike with Mike” and what it means to the children. “They can go back to school and say that they walked with the governor.”
The children who come to the center have leadership skills that need to be directed, Felts said. The center staff teaches integrity, trust and how to lead others in positive directions. Without attention, those same leadership skills can be turned into the leadership of gangs or crime rings.
Pence said the community support for the program shows the value placed on Terre Haute youth.
“Regardless of what their situation is at home, or wherever they area, they know they are of eternal value,” the governor said.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.