Program in Clark County for at-risk youth reopens to community

Tia Clyburn, Springfield News-Sun, Ohio
·3 min read

Apr. 4—On-The-Rise, a nonprofit organization for at-risk youth, is open again after a year of closure due to COVID-19.

Founded by Debbie McCullough and Cathy Tofstad in 2002, the farm has served as a place for learning and safety for local youth. Since the closure on March 10, 2020, McCullough and Tofstad continued to work to provide services for those they refer to as "their kids."

"For the whole year, one full year, I cooked meals, and my partner and I delivered them to between 110 and 120 people a week every week," McCullough said. "We called our families every week, found out what their needs were, you know if they needed food, if they needed hygiene products. So, we were able to keep in contact with the kids, and actually we feel that this brought our relationships with our parents much closer."

McCullough said parents who initially were only driving their kids to the program are now also getting involved.

"We have between 30 and 35 kids right now because of transportation being limited, but the parents that are driving them out here, they're staying and really enjoying it, so we're really, really happy about that. That's a really cool addition because it used to be just kids, and now parents are helping and volunteering and everything."

Since reopening, the kids in their learning community are grateful to be back.

"The kids are working with their goats this week, they're planting, they're starting to grow crops, and it's just kind of a real positive atmosphere right now and the kids are so happy to be back," she said.

Even as it reopens, the farm continues to carefully follow guidelines for safety in the pandemic.

"We're working with the Department of Health, for them to give us direction on things, to make sure that we're not overstepping, that we're doing the right thing. Every time, the kids have to wear their masks, we have hand sanitizer out," McCullough said.

"We have a whole protocol of how we feed them every Saturday. The kids can't touch the food, the server has to put it on their plate. It's their new normal."

Looking ahead, McCullough is excited for future projects.

"On Saturdays we are part of the Springfield farmers market. This touches on the employability skills part of our program where they have to show up on time, they have to be dressed appropriately, they learn about the products. We sell goat meat, chicken products, some brown eggs," McCullough said.

"We used to take two to four kids at a time, they would learn how to run the booths, but now we only do with one kid at a time. Last year I was by myself and it just wasn't the same. The purpose of us being in farmers market was to be an education for our children."

On-The-Rise will be present on Saturdays at the Springfield Farmers Market and will appear at indoor markets as well in the following weeks.

McCullough said they hope to expand their work in the near future on site at the farm as well.

"If everything goes right, we would like to open twice a week during the week," she said.

For more information about the nonprofit, visit https://ontherisefarm.org/ to learn more.