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West Louisville Outdoor Youth Program Wins $25,000 Grant

A  program promoting outdoor activity for youth in West Louisville is among 10 programs nationwide to receive a $25,000 grant from Aetna, officials announced Wednesday.

The award was presented to Louisville Parks and Recreation’s Engaging Children Outdoors program (ECHO), which gives low-income youth a chance to hike, paddle, shoot archery and do other activities in neighboring parks.

District 5 councilwoman Cheri Hamilton said the grant will help kids in Shawnee and other districts.

“We all know that after school is dismissed that too many of our young people are cooped up in the house staring at a screen, rather than being outside feeling safe to run, play and explore,” Hamilton said.

The grant comes from the Aetna Foundation. ECHO has received a total of $35,000 from Aetna since the grant competition began two years ago, including the money awarded Wednesday.

Aetna CEO Jonathan Copely congratulated Louisville’s program and said it could win more funding over time. Coplely said the grant aims to help kids be healthier and ultimately help address crime.

“The goal: build a culture where residents connect to nature, to improve physical and mental health by increasing physical activity and improving social cohesion to deter crime,” Copely said.

The ECHO program edged out 40 other community programs in the U.S. to win the grant. Aetna awarded funds to a total of 10 programs nationwide.

According to a news release, ECHO has expanded since 2008 to provide 2,500 youth with nature experiences. Mayor Greg Fischer said grants funds will be used to train youth for the summer works program and for a mobile ECHO van to bring activities to young people.

The city also plans to build a West Louisville outdoor recreation and learning center in Shawnee Park to house nature-based programs and classes. Fischer said that is expected to be finished “within a few years.”

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.