Ra Psychle founder Cicely Hicks has brought to life an organization that emulates what it means to serve your community. With programs for youths that encourage healthy living and self-sustainability while assisting low-income, disabled, and elderly members of the community with lawn care, Ra Psychle aims to "educate and engage the community about health, urban agriculture, and environmental sustainability as a means to improve communities."
A native of Hot Springs, Hicks has spent the majority of her life serving children and their families, including titles of child advocate/case manager at Cooper-Anthony Mercy Child Advocacy Center and Ouachita Children's Center. Spending time in the garden at her grandparents' farm in Dumas, Hicks was picking up knowledge that she would use later on in life.
"Some of my earliest and favorite memories are of summers spent down on the farm with my cousins and grandparents shelling peas or shucking corn under the shade tree," she said. "I didn't know at the time, but we were learning invaluable lessons about community and sustainability while playing down at the farm. Since I've become an adult and now a parent, I've just felt a drive to continue sharing these lessons with my children. And although I have lived and worked in other cities and states as well as locally, I always had the desire to serve my community at home. My parents and grandparents (are) educators, advocates, community organizers, and small business owners who worked tirelessly to build our neighborhood and community here in Hot Springs. I've had many mentors from our community who have encouraged and supported me, so this feels natural and necessary, and so the youth program was really born of my heritage and my family's life work."
When the Hot Springs Boys & Girls Club closed its doors, Hicks pondered: Where would she find another program for her kids to participate in? Ra Psychle was the answer to that question.
"After the Boys & Girls Club closed, I noticed that gaps could be filled as activities for kids," she said. "We played sports and stuff through the club and more than that, I know that a lot of kids used it for after school services. When the facility closed, it left a lot of kids without places to go. We had coached several teams through the club and some of the parents and families would ask, 'Are you gonna coach again? Are you gonna coach somewhere else? Are you all gonna offer any activities for kids?' People started contacting us looking for resources for activities for their kids.
"We started off first by doing a gardening class at Ouachita Children's Center and I think that we did that once or twice a week and then after that we started working on building our after-school program which is at the Webb Center. We started the after-school portion in 2018 and it's just grown from there."
Ra Psychle's after-school program is for children ages 6 to 17 in Garland County in any school district from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The program started at five days a week in 2018, but has since reduced to two days. The cost is $30 a week per student, but there are discounts and scholarships available.
"When the kids get here, they'll come in and have a snack," she said. "We don't serve any meat in our program. Our youth program is a gardening education program and so we do spend a lot of time in the garden. We try to teach the kids about growing their own food. We try to encourage them to eat as healthy as possible and one of the ways that we do that is through serving a healthy meal. We always try to do fresh fruit every day. In the fall, we've been trying to ramp up the vitamin C so a lot of oranges. We also try to experiment with new foods they've never tried before so last week, we tried some guava. I didn't tell them what it was. We kind of treated it like a mystery, but we just try to have fun with it. We try to teach the kids if they're at a fast food place, how to order the healthiest options on the menu. ... Teaching them what's healthy and what your body does need and trying to just plant those seeds on knowledge in them."
Ra Psychle also focuses on holistic wellness while also including cultural education, team sports and recreation, and urban gardening. In October, the kids in the program were able to study the voting process at the Hot Springs Convention Center.
Cultural education "could be anything," she said. "It could be current events. It could be a monthly theme like Black History Month or Hispanic heritage or any other national holidays at the state or local level. We try to make sure we have the kids as involved as possible in current event type of educational experiences. We also have guest speakers in all different areas of expertise and interests and careers. We've had fashion designers, nurses, chefs -- (they) come and speak to the kids and interact with the kids. We also get the kids involved in the kitchen and in the cooking process. They're able to see the food we grow in the garden. We have a little garden spot at the Webb Center."
With the after-school program comes an "Environmental Stewardship" program that takes place during school hours in the summer and encourages children to reach out in the community and partake in projects such as clean up and gardening.
"They participate in our junior gardening program," Hicks said. "They learn different skills for gardening. We use a curriculum through Texas A&M Agriculture. ... We use their curriculum and their textbooks so the kids participating in the weekly program, they're able to acquire those skills."
In 2017, Ra Psychle implemented a program called 4C: Community Call, Care, and Compliance program and was awarded a Community Development Block Grant from the city of Hot Springs. The grant allowed Ra Psychle to start a training program that is open to 16- through 24-year-olds in Hot Springs that are interested in becoming a certified law care technician and registration is open until January with classes online through Colorado State University.
"It involves us getting out in the community to support our elderly, disabled, low-income, and single parents who may be struggling to keep up their lawn or property," Hicks said. "The certification that they'll receive will come through the National Association of Landscape Professionals. It's a five- to nine-month training and it can really be adapted based on their schedule or routine. It can be a work at your own pace kind of program. ... The training portion of the 4C program is to really encourage others to invest in their community and to take care of the community one neighborhood at a time. As we try to take care of the elderly and disabled members of the community through their lawn care, we hope to just really wrap our arms around the most vulnerable members of our population in general and to help avoid fines and improve on neighborhood morale and neighborhood upkeep. We wanted to make sure that the seniors and disabled members of the community weren't experiencing any fines or warnings from the city due to lawn care management."
For more information on Ra Psychle, visit their website at rapsychle.com or call 501-655-4314. Sponsorship opportunities are available at rapsychle.com/sponsorship-opportunities.