As we drive down West Hill Street I count the number of foreclosed properties we pass, the boarded-up windows and doors marked with graffiti, reminiscent of the day they were filled with life and purpose. In this neighborhood filled with foreclosed properties, broken roads, and decay all around, where is the good? I count 24 liquor stores, but only 5 supermarkets, 30 fast food places, 0 sit-down restaurants, 36 beauty salons, but not one hospital. We continue driving. Stopped at a light, I look outside our van. On the corner sits a fenced in, barbed wire area filled with hundreds of mattresses. A sign lurking high above declares, “Affordable Mattresses.” We continue driving, slowly making our way through the Park Hill projects, one of the two remaining government funded housing projects on the West side of Louisville. I spot even more boarded up windows and crumbling facades. A high percentage of Louisville’s homicides occur in this project. Our drive continues past the only Kroger west of 9th street, the invisible barricade that segregates West from East Louisville, the poor from the rich, and the white from the black. We drive past the other remaining housing project, Beecher Terrace, this time going around it, rather than through it, due to the danger that lurks within. Our drive continues, eastward, until we cross 9th street, shooting into the heart of downtown Louisville. High-rise office buildings loom above our van as we pass coffee shops and high-end boutiques.
The drive ends as we pull in front of the Cabbage Patch, a non-profit agency whose mission is to serve and equip low-income, at-risk youth with the skills they need to be self-sufficient and successful. Nestled in Old Louisville, the Cabbage Patch sits right on the border between West and East Louisville. Unlike the boarded up and abandoned buildings we just passed, the Cabbage Patch is a bustling hub of activity. Children jump from their cars, untied shoelaces flying as they wave goodbye to parents and race towards the front doors. At the check-in desk, they deposit their phones and belongings with a staff member and are buzzed into the heart of the Patch, childish giggles and laughs resounding off the walls as they greet their friends within.
While the Cabbage Patch itself has an East Louisville zip code, 99% of the Cabbage Patch’s service area is in the West End. To put that in context, 70% of the homicides in Louisville occur in the eight zip codes that the majority of kids come from. Located only a couple streets away from 9th street, the threshold that separates West from East Louisville, the location of the Patch affords easy accessibility while still providing an enriching and safe environment.
As an educational opportunities intern, I worked this summer in the education department at the Cabbage Patch. The education team plans and facilitates fun learning activities that expose the kids to new ideas and reinforce old ones. Whether by dressing up as Coco Chanel to teach the kids about famous historical figures or timing the kids in minute math worksheets, the options are engaging and interactive. Rather than focusing on teaching, the main objective is to develop the drive, aspirations, and knowledge of our kids. Evening activities are filled with endless games of Monopoly, a Patch favorite, and other board games. This summer I found myself frequently pulling the game of Fluxx, a card game in which the rules are ever-changing, out of our closet. In this game, the draw of a single card can change its entire course, roadblocks and unexpected detours hide behind every turn.
It is an uncanny realization to think that just like this game, the kids I interacted with this summer live in a state of flux. One simple event can throw their entire lives off course. During the past year, the average hourly wage of Cabbage Patch parents was $12.84. Currently, the living wage, the amount of money needed to maintain a normal standard of living, falls at $27.78 (Cabbage Patch Annual Report). The difference of $14.94 determines whether the families can pay their rent, their electricity and water bills, and put enough food on the table. For many of our children, the Patch is their one constant in life. In a world where their lives are in a state of flux, the Cabbage patch offers these children an integral and consistent “card” for their success. Rather than having to be in certain places at certain times, the children at the Cabbage Patch are free to roam the premises, a policy which facilitates the development of personal choice and responsibility.
I truly believe the success of the Patch lies in this policy. I quickly learned that Cabbage Patch kids are in it for the long run; once a Cabbage Patch kid, always a Cabbage Patch kid. I have never met a group of more dedicated and passionate kids. Regardless of the fact that it was summer, our children came back day after day. Some of the older students have been going to the Patch for upwards of 10 years. They came as soon as they turned eight and remained until college, eventually serving as counselors over the summer (a position for which they are paid).
“You do not work your way out of poverty, you educate your way out.” These words from the long-time staff member, Roosevelt Chin, are memorialized through the effort and energy that is put towards ensuring that as many Cabbage Patch kids go to college as possible. Over the past few years, the Cabbage Patch’s College Scholars Program has sent 32 seniors to college, awarding over $70,000 in scholarships. The staff’s endless support through constant and caring relationships is the key to the success of these children. Every single college scholar is taken to school by one of our staff members. From orientation to move-in day, the staff at the Cabbage Patch is there to make sure that this transition is seamless.
Although only a couple of streets separate the Cabbage Patch from the west end of Louisville, these two places could not be more different. While the boarded-up windows and abandoned dwellings in the west end cry of forgotten lives, hope and love emanate from the front doors of the Cabbage Patch: no one forgotten, no one neglected. With the continued love and support that seeps from these front doors, maybe one day it will be enough to traverse the invisible 9th street divide and bring the same change to the West End.