Louisville Zoo Offers Outlet for Youth

Future Healers Program Explores the Healing Power of Animals

Writer / Julie Engelhardt
Photography Provided

For many Louisville children, a visit to the zoo can be a leisurely way to spend the day in the community. It’s pretty much a normal activity they’ve done numerous times with family or friends. Yet, for other kids in Louisville, seeing a real rhino or a long-necked giraffe for the first time can be inspirational—even quite therapeutic for some.Christopher 2X Game Changers

These are children who live a life which many aren’t familiar with. They live in areas where they’ve grown up witnessing gun play and gun violence on their streets and possibly even in their own homes. Some are just babies or very young children.

Yet, thanks to one man who is making a powerful impact in the community, some of these children are being offered a chance to escape the violence of their neighborhoods and look towards a safer future. He is Christopher 2X, the founder and Executive Director of the non-profit organization Christopher 2X Game Changers.

“Game Changers is a continuum of what I’ve been doing for these many years–reaching out to kids who are unfortunately impacted by violent crime issues in Louisville,” 2X says. “When I say kids, they are 4 to 13 years old.  Kids either directly, or in their family, suffer from secondary trauma as it relates to this plague from the public health side.”

Game Changers goal is to create the best possible way to link and connect resources

and to help these children understand there is more to their world than what they know.

“We’re trying to get families into better spaces with their kids,” 2X says. “We need to understand that we might not be able to change their environment, but we want to give them some healthy options to look at so they don’t follow a direct family member or someone in their family’s friendship circle and become part of this reckless, violent culture situation that’s going to be detrimental to these kids’ lives.”

One program initiated by Game Changers is Future Healers, an innovative idea involving reaching out into the community to help these kids.

The first phase of Future Healers began when 2X started working with the University of Louisville Hospital. They brought in children to meet and learn from physicians. The post on the U of L Health site says:

“This outreach program is focused on building stronger bridges between the Louisville health care community and our city’s youth most impacted by gun violence. Our goal is to introduce more youth to the field of medicine while helping them navigate through the emotional trauma that stems from the increasing violence currently plaguing their communities. Through compassion, mentorship, and advocacy, this program will do its part to uplift and empower our city’s young individuals to aspire for better futures for themselves and for the communities in which they reside.”

The second phase of Future Healers premiered in September 2022 and its home base is the Louisville Zoo. This idea started through a chance encounter between 2X and the Assistant Director of Conservation Education and Collections at the zoo, Steven Taylor.

“So much of it is being in the right place at the right time,” says Taylor.

Christopher 2X Game Changers“I was at work on a Saturday and Chris had brought out the Future Healers to the zoo.  I ran into him down at our Gorilla Forest Sanctuary and stopped and introduced myself and spoke to him just for a minute about his program and how excited I was that it was in place,” Taylor explains. “I told him I would love to talk him when he got a chance; to see if there was something maybe we can do at the zoo to help.  Our little impromptu meeting got us both excited and that led to a series of conversations right after that and about the potential of what we might be able to do. The rest is history.”

They began by bouncing ideas off each other to understand what would be involved with a program at the zoo.  After many discussions, the children who were to be involved chose the name “Future Healers Got Zoo Buddies.”

Kim Allgeier, Curator of Conservation Education at the zoo, plays an integral role in this new venture.

“Steven and I met with Chris about the Future Healers program and what they’re doing with the kids,” she says. “I was brought in to develop the partnership in this relationship, how we could work with the families and the kids and what the potential would be. From there, I have been the person who has developed the curriculum and I will be involved with the kids and families for the longevity of the program.”

The first meetings involved talking with 2X to get to know more about the children that would be participating. 2X hand selected 17 children, from ages 4 to 13, to participate. He says that these specific children were chosen based upon his knowledge of their families and which ones would be fully invested in helping with the program.

“We had the kids come out and we did some introductions and I actually had a meeting with the families. We used that to introduce ourselves to them,” Allgeier says.  “We had activities set up for the kids and some animals they could meet, but that was really our opportunity to talk to the parents and caregivers directly and kind of set the tone of what we were hoping to get from them as part of the program and really get their buy in.”

The children, along with their parents or caregivers, will participate in 10 different day sessions for a couple of hours that are scheduled monthly. The families of the children 4 to 8 years old will be doing one activity, and the families of the children 9 to 13 years old will be involved with another project. Then, they all join together during the second half of their day to have a zoo-wide experience.

Taylor and Allgeier are very excited about this program and cannot wait to see where the future takes them. The program is different because there is no specific end date each year. The children will continue until they’re 13 years old, then they have the option of becoming a junior volunteer if they so choose to do so.

“The thing that is really special about this is that we put in a lot of focus and intent, not necessarily on the science content that the kids are going to be doing, but we put a lot of emphasis on building relationships with them, building trust with them and building engagement with their families,” Allgeier says.

Allgeier and Taylor want these families to get to know them and the zoo staff on a deeper level.Christopher 2X Game Changers

“We want those families to know who we are… we want them to know us by our first names and we want to know their first names,” she says. “We want to understand their kids and we want to be able to help them along their personal journey.”

Christopher 2X Game Changers is located at 1800 Muhammad Ali Blvd, Suite 2D2, Louisville, Ky 40203. You can reach them at chris@2xgamechangers.org or visit www.2xgamechangers.org.

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