Violins, Cooking, Hiking & More: Family Engagement Night at Harrison Hill School

This is part two of a three-part series to tell you about a unique elementary school, nestled in Lawrence: Harrison Hill School. This part of Lawrence is economically depressed, and its residents frequently struggle with poverty and the challenges that go with it. Thanks to Community Liaison Neal Gore, whose position was created due to a United Way Student Success Grant, family engagement is front and center at Harrison Hill. That engagement has enabled the school to teach families healthy habits regarding nutrition and physical activity on a collaborative scale that we at Jump IN haven’t seen at any other schools.


Neal is interested in not only creating a healthy school, but a healthier neighborhood as well. He’s done it by opening up the school outside of school hours and inviting families to participate in dozens of different activities for Family Engagement Nights. He calls this part of his job “my most fun thing!” Family Engagement Nights are five-to-six week-long sessions that happen four times a year. They’re in their fourth year of offering them, and on any given Family Engagement Night as many as 100 people might be participating. These events are completely free, and they include a sit-down dinner with the other families, sponsored by Chef Suzanne. Neal has calculated that she has donated more than 10,000 meals over the last four years!


Families sign up by selecting which session they’re going to attend and choosing which activities they want to participate in. During a Family Engagement Night series, as many as 16 different option are offered. These include topics ranging from theatre classes to basketball clinics to martial arts to nutrition and physical activity classes. There are even “Fort Harrison State Park Family Nights” where the group hikes and learns about nature. A family enrolls to participate as a family, and in some cases three generations are doing the activities side by side!


Harrison Hill School violin class

Nearly 50% of families who attend the school have participated in a Family Engagement Night series, and if there are neighborhood families who don’t attend the school who want to participate, Neal allows them to attend as well, as part of his dedication to the community school model. These Family Engagement Nights help families do fun activities together with other families in their community while learning new skills, hobbies, and tools for helping their families be healthy and successful that they can incorporate into their day-to-day lives.


Harrison Hill is part of Jump IN’s community demonstration project that’s competing in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge. Jump IN is very grateful to the many partners in Greater Lawrence and the Far Eastside that we’re working with and will continue to work with long after the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge is over. The work is important, and we are dedicated to helping all residents have access to living a healthy lifestyle so that we can reduce childhood obesity and the health problems associated with it.


More information about the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge can be found here. More information about Jump IN and our programs can be found at


If you missed the first segment in this series, read What’s a Community School? Ready for the next story? Check out How Gardening Has Changed Health and Wellness at Harrison Hill.


This article is part of Jump INside, a blog series featuring stories from Jump IN for Healthy Kids, a United Way of Central Indiana partner that focuses on reducing and preventing childhood obesity in Central Indiana. See all of the stories here