Hometown Hero Spotlight: Denise Hindman

by Charles Gerian

If you were a child in Blackwell, chances are you spent many of your weekends at the Blackwell Youth Center on Ikerd in Memorial Park, falling in middle school love while “Hot in Here” by Nelly blasted over the speakers, or you caused trouble playing in the dark of the park, hanging on the jungle gym, chasing one another around just outside where the Youth Center’s lights couldn’t reach.

If you have children in school right now, chances are they’re doing the same, although the music has probably changed and the park looks a LOT better.

And, chances are, your children know Denise Hindman. Chances are YOU know Denise Hindman.

How can you not?

She’s this month’s Hometown Hero Spotlight feature, courtesy of Beth Hiatt’s Shelter Insurance.

It’s a hot Wednesday morning, and Denise is sitting in the entryway of the Youth Center, her smiling face a comforting release from the muggy late-June weather.

Had God not spoken to her, she wouldn’t be sitting there at all.

It all started in 2016.

“I was working at the junior high,” said Hindman, “I was on the Youth Center Board, and I came to a meeting one day and they said, ‘Hey, Denise, would you want to take over the Youth Center?’” she recalled.

Her answer?


Her parents had just passed away and after rejecting the board she said that she went home to pray. Through tears, she echoes the words she heard in prayer that night:

“God said ‘bring them to me, Denise’. So, I took it over.”

Denise said her goal is to make every child feel welcome.

“I don’t care who they are, that’s why I’m here. That’s why I do what I do, so that every child feels like they have someone that loves them and that this is a safe place no matter what you are- who you are- or what you’ve done.”

Hindman has been cussed at, spit on, and threatened by the kids that she opens the Youth Center to…and some of them are her best friends to this very day.

“They just need someone to care,” she explained, “we have kids from all walks of life here. The haves and haves not. ‘Bad kids’ that make bad choices, ‘good kids’ that made bad choices too. They all come here, and they’re all treated the same.”

“The thing I love about Blackwell is that there are now a lot of things for kids to do. Some of these kids don’t have clothes, don’t have food. They don’t think about past today, they don’t think about tomorrow, and Blackwell has here, they have the pool, they have the library.”

She continued:

“We need to care about Blackwell’s children. We need to do more for them, because these children today are our leaders tomorrow, and if we ignore them, judge them, shun them, if we don’t provide them resources…we are just repeating the same mistakes others have. We need these kids…I need these kids.”

Denise feeds children, puts clothes on their backs, takes them out with her, gives them rides if they need them, and gets them out of bad situations if she’s able.

“I’ve had children that came to me, abused. I would make sure they were okay, they’d come and talk to me, tell me their stories. And we need to listen to those stories,” Denise said, “we need to listen and learn because none of us are any better than those kids are.”

“I’m not here for the politics,” said Denise, “I’m not here for anybody but these kids. I’ve made enemies because I’ve stuck to what I believe in for these kids. I’ve gone to bat for these kids.”

It’s been 7 or 8 years since Hindman took over the Youth Center, and she was about to hang it all up…until she gave a boy a ride home.

The two sat in her car, talking, and afterward, he thanked Denise, telling her was planning to take his own life that night, had he not had that talk with her.

And she cried the entire way home.

“I told my husband that God was right the whole time,” She said, “that this is why I’m here. This is what I’m here for. These kids, we have kids that don’t fit in. They come here and they fit in, they find friends, they find me, they have a family here- a community here.”

It’s been surreal for her, being a constant in the ebb and flow of time that seems especially prevalent in a small community like Blackwell.

“You go from generation to generation,” Denise says taking a long look around the empty building where, on a Friday or Saturday night, over 80 of Blackwell’s kids come to have fun.

“The kids I had before, they’re gone. And in their place, I get their kids, and that’s always so heartwarming. They loved me, and they tell me how much their kids, now, love me.”

Safety, as she mentioned, is a huge priority for her and by extension for the children that come to the Youth Center.

“I don’t allow drugs, vaping, swearing. I’ve had to chase kids off. They’ll yell at me, and swear at me, but I don’t hold grudges, I don’t get mad at them. I let them back here. I welcome them back.”

She said:

“One lady told me ‘you always feel sorry for everyone, Denise, you always try to help everyone’. I said, aren’t we supposed to?”

Hindman moved here when she was young, she said, and she too has some memories of the Youth Center.

“I got drunk here,” she laughed, “I’ll never forget that. A girl was making tequila sunrises in that bathroom. Of course, I wanted to be cool, I wanted to fit in, and I was the new girl. So I got so drunk… and I got caught by Nita Carroll.”

Carroll was a pillar of the community and dedicated many years of her life to the youth, animals, and people of Blackwell. She is immortalized with a park bench just outside the Youth Center entrance which was dedicated in her honor in January 2020.

But Carroll isn’t the only Blackwell legacy that lives on through Hindman.

The late Lesa Ward, a counselor, principal, and superintendent of Blackwell schools (whom the Board of Education building is named after) took a chance on Hindman, hiring her into the Blackwell Public School system.

“She said she wanted to take a chance on me as the In School Suspension teacher. She taught me how to use what I had. I fell in love with those kids, just as she did.”

The Blackwell Youth Center does an Arts & Crafts camp in the summer, dances for various seasonal occasions, science programs, parties, and karaoke nights, and provides community service opportunities for kids who want it.

On Fridays until 10 p.m., the Youth Center is open for “hangouts” where kids can come and be themselves, playing videogames inside, hanging out in the kitchen area, or playing ball outside.

During hangouts, there are no individuals over 18 allowed.

Hindman is currently planning on doing a program to provide resources and information for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, and for children who want information on getting out of their current situation or preparing for education.

The Youth Center is funded through Jim Rodgers’ foundation, and Hindman encourages anyone wishing to donate to the Youth Center to reach out through Rodgers’ law firm and the Community Foundation at (580) 363-3684.

If people want to donate, Hindman said, she’s always in need of new TVs.

“This is a place to make memories,” she said, “children come here, have fun, and make memories. And years later they come back to tell me what an impact it had on them.”

The Blackwell Youth Center is run by school-aged children who either volunteer or are paid by Hindman. They help her with the concession stand, and the dances, keeping a look out for the guests.

Hindman only allows adult volunteers if they are properly vetted with background checks.

“I would love volunteers, especially on the nights we have dances,” she said.