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University of Kentucky Collaboration Empowers Louisville's Homeless Youth

Posted by Kelly Flynn, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Initiatives
Aug 31, 2015
Homeless teenage girl on street with rucksack
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment researchers are helping homeless youth in Louisville, KY using a NIFA Children, Youth, and Families at Risk (CYFAR) Sustainable Community Projects grant. Photo credit: iStock

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that every year more than 1.7 million teens experience homelessness in the United States.  According to the Coalition for the Homeless, Louisville, Kentucky, had 555 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 stay in homeless shelters over the past year. When those young adults were surveyed about who they turned to for help in reaching their goals or fulfilling their basic needs, an alarming number replied:

“No one.”

Researchers from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment (UKag) are helping this underserved population with the help of a five-year, $660,000 Children, Youth, and Families at Risk (CYFAR) Sustainable Community Projects grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

UKAg has partnered with Kentucky State University (KSU) Extension and two YMCA centers in the Louisville area to carry out the project. This partnership began when Louisville YMCA’s Safe Place Services contacted the Jefferson County Extension office, interested in their evidence-based life skills programming.

“We have always wanted to work with the homeless, but in order to work with them you need infrastructure that Cooperative Extension doesn’t have,” said Janet Kurzynske, UK Extension professor in dietetics and human nutrition and the project’s lead investigator. “When you are working with homeless youth, you have to provide shelter. That’s what the YMCA has. So it made for a really good collaboration.”

The primary goal of this program is to teach important life skills such as workforce preparation, communication, and healthy living. One way this program will achieve that goal is through a community garden.

“The garden is on YMCA Shelter House property and will be used to supply fresh food to the shelter and give them an opportunity to build hands-on skills,” said Kurzynske.

Researchers will collect data throughout the program to determine its effectiveness, providing records for CYFAR’s Common Measures for workforce preparation, a national program measuring young people’s ability to effectively solve problems and make decisions.

NIFA’s CYFAR program helps improve the quality and quantity of comprehensive community-based programs for at-risk children, youth, and families supported by the Cooperative Extension System. CYFAR marshals resources of the Land-Grant University and Cooperative Extension Systems to develop and deliver educational programs that equip limited resource families and youth who are at-risk for not meeting basic human needs with the skills they need to lead positive, productive, contributing lives.

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.

Category/Topic: Initiatives