Campus News

UK and KSU Partner to Help Kentucky’s At-Risk Youth

A young boy sits beneath a tree with book in hand
Through a CYFAR grant, UK and KSU specialists will be able to provide life skills education to some of Lexington's and Elizabethtown's most vulnerable youth. Photo by: Aaron Burden.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 27, 2019) A partnership between Kentucky’s two land-grant universities will result in life skills training and workforce preparation for some of the state’s most vulnerable young people.

Through a project called Uplift: Empowering Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s Future, Cooperative Extension specialists at the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University will deliver educational programming to teenagers in Lexington and Elizabethtown. It is funded by a five-year, nearly $650,000 grant from the Children, Youth and Families at Risk program (CYFAR) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Kerri Ashurst and Kenneth Jones from the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and Allison Young with Kentucky State University will lead the project

The project expands on successful programs led by both universities. Through a previous CYFAR grant, UK led a now self-sustaining program that provides life skills education to homeless youth and young adults living in unstable situations in Louisville through a partnership with the YMCA in Louisville and KSU.

KSU also has a successful Strengthening Families program for parents whose children were in foster care in Lexington.

“Our goal is to combine our resources and expertise to bolster critical life skills for the entire family unit,” said Ashurst, UK senior extension specialist. “We want each young person to complete our program with a future plan for their life in place. This includes a path to help them stay on track to graduate high school and a way to work toward a future career of their choosing.”

According to 2017 Kids Count Data Center statistics, a number of Kentucky’s teenagers are considered at-risk in several categories. These categories include late or no high school graduation, unemployment, teen births and incarceration. Nearly three-fourths of Kentucky families have incomes at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. Kentucky also has the highest percentage in the nation of grandparents or other relatives who are raising children.

Through the project, extension specialists will address the immediate needs of the youth participants, including food and clothing. Once their basic needs are met, the team will then begin to teach life skills that include communication, leadership, decision-making, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, workforce preparation and community involvement.

Caregivers will receive encouragement and education related to raising young people to help them become self-sufficient. Team members will present these programs in unique ways based on available resources and community partnerships at each location.

“We want these youth and their caregivers to know that they matter. We are here to support them and to help these young people have a brighter future,” said Tyrone Atkinson, UK program coordinator.

The project co-directors will collect pre- and post-test data as well as qualitative and focus group data on resilience and life skills from participants to evaluate the program’s effectiveness. The program will be adjusted over time to ensure it is meeting the needs of the target audience. This will help to ensure the program is filling a need in the targeted communities, maximizing the program’s utility for sustainability after the five-year grant has ended.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.