A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

UK, Kentucky State partner to help at-risk youth with life skills training, workforce preparation


By Katie Pratt
University of Kentucky

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 unstably housed 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 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

UK and Kentucky State University specialists will provide life skills education to some of Lexington’s and Elizabethtown’s most vulnerable youth. (Photo by Aaron Burden, Unsplash)

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 and unstably housed youth and young adults 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 percent 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.

Katie Pratt writes for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment


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