Connected Commonwealth: Programs for Kentucky Youth Aging Out

Photo Credit: Foster Youth In Action

In May 2016, Anna Shobe-Wallace, program manager for Louisville Metro Community Services said, “Each year, more than 500 young people between the ages of 18-21 age out of Kentucky’s foster care system.” Many youth ‘aging out’ are disconnected from larger society and face barriers to success such as: low socioeconomic status, low educational achievement, unplanned pregnancy, racial segregation, and mental and physical challenges.

A recent study assessed the plight of disconnected youth who are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24, and these youths are neither employed, enrolled in or attending school. The study focused on disconnected youth in the following categories: by state, county, congressional district, gender, and by race and ethnicity. Currently, there is approximately 5,527,000 disconnected youth in the United States or 13.8% of young adults.

According to data from the study:

  • Kentucky ranks 36th in youth disconnection rates with 15.2% of youth in this group for a total of 81,850.
  • Cincinnati, OH–KY–IN ranks 44th in youth disconnection among the most densely inhabited areas. The percentage of disconnected youth in this area is 12.8% or 38,312 total. The racial breakdown for this group is 20.6% Black and 11.8% White.
  • Louisville/Jefferson County, KY–IN ranks 56th in youth disconnection. The percentage of disconnected youth in this area is 14.0% with a total of 21,750 disconnected youth. The racial breakdown for this group is 18.5% Black and 13.3% White. This Kentucky county has the lowest percentage of disconnected youth.
  • Kentucky counties with the largest percentage of disconnected youth are as follows: Martin County, Kentucky ranks 2,020th with 47.8% disconnected youth; Union County, Kentucky ranks 2012 with 43.7% disconnected youth; Bracken County, Kentucky ranks 1,998th with 41.4% disconnected youth; Lee County, Kentucky ranks 1,994th with 40.9% disconnected youth; McCreary County, Kentucky ranks 1,992nd with 40.4% disconnected youth; Morgan County, Kentucky ranks 1,985th with 38.7% disconnected youth; and Wolfe County, Kentucky ranks 1,972nd with 37.5% disconnected youth

Researchers from this study concluded that larger urban communities had increased numbers of disconnected youth due to the following indicators: a historical pattern of disconnection, decreased neighborhood well-being rates, low SES, increased unemployment, a lack of academic achievement, and racism.

These alarming statistics clearly indicated systemic issues that impact disconnected youth. Experts from this study proposed that, “Disconnection is not a spontaneously occurring phenomenon; it is an outcome year in the making.” With this thought in mind, the study recommended these steps moving forward:

  • An estimated $26.8 billion dollars was involved with supporting the nation’s 5.5 million disconnected youth— comprising Supplemental Security Income payments, Medicaid, public assistance, incarceration, in 2013. Proposing more beneficial ways to invest in this population would be advantageous to society as a whole.
  • Designing preventive measures to address disconnection by sustaining at-risk parents and investing in quality preschool programs. It is usually more cost effective and compassionate to implement prevention strategies than crisis responses.
  • Re-joining youth and young adults who are secluded from higher education and the job market is more expensive than pre-emptive methods that address disconnection at the outset. However, these young people need another opportunity—considering many came from challenging backgrounds.
  • At the community level, an evident positive correlation was seen between adult employment status and youth’s relationship to education and employment. The amount of education adults had greatly projected the likelihood of young people ages 16 to 24 years old to attend school.
  • Significant headway involves individuals and organizations cooperating to institute specific measurable attainable realistic timely (SMART) goals for decreasing youth disconnection.

Amy Swann, author of “Failure to Launch”, notes that for 2013, the study data indicates that the Louisville Metropolitan Area (which consists of bordering counties) has 14.0 percent of youth ages 16-24 disengaged from employment and education. The study’s emphasis on cities resulted in reporting by Louisville news outlets at the Courier-Journal and WFPL. Media exposure of the status of disconnected youth in Kentuckiana has led to remarkable new efforts that focus on this population.

In light of this compelling evidence: social workers, legislators, and other helping professionals in the state of Kentucky have amassed their efforts to cultivate community partnerships and programs to support disconnected youth on their journey into emerging adulthood.

According to their website, here is a description of each program, and how it addresses the needs of disconnected youth and youth ‘aging out’.

Family Scholar House plans to open its fifth Louisville campus at the Riverport Landings development in southwest Jefferson County. The project goal is to equip families and youth to excel in education and to obtain independence. The new facility is expected to be ready by 2017 and will accommodate low-income families, single-parent families, and young adults formerly in foster care.

Fostering Success is a summer employment program developed by Gov. Matt Bevin that began June 1, 2016. The program provides job training via the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services for youth ages 18 to 23 years old. The program will run for 10 weeks and culminate with meetings with college and career counselors to prepare participants for future education and employment goals. Approximately 100 youth will be employed full-time at a rate of $10.00 dollars per hour. Fostering Success is one of the seminal programs in the state to target youth aging out.

Project LIFE serves 60 kids across Kentucky, including 25 in Louisville and offers an empowering environment to prepare them for success. Youth are given a housing voucher, along with social supports to improve access to education, employment, and income management skills.

Coalition Supporting Young Adults (CYSA) is an initiative created to address the barriers faced by Louisville’s disconnected young people. The mission is to develop: a standard agenda that meets the needs of Louisville’s vulnerable youth and young adults; common measurement tools that define collective goals and strategies; mutually supportive activities that create new partnerships and execute thoughtful programs; effective communication that creates a viable structure; foundational support that stimulates growth, responsibility, and dependability.

Transition Age Youth Launching Realized Dreams (TAYLRD) is an effort to create a unique program for young people born out of the federal government’s proposal called “Now is the Time” Healthy Transitions Grant Program. The Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) in Kentucky requested and received funding and Seven Counties was chosen as a venue to open drop-in centers where young people can foster relationships and access support /services to achieve their future goals. Youth Peer Support Specialists (YPSS) and Youth Coordinators work together with clients to define what concerns are most important, and then appropriate services/supports are brought into the drop-in centers. Some of the supports/services offered include: case management, life skills development, employment services, academic support, legal support, and therapy.

True Up founded by foster care alum Frank Harshaw, is a nurturing group of foster care alumni who have overcome obstacles to employment, pursuing education, gaining independence and solidifying healthy relationships. They have chosen to pay it forward through mentorship. True Up empowers foster youth through academic and hands-on learning in the following areas: Mobility & Transportation, Career Mapping, Financial Management, Relationship Building Skills, and Educational Achievement.

These are just a few of the innovative programs and resources available in the state of Kentucky. As helping professionals and the broader community create data driven programs for disconnected youth and youth aging out, expected outcomes will be much more positive in the near future.

Answering the Call: 5 Social Initiatives Helping to Fight Poverty in Kentucky

By Gabe Duverge


The poverty rate in the United States is 14.8 percent, based on the latest data from the Census Bureau. Almost 47 million Americans have an annual household income that falls below the poverty line, which is about $24,000 for a family of four. The statistics are even higher in Kentucky.

At 18.8 percent, the poverty rate in Kentucky is the fifth highest in the country. The percentages rise dramatically among women, children and minorities.

  • 26 percent of children live in poverty (10th in the nation).
  • 7 percent of working-age women live in poverty (second in the nation).
  • 7 percent of Asian-Americans live in poverty.
  • 3 percent of African-Americans live in poverty.
  • 1 percent of Latinos live in poverty.

Clearly, Kentucky struggles with poverty. That’s why many social initiatives are answering the call to address this complex problem.

Major Issues Affecting the Poor


According to Feeding America, one of every six Kentuckians faces food insecurity, which is defined as a “lack of access at times to enough food for an active, healthy life” and a “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” The household food insecurity rate is 17.2 percent, and the child food insecurity rate is 22.4 percent.


A count by the Kentucky Interagency Council on Homelessness shows that 5,245 Kentuckians are homeless. The actual number of homeless Kentuckians is almost certainly larger, as the data only includes those in shelters and known areas. Homelessness disproportionately affects veterans, people with chronic or mental illnesses, individuals struggling with substance abuse and addiction, and victims of domestic violence.


Violence against the poor is a reality. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, people living in poverty had more than double the rate of violent victimization, such as sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault, than people in high-income households. This is just one example of the correlation between poverty and crime.


The high number of children living in poverty has a broad impact on education. Kentucky Youth Advocates believes that the statewide educational level of children will not improve at a “sufficient pace” until poverty is addressed. Children affected by poverty are less likely to succeed in school, and they are less likely to pursue a college degree.

Five Social Initiatives Fighting Poverty

Governmental offices, nonprofit groups and charities are all working to help solve the poverty problem in Kentucky. They use a variety of strategies and focus on different aspects of this large issue. The following five initiatives are well-respected and supported by both citizens and the government.

  1. Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC)

Throughout his second term, President Obama has designated several “promise zones,” which receive federal funds to fight poverty and improve the overall quality of life. Southeastern Kentucky is home to the only rural promise zone, a partnership of eight counties.

KHIC is the lead entity of the promise zone and is using both public and private partnerships to target development in the region. Some priorities include building affordable high-speed Internet, improving drug and alcohol rehabilitation services and bolstering economic development. The group has a 10-year strategic plan to guide its major efforts in the region.

  1. Sharing Our Appalachian Region (SOAR)

SOAR works to improve the quality of life throughout Appalachian Kentucky. The initiative works with a wide variety of public and private entities to identify opportunities for agriculture development, increasing tourism and improving the well-being of the people in eastern Kentucky. SOAR is an initiative begun in 2013 by the state government and works as a collection of individuals committed to creating change in 10 areas of focus (e.g., business recruitment, education and retraining, health, infrastructure). Members of the SOAR Advisory Council are leaders in their fields and have significant experience working in eastern Kentucky.

SOAR focuses on creating “tangible change” through the awarding of grant money, including $33.2 million in 2015. SOAR also reaches out to state universities to inspire students to help find new solutions that can help move the region forward. Although still young, SOAR is certainly fostering real change in the region.

  1. Kentucky Interagency Council on Homelessness (KICH)

In the fight to end homelessness in the Bluegrass, KICH leads the way. The group’s mission is to coordinate the many organizations working with the homeless and develop a larger strategy across the state. Started in 2002 by the Kentucky Housing Corporation, KICH has grown to represent 20 agencies, nonprofits and advocacy groups working to help the homeless.

KICH focuses mostly on interagency collaboration. This is especially true in systematic efforts to improve delivery of services. For example, KICH helps groups organize their efforts in the winter as the cold has a substantial impact on the homeless. The group also serves as a representative when policy is developed in Frankfort.

  1. Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA)

Kentucky Youth Advocates believes that “all children deserve to be safe, healthy and secure.” KYA works to help reduce the number of children living in poverty, mostly through working alongside legislators to improve policy.

In the realm of poverty, KYA is seeking to create a state earned income tax credit (EITC) that would assist working families in making ends meet. KYA also offers assistance to families, including coordinating health and safety services across the state, and works to improve education standards, especially in high-poverty areas.

  1. Kentucky Association of Food Banks (KAFB)

KAFB is one of the leading nonprofits organizing food banks across the state’s 120 counties. The group partners with seven member food banks to ensure that citizens always have an option to find the food they need. With a network of more than 1,000 food pantries distributing 60.5 million pounds of food annually, the group estimates it reaches one in seven Kentuckians each year.

KAFB offers the Farms to Food Banks program that helps farmers sell excess produce to stock pantries. The No Kid Hungry campaign works to end childhood hunger through increasing access to federal nutrition programs among Kentucky’s children. KAFB also orchestrates food distribution in times of emergency and helps fill the gaps when disaster strikes a region of the state.

Continuing the Fight to End Poverty in Kentucky

Social workers often play a key role in initiatives that benefit the poor. An education in social work provides the skills and knowledge needed for a successful and rewarding career in the profession. Campbellsville University offers an online Bachelor of Social Work degree that is both affordable and convenient. Courses are taught by instructors with years of experience making a difference. Learn more about answering your call to serve others today.

Child of Adversity, Social Work Student, and Wilma Rudolph Recipient: Interview with Josh Nadzam

Luis Orta (Left) and Josh Nadzam (Right)
Luis Orta (Left) and Josh Nadzam (Right)

Recently, I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Josh Nadzam who is an award winning track star and social work student at the University of Kentucky, but it was Josh’s community service awards and his work with Soles for Souls that led to the latest article about him in the university’s school newspaper. Josh was very candid about the suffering and tragedies he has endured in order to escape his circumstances.

However, Josh credits his mother, extended family, and coaches for the support he needed to believe in himself. Most importantly, the University of Kentucky give him something every other Division 1 school denied him….A chance and the opportunity to prove himself.

We live in a day in age where people who have never lived in poverty feel quite comfortable telling someone who is poor to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  For those who don’t escape poverty, do not fail to do so simply because they lack will. The lack of access and opportunities along with doors constantly being closed in their face over and over again are barriers often too high to overcome.

SWH: Tell me about your background, and what led you to social work as a major?

Josh: I grew up in Monaca, Pennsylvania, a small blue-collar town of about 6,000 people.  I was born into a dysfunctional, broken family plagued with alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty, and other issues.  After my parents split and divorced during my childhood, my mother raised me as a single-mother in the projects.  My father lived nearby and bobbed in and out of my life. When he was involved, it was highly detrimental.

When I was five years old, his heavy alcoholism culminated in a fall where he struck his head and had to be life-flighted to a nearby hospital.  The fall resulted into a coma where he underwent emergency brain surgery which left him with permanent partial paralysis of his left side.  Despite this traumatic event, he eventually returned to alcohol and throughout my childhood he attempted suicide three separate times.

My mother fought valiantly to raise me by herself, working many different jobs, and selflessly putting my needs ahead of hers at all times.  Unfortunately, she battled schizophrenia which often left her hospitalized for months at a time. However, no one comes close to her portrayal of selflessness.

She is truly my hero.  She worked tirelessly, battling a mental illness and raising me as a single mother to ensure I had the best opportunities possible and that I was protected from the drugs and violence that pervaded our neighborhood. Anything I have accomplished is framed by her sacrifices that allowed me to pursue my dreams. I also had unconditional support from my maternal grandmother, aunt, uncle, and high school basketball coach that I could not have persevered without.

Fortunately for me, I excelled in both academics and sports. My senior year, I was a captain on the football team, basketball team, track team, and the only member of the cross country team (our school was very small!) Track ultimately looked to be my best opportunity to escape my situation.  My running times were decent, but unfortunately they did not warrant Division 1 recruiting.

However, I still believed that I had the potential to compete at the Division-1 level, so I recruited myself.  I sent emails out to many D-1 coaches and got rejected by all–except the University of Kentucky (UK).  The UK coach at the time said I might have a chance to walk-on, which was like saying I might have a chance to have a chance. A chance was all I needed. Without visiting the university or stepping foot in Kentucky, I applied, got accepted, and came to UK.

With a lot of hard work, persistence, and discipline, I continuously improved and eventually earned a full scholarship. My sophomore year, I took a social work class and immediately found my passion. I connected with the values and principles of the profession and came to love it. Soon, I realized I wanted a career in social work.  I discovered early on that I was not going to make a lot of money, but I could care less. I found a career that I was passionate about and genuinely happy to pursue.

SWH: You have received the distinguished Wilma Rudolph Award for track and field, but what drives you to do community service which has led to multiple service awards?

I’d say there are many different reasons why I am driven to do a lot of community service. I genuinely want to help people, and I enjoy the intrinsic value of community service.  As a broke college student, I can’t help people by donating money, but I can certainly make it a priority to donate my time.  Also, I love the idea of community and everyone pitching in to help each other.  At the end of the day, we’re all in this together, and everyone needs help once in awhile.  Finally, my mother taught me through her actions what it means to be more concerned with the needs of others rather than your own.

SWH: Also, your track and field team is doing something with Soles for Souls, could you tell us about that? 

Josh: Three years ago, a teammate (Luis Orta) and I started a shoe drive off of an epiphany.  Luis came to me after feeling guilty over discarding his worn out running shoes. As runners, we have to get new shoes every 400-500 miles or else we will be susceptible to injury.  While the shoes are no longer appropriate for intense training, they are still good for walking around in, especially for someone who has never owned a pair before.

So together we started the UK Track & Field Shoe Drive and collected 2,100 pairs in our first year.  Our second year we expanded it to the SEC, collected 2,900 pairs at UK and 13,000 pairs throughout the SEC.  With the help of Hiruni Wijayaratne and many other teammates, coaches, athletes, and community members, we are in the midst of our third year and it is looking bigger than ever!  Each year, we have partnered with Soles4Souls, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville that distributes shoes to over 125 different countries.

SWH: It appears you have found a way to incorporate doing community service with the track team, what would you say to other schools of social work or other teams to encourage them to utilize the service model the UK track team has successfully created?

Josh: I would highly encourage other teams to create community service projects and become invested in the community, especially for teams at large universities. As athletes, we are so blessed to receive the best clothing, training shoes, and equipment.  We are provided with such great opportunities and the very least we can do is give back to those who are less fortunate.  Also, the fans are so supportive of every community initiative we have led. I’ve learned that people are generally very eager to help out and give back. All it takes is a few people to lead the charge.

While everyone has the potential and ability to start a service model, those of  us in schools of social work need to be the leaders of these initiatives.  After all, our very profession is based on service and the welfare of others.  If we apply our education, skills and resources, we can create empowering service models that can change the world.  Just thinking about the potential we have as social workers fires me up!

SWH: What are your aspirations for both track and field as well as social work? Also, would you ever consider doing a public service announcement on social work and community service?

For track and field, I actually just finished up my last year of eligibility. I still run regularly and may compete unattached in the future, but for now I am just concentrating on finishing my master’s degree in social work.  For social work, my dream is to replicate Manchester Bidwell, a nonprofit organization that began in Pittsburgh.  This organization, founded by Bill Strickland, has a youth visual arts component that works to inspire at risk youth through the arts and ensure they graduate high school.

Manchester Bidwell also has an adult component in which unemployed, underemployed, and displaced workers enroll into a workforce development program and upon completion subsequently obtain employment in a prosperous occupation. The main theme of this center is that environment shapes people’s lives and each center is beautiful, filled with art, flowers, and sunlight. I have been chasing this dream relentlessly for the past year and it is really starting to come together. It is very exciting! If you are interested in checking out more about it, here is my website:

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