PIKEVILLE, Ky. – Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, William J. Brennan Jr., once said, “We must meet the challenge rather than wish it were not before us.” University of Pikeville social work students did just that. Stepping up to a challenge that was close to their hearts, students developed a campaign to raise awareness for homeless youth in Eastern Kentucky.
As part of the senior social welfare policy course, students utilized the power of social media to raise awareness by creating a video and developing a Facebook campaign, “Hearts of the Homeless,” to encourage the community to get involved.
“Statistics indicate in five Eastern Kentucky counties, one in five students are considered homeless by their school districts,” said Ashton Bartley, coordinator of social work field education and visiting instructor of social work at UPIKE. “There are more than 500 homeless students in Pike County alone.”
The social work students diversified their efforts by writing letters to local and state officials and collecting more than 700 signatures on petitions to request increased funding for programs serving homeless youth in Eastern Kentucky, including the WestCare Emergency Homeless Shelter and the Pike County Schools Homeless Program.
“Social workers have a professional responsibility to advocate for the most vulnerable members of our society,” said Bartley.
The most impactful aspect of the campaign was possibly the one-on-one conversations students had with community members as they set up information tables outside area businesses.
“Across the board, the reaction I got the most was disbelief,” said Nikki Liesegang, a senior from Estill County. “Everyone assumes homelessness is more of an urban problem. It’s hard for people to accept that there are tens of thousands of kids in Kentucky who are considered homeless and it’s an even harder pill to swallow that a lot of these kids are from Eastern Kentucky’s small towns.”
Students had the opportunity to share statistics and research on trending social problems in the region and discuss their plans to establish a community intervention to resolve youth homelessness through awareness, education and involvement between students and the community.
“We discussed with people in the community about how in Kentucky youth homelessness is difficult to visibly experience, not only because of the geographical challenges but also because homeless youth do not experience homelessness in the traditional contexts most people conceptualize homelessness to be,” said Natasha Stanley, a junior from Pikeville.
Students also organized a raffle and a donation drive to provide support for the cause.
“We would like to encourage the community to help those in need by making a donation to the shelter or United Helping Hands this holiday season,” said Bartley. “Even a small contribution can help make a difference.”
“I hope that students will build upon the knowledge and skills gained from this experience to become agents of change and social justice in their future social work careers,” said Bartley.
For more information, contact Bartley or visit the “Hearts of the Homeless” Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HeartsHomelessKY/.