Disconnected youth in Louisville, KY numbers rise with COVID-19

Youth disconnection rates have risen for the first time since 2010, in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Three years ago, Jefferson County had a $15 billion problem: About 17,000 young people in the city were out of school or work — essentially “disconnected.” 

A 2019 multipart Courier Journal investigation revealed Louisville officials had no coordinated plan for supporting these young people, known as “disconnected youth,” though advocates prefer “opportunity youth.”

Since that 2019 series published, there have been massive changes in Louisville to reconnect these young people, ages 16 to 24, with opportunities.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted these efforts, causing many assistance agencies to either temporarily shut down or move to a virtual option. 

Before the pandemic, the U.S. youth disconnection rate was 10.6%. Now, it’s back up to 12.6% according to the Measure of America 2022 report, which was based on data from 2020. Louisville’s youth disconnection rate is higher than the average, at 13.4%.

The number of disconnected youth in the city has swelled from 16,800 in the 2019 report to 19,700 in the 2022 report.

Measure of America researcher Alex Powers believes the Louisville youth disconnection rate is even higher, though.

More:Homeless but full of hope: One Louisville youth’s ‘fight to be connected’

“We strongly believe that this number is the bare minimum,” he said. “We know that the Census undercounts populations that are more likely to be disconnected.”

Powers said COVID-19 impacted this increase in youth disconnection, both nationally and in Louisville. 

“COVID stressed a lot of people out and caused them to drop out of the educational pipeline. We want to emphasize that special efforts should be made to bring these people back in.”

Krysten Erb is one of those people. She ended up leaving high school after being in and out of the hospital for four months, with non-COVID related medical issues.

But now, she is again taking classes for the first time since 2019. While Erb does have a job, she is determined to get her GED and then continue her education to become an ultrasound technician. She had a baby girl, Lina, six months ago and said she wants to give her daughter the best in life.

“I want her to be able to look at me and be proud of the things I’ve done,” she said.

With the resources at Jefferson Adult Education, an adult education and ESL program through JCPS, she said, “they make it impossible for you to have an excuse not to show up.”

The mission of Jefferson Adult Education, and other organizations like it, is to bring young people into education and the workforce.

Now, many organizations are reopening their doors, launching new programs and working to expand their services to combat Louisville’s youth disconnection.

More:He lost family and sunk into addiction. This Louisville spot helped him get his life back

Here’s a rundown: 

The Excel Center

6201 Preston Highway

812-283-7908

Goodwill Industries of Kentucky is opening up the state’s first Excel Center this fall.

These centers, which are located around the country, allow students older than 18 to earn their high school diploma tuition free.

This south Louisville campus was strategically placed to be close to a high concentration of people who could use the services.

“Just in a five-mile radius (of the campus) there are 19,000 people without a high school diploma,” said Marsha Berry, the Excel Center director. 

Beyond earning a high school diploma, Berry said she wants students to think about a career path. The Excel Center will provide life coaches to discuss career options, then help students find additional credentials to earn before they graduate, like certificates and dual credit from colleges.

The center also will provide free bus tickets to get to the campus, child care services, legal aid including expungement assistance, and other barrier-reduction resources.

For the inaugural year, the center can accept up to 350 students. Registration is currently open online. 

More:Louisville teens see competitive summer jobs boom due to tight labor market

Jefferson Adult Education

546 S. First St.

502-485-3400

During the pandemic, Jefferson Adult Education had to pivot, like many educational institutions, to offer services online, program manager Ashley Janicki said.

While the school is offering in-person resources again, they have not gotten rid of their online options. Students can choose to learn in a virtual, self-paced model instead of coming to classes physically. They can also register online at any time, rather than being required to go in person. This means that Jefferson Adult Education can serve any person in the state of Kentucky, not just people within walking or driving distance to the school.

Jefferson Adult Education offers GED courses, ESL courses and continued education courses. In addition, they have child care services, including parenting classes, as well as behavioral health services and other barrier-reduction assistance.

More:She grew up in the ‘choice zone.’ Now, she leads JCPS’ push to better serve West End kids

The Spot

800 W. Chestnut St.

502-574-4115

The Spot is a youth opportunity campus led by Goodwill and Kentuckiana Works. It offers several services, including assisting disconnected youth with education, employment, housing and more.

The Spot was formerly known as the Kentucky Youth Career Center. It has expanded and is now located on the Jefferson County Technical College Campus.

“We wanted something bigger, but we also wanted something that connected to higher ed,” said Michael Gritton, the executive director of Kentuckiana Works.

The Spot offers several tracks for individuals to take depending on their education and career goals. When new clients arrive, they will fill out a survey about a range of topics, like housing, finances, health care, substance issues, education and more. From there,  the person’s needs will be assessed and they will be matched with the best resources for them.

CSYA’s Community Hubs

California – 1600 St. Catherine St.

Southwick – 3621 Southern Ave.

502-365-2570

On May 16, the Coalition Supporting Young Adults launched its first two community hubs. These are physical touchpoints for disconnected youth in Louisville to discover resources.

“There’s too much good work happening — too many hidden gems, diamonds in the rough — that are unknown,” said Darryl Young Jr., the executive director of CSYA. “These young people need these resources, these resources need these young people — let’s make that connection.”

In the two weeks since launching, Young said the organization has already helped 40 young people in the community.

Beyond connecting students with resources and next steps, Young and Richard Weaver, the education re-engagement coordinator, said they hope to instill a sense of hope and community in the young people who use the hubs.

Weaver, now a professor at the University of Louisville, has a GED. He hopes to break down the stigma of having one and show students that it is not a marker of intelligence. 

“There are a lot of us in this community that have GEDs,” Weaver said. “Some of them went to jail. They came out and still got master’s degrees and doctorates.”

Rather than providing a specific set of services in the community hubs, the goal of the space is to be able to connect young people with whatever resources they may need, whether it’s determining how many credits a student has left to graduate, helping someone overcome food insecurity, teaching someone to balance a checkbook or understanding their legal rights.

More:Are more JCPS teachers leaving classrooms? What the numbers show (hint: it’s not great)

YouthBuild

800 W. Chestnut St.

502-290-6121

YouthBuild is a community resource center that has a number of programs to assist young adults from education, vocational training, community service, case management and more.

The organization also has the only GED testing site in Louisville. 

Lynn Rippy, the CEO of YouthBuild, said they are working to expand their testing site and possibly adding Sunday hours because of high demand.

In addition, YouthBuild has placed 1,700 young people in summer jobs through a program called SummerWorks. 

YouthBuild has several services, including volunteer opportunities with AmeriCorps, environmental and conservation education, nursing education, construction education, GED classes, online high school diploma opportunities, case management and more.

The Urban League

1535 W. Broadway

502-585-4622

Through the pandemic, the staff of the Louisville Urban League nearly doubled in size.

While the Urban League workers have adopted a hybrid format for the last year, they are back to offering all of their in-person services, plus a few new ones.

Recently, the Urban League developed a tutoring program for disconnected youth. They are paying thousands of dollars a year for students to be able to access the Kumon Math and Reading Center resources at no cost. Furthermore, they plan to offer incentives to both parents and students to get these students to the tutoring center.

Beyond tutoring, chief data and compliance officer Chabela Sanchez said the main issue the Urban League is assisting with right now is housing.

“The housing crisis is big in the city and it is affecting people of all ages,” she said.

More:‘No other choice’: How Louisville renters get stuck in housing that breaks city law

The five main sectors that the Urban League focuses on are jobs, justice, education, health and housing.

The Book Works

1300 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd.

502-354-3667

In partnership with Coalition Supporting Young Adults and Jefferson County Public Schools, the Louisville non-profit is hosting a free conference to combat youth disconnection on July 26.

The event will begin at 8:30 a.m. and go until 5:30 p.m. The opening session will focus on systemic factors that contribute to youth disconnection and will be led by youth and young adult leaders.

After that, there will be breakout sessions for advocates and young people. They will set strength-based goals, learn to navigate systems and find educational options and support, according to a press release from The Book Works.

The last two sessions will be a closing session followed by one of CSYA’s “un-pause” events. The goal of this last collaborative event is to encourage students to finish out, or “un-pause” the education they had once started, and give students resources to do so.

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