In 2012, I was working at the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP) and was freelancing for the Ashland Daily Independent. I mostly covered the occasional high school sporting event (my very first job was as a sportswriter), but I asked then-Editor Mark Maynard, now the managing editor for Kentucky Today, if I could pursue a series I called “In Their Shoes.”
In this series, I wanted to walk in the shoes of others. The project was intended to share the stories of people dealing with some of society’s most-pressing issues. In this series, I tackled homelessness, addiction and recovery, obesity, autism, and hunger.
Yesterday, a little more than seven years after I visited Ashland’s Community Kitchen as a freelance writer, I returned, alongside SOAR Executive Director Jared Arnett, to learn more about The Neighborhood.
Todd Young is the Executive Director of The Neighborhood, a community of non-profits working autonomously under one roof in an old dairy production and warehousing facility on Carter Avenue in downtown Ashland. Young coordinates a collaborative approach of nine non-profits meeting various needs from hunger, hygiene, social services, education, clothing, shelter, and many other basic needs.
What makes The Neighborhood unique is Young. He’s a straight shooter. As he walks the halls of his facility he’s back-slapping and shaking hands. The clients of The Neighborhood are not looked at as “them.” They are us.
Young’s approach is one of a father figure, a friend, a mentor, or, an enforcer. Yes, enforcer. You see, Young firmly believes, as he says, “The higher you raise the standards, the higher those you help will rise.”
The Neighborhood is not a place for assistance. It is a place of betterment and development. Those utilizing services have access to GED training through Ashland Community and Technical College and Skills U. They can participate in day labor programs, where those who meet eligibility criteria can work as day laborers as needed. They can participate in training in entrepreneurship, 3D printing, and other opportunities.
Young’s favorite word? Accountability.
It all begins when Young’s team begins the intake process at The Neighborhood. All services are bar-coded and tracked. The intake is not cookie cutter. Matter of fact, every single one is different. As Young says, “Everyone has a different story, and everyone has different goals and desired destination. It’s just as important for us to listen and to provide input along the way.”
Young and his team aren’t talking the issues of generational poverty in a conventional way. Why? Young sums it up as this: “We look at it less like charity, and more like parity. You sit down as equals and discuss both the problems and the underlying problems.”
What Young and his team are doing is treating poverty holistically not just the symptoms of poverty.
I think we can all learn a lot from this.
Check out a feature article on The Neighborhood published this week by the Ashland Daily Independent.