Creating Second Chances

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Kristen Mitchell, a senior at Weber State University who is majoring in social work, believes that all youth deserve a safe haven, an advocate and the opportunity to succeed. Through her nonprofit organization, Youth Futures, resources and guidance will be provided for homeless and runaway adolescents in Utah.

For Mitchell, Youth Futures has been a project six years in the making. Her own difficult childhood and experiences as a single mother have made her passionate about helping young people and given her an understanding of adolescents from both the parent and youth’s perspectives. In 2011, Mitchell started a support hotline for LGBTQ adolescents who were struggling with their families, but quickly discovered that she lacked the ability to actually improve their situations. “I had no resources to give them because I knew there were no youth shelters,” she said. “That was extremely frustrating.”

This experience ignited Mitchell’s desire to create a youth shelter, so she returned to school after a 20-year absence in order to gain the credentials to support and achieve her goal. She was then inspired by assistant social work professor Barrett Bonella, whose classes on social policy and community organization further motivated her to move forward with her Youth Futures project.

Mitchell recognizes Weber State as a community institution, where professors and students support each other. Through the collaboration of her Macro Social Work class, taught by Bonella, her vision became a reality.

“Almost the entire class mobilized to raise awareness, funds and in-kind donations for my nonprofit,” Mitchell said. “This has been one of the most important events that made this project possible.”

The students were organized into groups responsible for promoting the organization, collecting donations and obtaining help from outside resources. They received recognition from local news outlets and, according to Bonella, raised more than $250,000 in just one semester.

Bonella and Mitchell recently presented on Youth Futures at a Utah Campus Compact retreat in St. George, Utah. “The whole time we presented I felt like I was beaming with pride. I still feel it whenever I think of her and her work,” Bonella said. “This has been her project from the beginning, and I’ve just been lucky to be her teacher.”

The rigorous social work program has prepared Mitchell for her future in the community engagement field. After graduating in spring 2015, she plans to take a year off to get the first Youth Futures shelter home, which will be located in Ogden, up and running. Once the Ogden home is successfully set up, she will look at surrounding areas and determine whether or not more shelters are needed throughout the state. She intends to pursue a master’s degree in social work and eventually a doctorate in public health and administration.

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