Matt Reed is the executive director of YMCA Safe Place Services, where he works with his staff and volunteers to help teens avoid life-changing crisis situations. YMCA Safe Place Services provides help to approximately 1,500 teens and families each year. As the organization celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, Reed reflects on the organization’s mission, accomplishments and upcoming events.
LORI KOMMOR: One of the most interesting things about YMCA Safe Place Services is that it’s a national organization that was founded right here in Louisville. What is Safe Place all about?
MATT REED: That’s correct. This year we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of our renowned Safe Place Outreach program. For decades now, YMCA Safe Place Services has been caring for and supporting our community’s growing homeless and high risk youth and young adults. Ultimately, we are in the business of reuniting these families. Our community should be proud of the impact we’ve had on our youth and families here locally, as well as across the country.
KOMMOR: When most people think of Safe Place, they think of the yellow diamond-shaped signs that are so prominent on buses, at hospitals and even in convenient stores. Tell us how it works and what other support programs are in place.
REED: We do indeed have a network of 286 stationary locations (plus all TARC buses) in Louisville and in Oldham and Bullitt counties where teens can ask for help and receive transportation to our campus at 2400 Crittenden Drive. Once there, youth meet with their primary case manager who, along with a support team, assess and stabilize the immediate situation, provide safety, meet their basic needs and begin work towards a possible family solution. We also have a Street Outreach team that support homeless and high risk youth and young adults, 16 to 22 years old, at the street level. They provide clothing, basic nutrition, materials and most importantly a chance to get off the street and get help.
Regardless of how youth reach us, our most comprehensive response to youth homelessness is our 24 hour emergency shelter called “Shelter House.” The first goal in Shelter House is to explore bringing this family back together successfully and permanently. Through mediation and case management, youth and families are offered an array of supportive services designed to rebuild their lives. Eighty-five percent of the time our youth and families are successfully reunified at the time of discharge.
KOMMOR: You also offer a program that specifically works with children with incarcerated parents?
REED: Yes. Studies have shown that children with incarcerated parents are seven times more likely to be incarcerated themselves. With our Y-NOW Mentoring program we are working to break that cycle.
Y-NOW has successfully matched volunteer adult mentors with these teens to support them in their goals and decrease violence, truancy and court involvement. Goals in the areas of improving academic performance, building stronger family relationships and improved communication are central to Y-NOW as well.
KOMMOR: Because this is a big anniversary year, what do you have planned to mark the occasion?
REED: We have several things planned, including an exciting running event with a nationally-recognized cross country runner, who literally crossed the country on foot to raise awareness towards youth homelessness. On Saturday, March 16, Jordan Connell will share his experience and lead runners of varying experience starting at Fleet Feet Sports, 2239 Taylorsville Road. Connell’s talk begins at 7:30 a.m. and the run will begin at 8 a.m.
Jordan will also be our keynote speaker at our annual Together4Teens Breakfast on Tuesday, March 19 at the Mellwood Arts Center. He’ll share stories about his personal experiences, including his journey across the U.S. and his passion for helping homeless teens.
KOMMOR: How can people learn more or get involved with YMCA Safe Place Services?
REED: If interested in attending one of the upcoming events with Jordan or if you’d like to simply learn more about Safe Place at our monthly community luncheons, we’d love to have you and invite you to join us! Please call 502.635.5233 for additional information and to make reservations to attend.