Project 3rd: Finding role models in UK students


A resident of Arbor Youth Services, a local non-profit that provides shelter to unaccompanied minors, plays Candy Land during a game night on Nov. 26, 2018. The minor played with UK students that were a part of Project 3rd, which provides volunteers and resources to Arbor Youth. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

An organization founded by a UK student has transformed the way displaced youth are being assisted in Lexington.

Created by UK Senior Matt Custodero in the summer of 2017, Project 3rd at UK aims to assist Arbor Youth Services, a local non-profit that provides shelter to unaccompanied minors, by helping displaced youth while providing shelter at Arbor Youth’s emergency home on Third Street, along with other services.

“Project 3rd is a student organization that is affiliated with Arbor Youth Services,” Custodero said. “We provide volunteers and resources, like money from SGA, that is otherwise unavailable to Arbor Youth. It’s an RSO, a registered student organization, similar to the way the Red Shoe Crew helps the Ronald McDonald house.”

Other services provided by Project 3rd include outreach centers and supportive housing services, which aim to help youth from ages 18-24 find and maintain housing options once on their own.

According to their website, Arbor Youth Services is currently the only shelter emergency shelter for unaccompanied youth in Central Kentucky.

Custodero is the founder and president of Project 3rd. He seeks to look for young volunteers from UK who are able to help the youth they assist through Arbor Youth. He originally formed the organization after doing some volunteering within other organizations and realized there wasn’t anything like this on campus.

“I had the help from people who had also started organizations on campus,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to do. I think that’s a big takeaway, that anyone can it… and it’s definitely a benefit to the non-profit you’re helping.”

The shelter on Third Street houses up to 12 children at a time. The ages of the youth range from 0-18 years old.

“Because of the fluidity of the house itself, and any sort of shelter like this, one day you may have 12 kids in the house and the next day you may have zero,” Custodero said.

The children who come into the emergency home are often displaced by foster homes. However, Arbor Youth Services works with social workers to help shelter children who may be transitioning into a foster home that have experienced at-home violence, or have parents who struggle with addiction and may need to be temporarily sheltered.

Unaccompanied youth may stay for days, but can often stay for up to months at a time.

“A lot of time it is a family disturbance,” Custodero said. “Some kids say they’ll only be here for a few days, and I’ve seen others stay here for months and months. It really depends on the family situation.”

However, once those living in the house turn 18, they are no longer allowed to live in the recently renovated youth shelter due to Kentucky law. They, in turn, end up moving into run-down apartments in the area so they can attend places like BCTC and UK. That is when Arbor Youth Services steps in to help with their current living arrangements.

“Usually they can’t afford the new apartment because they’re still in school,” Custodero said. “…But they will live in this really, really awful apartments.”

Project 3rd is relatively new, and thus has reached out to various places for funding and other such needs. Just recently, UK’s Student Government Association gave the organization a $2,500 grant for a project they call “Rescue at Arbor.” The project aims to help pay the first few months of rent and help fix up these run-down apartments for those ages 18-24.

“SGA has been great,” Custodero said.

Additionally, various business and philanthropy classes at UK have aimed to assist the non-profit group, among others. The group generally earns money through fundraising efforts, but occasionally receives grants and other forms of assistance from places like UK.

“This gets students more involved in their community and aware of issues in that community,” said Alex Perdue, Vice President of Finance and Volunteer Coordination of Project 3rd.

Last fall semester, Economics 410: Economics of Altruism, Philanthropy, and Nonprofit Organizations, taught by Dr. Gail Hoyt, received a grant of $10,000 from alumni Chuck Sonsteby. The students were then put into groups and assigned a non-profit group in the area to research. They were expected to give a presentation on why their assigned non-profit deserved the $10,000. Arbor Youth Services received the grant. Perdue was part of the group that helped earn Arbor Youth it.

“I had already known about it before I got in the class, but I had people in my group who had never heard of this place,” Perdue said. “So it gives them the opportunity to volunteer places they wouldn’t have otherwise or learn about issues they wouldn’t otherwise be familiar with.”

In early December, Arbor Youth hosted a game night for those staying in the home. At this time, there were only four youths staying there. In attendance was sophomore Lindsay Tucker, who was also there through a class in the Honors College. They were also split up into teams and assigned to work with a non-profit in the area.

Custodero and members of Project 3rd seek to find young, college-aged volunteers to help places such as Arbor Youth.

“I was a volunteer here,” Custodero said. “I just realized that students can be a big part of basically just getting positive role models in the house.”