There were 684 unaccompanied children and youth experiencing homelessness in the state of Pennsylvania in 2018, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Charita Kunta, a sophomore neuroscience major, created Youth Education and Maternal Support Association alongside Natasha Narayanan last semester to help combat statistics like these. The association focuses on providing support to youth and mothers in Philadelphia through donation drives and informational programs.
YEMSA partners with organizations like the Achieving Independence Center, a nonprofit that provides shelter for vulnerable youth, and Mary’s Shelter, a social service agency in Reading, Pennsylvania, that addresses pregnancy, parenting and youth issues in the community.
The association’s first fundraiser is a baby bottle campaign on Main Campus in partnership with Mary’s Shelter that runs until Feb. 20. The campaign is a part of their goal to collect donations and provide maternal care, like diapers and clothes, for mothers and babies in need of resources, Kunta said.
The money raised in the campaign will be used in various ways to support the shelter’s residents, said Claire Farrar, communications and events specialist at Mary’s Shelter and a 2005 communications and theater alumna.
Farrar said having college students involved in supporting issues like youth homelessness is important because it can also affect college-aged people.
“We’re addressing homelessness, we’re addressing homeless kids, and we’re addressing homeless pregnant mothers, so that can be anybody,” Farrar said. “Much like many things going on in our world today, it doesn’t really have a face. Anybody can fall into those hard times or end up in a position where they might need a program like ours, so to see it firsthand and be able to help I think opens up people’s eyes.”
The association also concentrates on education, youth homelessness and the foster care system, or temporary service provided by state governments for children who cannot live with their families, according to the Children’s Bureau.
The association’s undergrad panels inform youth how to pursue education and teach them how to write resumes, prepare for interviews and how to choose a career path, Kunta said.
“Things that if you went to a really good high school you don’t have a problem with, but if you didn’t it is something that is a huge challenge,” said Mansi Shah, assistant professor of neuroscience and psychology and the association’s adviser.
Narayanan, a sophomore biology major, hopes YEMSA will link Temple to local organizations and hold events to help mothers and children become aware of the resources around them, she said.
The association also helps students learn more about the surrounding community. Shah added.
“Being on a college campus and being aware of these problems is very important because when you are in an area with professors and with faculty who also know about these problems and will help you to get involved, it is important that we make every effort to do to give back to the society,” Narayanan added.
The association also plans to have a bake sale to fundraise for Mary’s Shelter and to collaborate with GEAR UP, an organization that provides academic success and college exploration for students and families.
“I hope that our organization has the touch to work with many people in need, with many organizations and that we have regular volunteers who are also passionate about helping out in Philly,” Kunta said. “It is not just us working to help others but it is also that YEMSA gets members who want to give back to the community as well, who will hopefully continue to do this work after they graduate.”