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Illinois State earns $5 million federal grant to assist at-risk youth

Illinois State University has been awarded a nearly $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families to provide resources for at-risk youth in Champaign.

The funds, distributed around $1 million a year for five years, will assist with the creation of the Champaign Area Relationship Education for Youth (CARE4U) program.

“Research indicates how growing up in poverty can place youth at risk for multiple adverse emotional, behavioral, academic, and occupational outcomes,” said University Professor and Chair of Family and Consumer Sciences Ani Yazedjian, the grant’s principal investigator. “Programs like CARE4U are critical, since one in five children and youth in Champaign County live in poverty.”

image of Ani Yazedjian

Ani Yazedjian

The program will be delivered to at-risk youth, ages 15-24, in sites throughout Champaign County. CARE4U sessions will cover a variety of topics, such as healthy relationships, communication skills, conflict resolution strategies, job readiness skills, and financial literacy. The program will also include a component for subsidized, summer youth employment, or community college tuition reimbursement.

Yazedjian has prior experience implementing two similar, federally funded programs in Texas. Both programs developed a comprehensive approach to break the cycle of poverty. “Those programs provided individuals with skills and training to communicate, and resolve conflicts effectively,” she said. “They positioned youth for greater economic stability and mobility, and taught them to manage their earnings using financially sound strategies.

The long-term approach is key to success for the programs, noted Yazedjian. “The goal is to enhance the well-being of these young people, and support their successful transition to adulthood,” she said.

While writing the grant, Yazedjian searched for area partners who could help bring CARE4U to fruition. She received support from the United Way of Champaign County and Champaign Urbana Cradle to Career in locating eight local partners. Both organizations have pledged continued assistance to CARE4U.

Creating programs like CARE4U demonstrates the real-world impact studies and research can have, said Illinois State Provost Janet Krejci. “Dr. Yazedjian’s work can help countless young people and strengthen communities,” she said. “CARE4U is in great alignment with the University’s core values of providing individualized attention to foster academic and personal growth. Her efforts are not only a blueprint for groups across the nation, but will also have a direct effect on our communities.”

CARE4U will support six full-time staff members who will implement the curriculum with the assistance of Illinois State interns, community partners, and peer mentors. Illinois State’s Professor of Psychology Renée Tobin and Assistant Professor of Psychology Leandra Parris will lead the program evaluation team.

For additional information, contact Yazedjian at (309) 438-2517.

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