UC grad makes difference working with homeless youth

How this former Bearcat found her calling in serving her community

Azia Carnes, a 2019 University of Cincinnati graduate, always wanted to serve her community. She got the opportunity to experience working with youth and found her calling. Now, she works with homeless youth, giving these kids a chance to experience things that everyone should get to. 

Cincinnati is growing rapidly, with statistics showing over 100,000 people moving into the city in the last decade. With this increased population comes the growing challenge of finding affordable housing and community services for more people.

Keeping close to home

Azia Carnes, UC alum, UpSpring program manager

Azia Carnes, UC alum, UpSpring program manager Photo/Provided

Carnes graduated with a master’s degree in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies from UC’s College of Arts and Sciences. Being a first-generation student, Carnes needed guidance to maneuver new challenges college could throw at her.

UC’s Gen-1 program focuses on first-generation college students, giving them a foundation to guide them on an unfamiliar journey. That made UC an easy choice, Carnes said.

“The professors and counselors in the Gen-1 program set me up for success,” she said. “We had weekly meetings to check in with how our grades were doing or if we needed any help with classes. Being a first-generation student can be hard, and I felt that. That experience helped me kind of figure out what I wanted to do and kept me going and kept me motivated to go to UC.” 

Being raised and attending college in Cincinnati, Carnes developed an affection for the city. That, mixed with her desire to serve, led her to search for job opportunities. While in school, Carnes was given the chance to spend time with the local youth for the first time. That was where she found her calling. 

 “I knew I wanted to work with my community, but how I wanted to do that wasn't clear. I definitely wanted to work at a job that directly impacts the community of Cincinnati. 

“UC is where I started working with kids. I didn't think I would work with kids, but I’m good at it and like it.”  

Working with youth who are in need completely changes your mindset. I truly feel like I'm doing meaningful work.

Azia Carnes, UC College of Arts and Sciences graduate

Impacting the youth

Once Carnes graduated, she wanted to continue working with kids, so she took a job at KinderCare. During her three years there, she met Jordan Mitchell, assistant director at KinderCare, who helped her find her current home. 

 “Jordan went to UpSpring. He got connected there and loved it. He told me, 'I think you would be great at this role, working with kids like you work with them now.' And he brought me to UpSpring.” 

UpSpring focuses on Cincinnati’s homeless youth. Their website reads, “Our vision is to positively transform our communities by breaking the cycle of homelessness and poverty.” Since Carnes joined them, she has seen UpSpring's impact on the community. However, much of what Carnes has seen change is how she now views others. 

 “They've completely changed the way I view youth. I’ll be out somewhere, see a homeless person or kid, and automatically jump into UpSpring Azia mode. I’m thinking, what can I do for them, or how can I get them resources? I didn't think like that at first.” 

Giving opportunities

One of UpSpring’s main goals is to allow kids to experience things they might miss out on. Every year, UpSpring hosts a summer camp from June to July. Their camp includes a learning period, where kids work on math and reading, and a fun period, where they can learn a sport or play games with friends. But UpSpring understands that most of these kids don’t get the same experience as many kids their age, so by going the extra mile, they can still give these kids lifelong experiences. 

“Every Friday, we take them on a field trip. What's crazy is that a lot of these kids are from Cincinnati, but since they're homeless, they've never been to a place like Kings Island. So one of our biggest goals is that we want to take these kids to places that they can't afford to go.” 

But perhaps the biggest service UpSpring provides is help with mental well-being. Many of these kids are too young to understand the emotions and struggles they are dealing with. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14. UpSpring wants to give these kids real, applicable ways to keep themselves composed when these emotions become too much.

 “One of our teaching blocks is focused on social-emotional learning. This is where we talk about coping mechanisms, how we can calm ourselves when we're feeling overwhelmed, feeling scared, and those types of things. We realize that homeless youth are the group that needs the most help when it comes to their social and emotional well-being.” 

These experiences have culminated in many unforgettable memories for Carnes, cementing a path for the rest of her life. She loves her community, where she grew up, and can’t wait to continue serving them. 

 “I'm super happy that I got to go to UC because of all the experiences and everything that has happened to me. It all started with my decision to go to UC.  

 “I love my job. I'm never going to leave. Working with the youth is one thing, but working with the youth who are in need completely changes your mindset. I truly feel like I'm doing meaningful work.”

Featured image at top: Hands in a unity circle. Credit/Hannah Busing on Unsplash.

Headshot of By Tyler Chow

By Tyler Chow

Student Journalist, A&S Department of Marketing and Communication


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