By Greg Seiter // Photography by Gabby Brock
Johnson County native Katie Schwarz graduated from Franklin Community High School before earning a degree in psychology from DePaul University. After obtaining a master’s degree in counseling and a doctorate in pastoral counseling, Schwarz worked in ministry for Emmanuel Church on its Franklin campus, where she helped build a volunteer base and connect people in the community with the church. She is now expanding her passions as the executive director of the Kids In Crisis intervention team (KIC-IT), which she began in 2020.
“I loved my job with Emmanuel but my mom encouraged me to apply for the position with KIC-IT,” Schwarz said. “I was hesitant because I didn’t know much about homelessness, but I did have a ton of experience in non-profit work.”
“It was a little bit of a leap of faith for me, Schwarz continued. “KIC-IT has been like a roller coaster, but it has been a great ride,” she said. “I’m still loving people, helping and serving.”
What is KIC-IT and when was it started?
KIC-IT originally began in 2011. Because Johnson County doesn’t have shelters, there was a group of community members, leaders and educators who saw the need to address youth homelessness through the school systems. In fact, educators were aware that families were living in hotels and cars. They wanted to help.
KIC-IT has moved and grown since that time. We’ve been at our current location for a couple of years.
I tend to say anyone under the age of 25 falls under our demographic because some of the youth we help have dependents of their own.
How serious is youth homelessness in Johnson County?
It’s much more pronounced than what we want to believe or understand and a big part of that has to do with the fact that we don’t have shelters. We don’t see tent cities or people living under bridges around here, so we’re not as aware of the problem as we should be.
Based on the self-reported numbers in Johnson County, there are more than 550 homeless students here, but we think the number is much higher than that. It’s heartbreaking and there’s really no way to measure the problem with numbers.
With KIC-IT, we serve more than 300 youth through our youth center each year.
Johnson County is home to three of the top 45 school districts — Center Grove, Franklin and Greenwood — for youth homelessness in Indiana. That has been very eye-opening to me, especially as a community member and a mom.
What programs and services are offered through KIC-IT?
A lot has changed over the last three years, and we’ve realigned everything we offer to make sure those things align with our core goals and overall mission.
Through our youth center, we offer things like a washer and dryer, a kitchen, personal-hygiene items and even a work space. We try to meet basic needs like that in one space because we know transportation is often a barrier. We also have monthly youth action nights for fun to help build a sense of community.
The Youth Development Program is one-on-one. We help them focus on securing a safe and stable housing plan, employment and education. Sadly, of the young people we work with, education usually isn’t a priority. We also focus on whatever life skills they may need in order to be successful and hopefully stay out of a homeless shelter.
A private donor helped purchase homes as part of our KIC-Start Housing Program. It has been a tremendous opportunity. In 2022, we housed 29 dependents and eight of their dependents.
In September of 2022, we launched the YAHEP (Youth Ally for Homeless Education and Prevention Program) to address the prevention side of homelessness. Through that program, we work with local high schools and students to help them come up with plans that will hopefully keep students in school and help them be successful there so that when they eventually leave school, they’ll have the skills they need to be successful elsewhere. It has been a huge win to see the positive feedback we’ve already received from school administrators.
What is your role as executive director?
I wear a lot of different hats from fundraising to grant writing to donor relations. I also do a lot of speaking with different entities and partner organizations. Ultimately, I’m responsible for making sure the programs we offer align with our purpose and mission. I also have to develop and support our staff, help coordinate volunteers, work on the website and send out a newsletter.
We’re a small organization of three people, so it takes a little bit of everything to make sure we are mission-minded, but also future focused.
How can members of the community help combat youth homelessness in Johnson County?
We’re always looking for volunteers. In fact, there are many different opportunities to serve as a mentor or volunteer at our youth center.
People can contribute and it doesn’t have to be financial. Even a simple conversation with a friend and recognition of the need in our community will help.
Donations of things like clothing and hygiene items are a big help, too.
One of the hardest things to combat is the belief that these people are homeless because they want to be or just because they ran away from home. The truth is that many youths are homeless because of heartbreaking situations. Sometimes they’ve been kicked out or abandoned. Then there are others who have been raised by grandparents that suddenly pass away or are moved to nursing homes.
The thing I really love about my job is the opportunity to love people where they’re at. Sometimes, I feel like I’m a mom to 50 kids.
To find out more about KIC-IT and the services it offers, visit: https://www.kic-it.org/