- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - First off, University of Kentucky senior Laura Greenfield credits her Tates Creek High School’s International Baccalaureate program, which gave her so many college credits that she could explore many majors at UK before deciding.

Second, she’s grateful to the professors in her eventual major, geography, who taught her that coding and mapping could be used for social justice.

Third, she’s thankful to have met community activist Tanya Torp, who runs Step by Step, a program for young, single mothers, and told Greenfield what would really help them.

But not as thankful as Torp.

“It’s pretty fantastic,” Torp said of Greenfield’s junior year project, which created an interactive map of resources in Lexington, so that a young mom can find what she needs closest to where she lives.

Step by Step used to keep all the local resources in a binder. Torp’s clients would have to leaf through it to find what they need. Now, Torp says, they call her, she plugs their address into Greenfield’s map, and the closest resource, whether it’s food, shelter or diapers, pop up on the screen. Since many of them lack transportation, proximity is critical.

“Probably 40 percent of my clients come to me in crisis, they’re hungry, they don’t have bottles or diapers, or they need mental health services,” Torp said. “This tool has been fantastic for me to say, ‘here, I’ve found one of our partners near where you live.’”

Greenfield was taking a class from Professor Matthew Zook last spring where she would use coding for a final class project.

“I thought, if I’m going to be creating this final map, what if it could serve a larger purpose to connect the campus and the community?” Greenfield said. “UK is a landgrant institution, and I have a belief in the power of these tools.”

Greenfield and Torp say there’s still plenty of work to do on the map, such as constant updating when resources change, and additions, such as affordable housing resources that many single mothers need.

“Something I want to do is break out of the ivory tower to engage in the world of non-profit,” Greenfield said. “The people who know the technologies are teaching people about it so that community members and activists can do it themselves.”

That’s a big part of what the UK geography department is working on, said Greenfield’s professor, Matthew Zook.

Community Map Shop, a program with another geography professor, Matthew Wilson, is “working with communities on important topics to them,” Zook said. “It’s public participatory GIS (geographic information system) … it’s a much larger process of community interaction.”

Greenfield’s project “was a really good application of the mapping technology,” Zook said. “We sat down and talked about how she would turn the papers in a binder into a database … she since then has set it up so the group can update it themselves. This is just one of these students who is really gung-ho to make a difference in the world.”

Greenfield will graduate this spring and hopes to go into farming because she’s interested in food security and food justice issues. She’s also working with the Lexington Justice Housing Project, which looks at issues like concentrated poverty, gentrification and slumlords. She says her social justice was inspired by the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant,” he said. “Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.”

“That resonated with me,” Greenfield said. “I want to get hands on, to work on all these issues that keep popping up.”


Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, https://www.kentucky.com

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