Home » UK student creates non-profit to aid Lexington’s unhoused

UK student creates non-profit to aid Lexington’s unhoused

Rocked by losses, he became a change agent
UK student and employee Jonathan Richardson helps the unhoused. Photo by Jenny Wells-Hosley.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — As Jonathan Richardson loads up the back seat of his car with pizza boxes, he can see his breath leaving his body. Temperatures in the Bluegrass have officially dropped below freezing, but that does not slow Richardson down. If anything, it pushes him forward.

He secures the boxes in the back seat, and heads downtown to the Fayette County Courthouse. Once he arrives, he sees there is already a small crowd forming.

He knows they are waiting for him, and he springs into action.

He quickly unloads the pizza boxes and other donations he has acquired, sets up tables, gives directions to the volunteers awaiting instruction and begins greeting the crowd of unhoused Lexingtonians — a community that is growing larger by the day.

After starting his non-profit, Unity in the Community, in October of last year, this is Richardson’s Saturday morning routine — a routine he does not take lightly.


Richardson knows a thing or two about hardship.

While growing up in Lexington, he lost several close friends and family members to gun violence — each loss rocking him to his core. However, instead of letting grief consume him, it fueled something inside Richardson. He saw a void in his community – a lack of support and resources for the people around him. He wanted to create change, but he didn’t know just how — yet.

After graduating from Bryan Station High School, Richardson accepted a job with the University of Kentucky in medical staff affairs. It was here that Richardson would get a call that would change the trajectory of his life. One that would inspire him to create the change he had been searching for.

On April 9, 2021, Richardson received a call that his nephew had tragically passed away from a drug overdose. Just a couple of years younger than him, Richardson was at a loss. For him, this was the final straw.


As the saying goes, “We are the change that we seek.”

That sentiment rang true for Richardson, even more so after the passing of his nephew.

For him, that change would begin with an education. As a UK employee, Richardson took advantage of the Employee Education Program (EEP). Through EEP, employees are eligible for tuition waivers for classes taken at UK.

In 2022 Richardson applied to the university and was accepted. A lifelong Cats fan, Richardson could not wait to begin his journey as a Wildcat. Although he admits it was daunting, as he would be the first person in his family to attend university, he was ecstatic.

“Being the first in my family to attend college is an honor,” Richardson said. “I love the Cats and I’ve always been passionate about business, so this decision just made sense to me.”

Over one-quarter of undergraduate students identify as first-generation college students at UK. Not only do we welcome these trailblazers with open arms, but we also provide them with the resources needed for them to thrive. First-Generation Student Services, housed in the Office for Student Success, works with students like Richardson to provide personalized advising, community and scholarships.

After his acceptance, Richardson promptly declared a major in the Gatton College of Business and Economics.

At the Gatton College of Business and Economics, students do more than learn about the business world – they experience it through hands-on experience, innovative programs and the latest technology. For almost 100 years, students in UK’s Gatton College of Business and Economics have learned key business strategies from both market-leading executives and world-renowned faculty.

Still coping with the loss of his nephew and charged with a desire to create change, Richardson put what he was learning in business school into practice. In 2023, he created his non-profit Unity in the Community. Just like the name says, Richardson hopes to bring more unity to the people of Lexington.

“I have always felt like there was a need for something like this in the community,” Richardson said. “The goal of the non-profit is to live up to its name and have a positive impact on as many people as possible.”

Unity in the Community feeds the unhoused and takes donations to distribute to those in need. During the first few months of starting his non-profit, Richardson was funding a majority of the donations himself, purchasing food and clothing with his own money. However, through a recent partnership with local Papa John’s franchisers, Richardson now receives a weekly food donation to support his cause. Additionally, he works with organizations like Good360 for wholesale clothing donations. On average, Richardson reaches 50-75 people a week to provide food and clothing.

According to a comprehensive study done by the Catholic Action Center, Central KY Housing and Homeless Initiative and Street Voice Council, there are more than 2,400 unhoused individuals in Lexington – a stark increase from previous years.

As the number of unhoused individuals continues to grow, these organizations become increasingly essential in combating this epidemic. Non-profit organizations play a crucial role in addressing the needs of unhoused individuals within communities, offering vital support and resources to those experiencing homelessness. Beyond meeting immediate needs, they also advocate for systemic changes and work towards long-term solutions to homelessness.

By engaging volunteers, collaborating with government agencies and leveraging community resources, Unity in the Community creates a network of support that significantly impacts the lives of those in need. Richardson’s efforts not only offer hope and stability to individuals experiencing homelessness but also contribute to the overall well-being and resilience of the community.


Richardson has just three semesters remaining at UK and says he plans on using his degree to grow his non-profit. As a Lexington, Kentucky native, it is important to him to give back to the place that raised him, although ultimately, he hopes he can expand his reach beyond Lexington.

“The future of Unity in the Community looks beautiful,” Richardson said. “I’m very excited about everything we’ve been working on. I hope that it grows to one day having outreach programs throughout the state of Kentucky and all 50 states.”

Richardson says one of the best ways you can help Unity in the Community grow is through volunteering. If you are interested in supporting the non-profit in other ways, donations are also always welcomed. To volunteer or make a donation, contact Richardson via email at [email protected].

To learn more about Unity in the Community, visit the organization’s Instagram at www.instagram.com/unity_in_lexington/.

Throughout February, UK is featuring Black trailblazers in their fields whose passion and perseverance are advancing the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We will showcase their remarkable achievements, honor their lasting legacy and continue to champion their incredible contributions to the advancement of the state. You can follow along on UKNow, FacebookTwitter (X), Instagram and on digital signage across campus.

—By Ryan Girves , UKnow

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