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Homelessness is a complex and pervasive community problem that affects all levels of society. This collaborative Participatory Community Action Research Project between Dr. Roger N. Reeb (Roesch Endowed Chair in the Social Sciences, Professor of Psychology, University of Dayton) and administrators at St. Vincent de Paul (Dayton, Ohio) implements Behavioral Activation at local homeless shelters as a way to address this pervasive problem within our community. Behavioral Activation, a form of operant conditioning, refers to a therapeutic strategy that attempts to increase overt behaviors by bringing a person into contact with positive response-contingent reinforcement. This enhances positive thinking, mood, quality of life, and the pursuit of personal potential. The project, which began in August of 2013, is implemented at both the Men’s Shelter and Women’s Shelter and has recruited well over 1,500 residents and served countless more. The project utilizes service-learning pedagogy; community members, faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students contribute to the project in various ways. Based on quantitative findings, shelter residents perceive Behavioral Activation sessions as meaningful, worthy of repeating, and enjoyable. Furthermore, quantitative findings indicate that, as shelter residents participate in the project over time, they perceive Behavioral Activation as contributing to key psycho-social factors as follows: hope, capability and motivation for education or work, purpose or meaning in life, and social/emotional support. Additionally, the project has contributed to creating a healthier social climate within the shelter, as evident by qualitative analyses; the data has revealed important emergent themes (e.g., importance of student-resident relationships in supporting psycho-social improvements). This proposed research involves the establishment of an urban garden within the context of the Behavioral Activation project. In addition to enhancing nutrition for shelter residents, this research will examine pre-to- post semester outcomes (wellbeing, environmental attitudes and behavior) for service-learning students who implement the urban gardening initiative.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Graduate Research

Primary Advisor

Charles Allan Hunt, Roger N Reeb

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium poster


Presenter: Alicia Michelle Selvey

Urban Gardening Initiative for the Enhancement of Wellness and Environmental Attitudes of Service-Learning Research Assistants: A Participatory Community Action Research Project within Local Homeless Shelters