September 9th, 2014

Special-needs kids need special adults to give foster care

At the end of May, Crystal Curry of Nicholasville took a week’s vacation partly because she needed alone time and partly because she needed to do some soul searching.

For three months, Curry served as a foster parent for a 13-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder. She had quit her job as a pediatric medical assistant and fully embraced the work she was doing for Key Assets Kentucky, part of a worldwide network of agencies that find individuals and families who will care for difficult to place children who are in the state’s care.

Reality, however, tends to paint rosy pictures grayer.

The boy came to her wearing Pull-ups and with a tendency toward self-injury and tantrums. It took two weeks to get him into underwear, but the rest has been a process.

“Everything is scheduled and routine,” Curry said. “It is definitely non-stop. …We do things about the same time every day.”

Changes were usually met with tantrums.

For the 33-year-old single woman, life began to resemble a jail term.

Crystal Curry is a therapeutic "foster carer" for a 13-year-old boy with autism who lacks the skills to integrate into a regular foster home.

Crystal Curry is a therapeutic “foster carer” for a 13-year-old boy with autism who lacks the skills to integrate into a regular foster home.

“In the beginning, I would cry myself to sleep,” Curry said. “I can’t do this. I’m trapped. I’m in prison. It felt like my life was completely gone.

“Is this what I am meant to do?” she asked herself.

Before her May vacation, she called Chris Groeber, executive director of Key Assets, to warn him she might not want to be a foster parent when she returned.

Groeber understood. He knows how hard it is to be a therapeutic foster parent. He knows only a few can care for a child who hasn’t fit into any other home setting because of behavioral problems or because of trauma, and mold that child into a human being who can successfully navigate society.

“It has to be a mission and a calling,” he said. “The rewards are huge, but the sacrifices are equally huge.”

Key Assets is the first branch of the Core Assets Group to locate in Kentucky. Core Assets started in the United Kingdom in 1994 and has spread its brand of foster care — called Fostering First International — to four continents, Europe, South East Asia, Australia and now North America. An office recently opened in Florida.

In Kentucky, Key Assets, a subcontractor for Kentucky’s Department of Community Based Services, focuses on foster children with multiple physical or mental barriers or who are members of large sibling groups.

The goal is to take a child from an institutional setting and place him or her with a family.

“We must give these kids connections in the community and with significant adults because at the end of the day it is about relationships and relationships matter,” Groeber said.

The agency supplies the foster carer, as he calls foster parents, with the support necessary for the child. That could be training, helpers, therapists or 24-hour crisis coverage.

“The foster parent is at the center of the service model,” he said. “She is the leader of the treatment. We take our marching orders from that parent.”

She thought about all of this while on vacation. When she returned, she said she was a different person.

“I cannot give up on this kid,” Curry said.

Her foster child usually stayed in a placement for only two or three months, she said, never seeming to get past that point. And that’s where they were in May.

When she decided to continue working with the boy, she realized she had allowed him to rule home. She said she had walked on egg shells to preempt tantrums that would lead to more holes in her walls from his head bangings in addition to the 20 that are there now.

“The boy needs to be told no,” Curry said. “We may have been making it worse trying not to upset him. When I came back, I said things have to change around here.”

And they did. Slowly her foster son came to realize he was no longer the boss. Curry stopped catering to his wishes when those wishes were unreasonable. She treats him like a teenager who doesn’t have autism.

Now, she takes him out to new places and watches as he adjusts to the newness. He threw out the first pitch at a recent Lexington Legends game and seemed to enjoy it.

“All those people in the stadium had no idea how big a deal that was,” Curry said. “He was standing out there instead of locked up in a facility.”

They’ve been together for six months and the change in her foster son has been remarkable. “He came to me almost like an animal,” she said. “He had never been out. To see him now and how controlled he is …”

Kentucky has more than 7,000 children in out-of-home care; 3,500 in private care, Groeber said. “The number is not going down,” he said. “We, as a state and community, have to learn how to deal with these children.”

One managed care agency in Kentucky has 25 to 30 children needing intense supervision on a waiting list for foster home. And, he said, there are four other agencies with similar lists.

His agency has 22 foster families, five, like Curry, specializing in therapeutic care. As the children in specialized care improve and learn to live in communities, their level of care is reduced and they can be moved to permanent placement homes.

“This is not a lifetime commitment,” Curry said. “This isn’t something you have committed to doing for the rest of your life. Think of this as a job. You are preparing (the child) to be in normal foster care.”

Difficult-to-place children in Kentucky need more people like Curry who are willing to change a child’s life and future, Groeber said. He wants those special people to contact him for more information about becoming a therapeutic foster parent.

“Our job is to maximize potential,” he said. “Do you want to be a part of maximizing someone’s potential?”

Curry said it is worth it.

“If I, with no experience, can do this and change this kid’s life, anyone can do this,” she said. “It is giving up your life and it is hard. But seeing the smile on his face (at the Legends game) makes you think this is worth giving up a small chunk of my life to save another kid’s life. I’m fine with that.”


Key Assets Kentucky, a foster care agency, is recruiting families or individuals willing to care for hard-to place children with physical, emotional, intellectual or behavioral problems.

Information: Call (859) 497-3800 or visit

August 25th, 2014

Ferguson stirs local civil rights activists

Lamin Swann believes his grandfather would be proud of him for joining protesters and community organizers in Ferguson, Mo., who don’t want the recent killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer ignored.
Swann is the grandson of the late William C. Parker, a former vice chancellor of minority affairs at the University of Kentucky and civil rights activist. His grandfather took a van load of students from Oberlin College, where he was a professor, to participate in the second Selma to Montgomery, Ala., march in 1965.
“We’ve made progress on so many other things,” Swann said, “Why not on the killing of blacks and poor people? It could have just as easily been an 18-year-old white kid from the other side of the tracks.”

Lamin Swann

Lamin Swann

Swann, 36, laments that only a few other young activists from Lexington are planning to gather with various other groups in Ferguson to learn how to handle any similar circumstances that might arise in their home communities. He had hoped to take a busload of people. But, he has faith that Ferguson has ignited an activist movement with younger people.
“Someone posted on Twitter that our parents dropped the baton on the civil rights movement and that our grandparents passed it to us,” Swann said.
Social media seems to be how the younger generation is getting and staying engaged in activism. Most of the communication has been through conference calls, he said, and through Twitter.
That’s how Operation Help or Hush got started. The grassroots group has been providing supplies to make signs, cover travel expenses, as well as food and shelter for Ferguson protesters. It connects with activists throughout the country through social media.
Swann is traveling as a journalist, documenting events and people he finds in Ferguson.
And he is traveling as an activist, gleaning information from the groups converging on the St. Louis area so that he and others can shore up or change policy in Lexington.
“I want to know what we can do after Ferguson,” he said. “What can we do locally?”
April Taylor, 32, arrived in St. Louis County on Friday hoping to get a first-hand perspective for the blog she writes for Your Black World.
She noticed soon after the shooting that Brown’s death would be different.
“One of the things I do is skim through the news,” she said. “There is no shortage of stories about black people getting shot down. But what was unfolding on the streets of Ferguson was different.”

April Taylor and her daughter, Gianna Taylor-Martin, 4.

April Taylor and her daughter, Gianna Taylor-Martin, 4.

She monitored her Twitter feed and noticed that the mainstream media was not covering the shooting and the initial events around it. It was the protesting with their tear gas that brought the attention.
But it wasn’t long before she started seeing tweets about local organizing, conference calls and meetings.
“That was reassuring for me,” she said, adding she hadn’t experienced a major black movement led by black people in her lifetime. “It showed me my generation was capable of stepping up.”
She hopes to not only talk with local residents, but also attend meetings called by The Stop Mass Incarceration Network, a group co-founded by author, professor, and activist Dr. Cornel West, the scheduled speaker for the LexEndPoverty, the Community Action Council’s annual fundraiser on Sept. 27.
Long before Brown’s death, Taylor said, the network was planning events throughout October to draw attention to the high rate of imprisonment for black people. The network set aside Oct. 22 as the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.
Plans are being made in Lexington to acknowledge Oct. 25, the 20th anniversary of the death of Antonio Sullivan, an unarmed black teenager, who was shot by Sgt. Phil Vogel, a white police officer.
“We’re planning to have a media round table and symposiums to talk about race and some of their experiences with race in this community,” Taylor said.
But while she is in Missouri, she hopes to talk with some of the older soldiers in the civil rights struggle.
“What do they feel like they want to tell our generation?” she said. “Is there anything they could have done differently?”
I hope she gets answers to her questions. I hope she can correct any mistakes my generation made or pick up any balls we dropped.
Time magazine recently published a letter Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, wrote to Brown’s parents. It said in part: “The galvanizations of our communities must be continued beyond the tragedies. While we fight injustice, we will also hold ourselves to an appropriate level of intelligent advocacy. If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us. Some will mistake that last statement as being negatively provocative. But feeling us means feeling our pain; imagining our plight as parents of slain children. We will no longer be ignored. We will bond, continue our fights for justice, and make them remember our children in an appropriate light.”
We need to do more to ensure no more mothers have to write those words. We must not ignore, or forget, what has happened in Ferguson.

August 25th, 2014

NAACP program gets families ready for kindergarten

I hated parent-teacher conferences. Hated them.

I never got a sense that the teacher really knew who my children were or anything about them.

For example, when we moved back to Lexington in 1983 from Memphis, my daughter and I lived in the Northern Elementary School district. In Memphis, my daughter was in an advanced level class with third-graders, even though she was in first grade.

When we returned to Lexington, she attended second grade at Northern. I asked her teacher if she could be placed in an advanced class but was told that only happened after testing in the spring for the fall semester.

Nearly every day, my daughter would complain that school was boring. We’d do educational activities at home and I would tell her to hang on until the spring.

By spring I was told my daughter needed remedial help.

What had happened to my child?

She had entered second-grade reading on a fifth-grade level, but over a few months she had regressed to needing remedial help? Please. The teacher did not know my daughter.

My husband and I had to tighten our belts and put her in private school.

That’s the reason the Ready to Learn Academy caught my interest. Hosted by the Lexington-Fayette County NAACP, the program is a literacy enrichment program for 4- to 5-year-olds who will be entering kindergarten in the fall of 2015, and a heads-up training meeting for parents or guardians.

JoJuana Leavell-Greene, program coordinator, said a kindergarten teacher works with the children at four meetings to assess their readiness for kindergarten. The teacher, Frances Blackford, then lets the parents or guardians know where the child stands in comparison to other children at that age. She also can provide information to the parent to get the child up to snuff or to help the child move even farther along.

At the same time, the parents and guardians are learning more about the Fayette County Public Schools system and how to navigate some of the pitfalls that could lay in wait.

One of the meetings includes the four most important questions that parents should ask teachers during conferences.

“The first question,” Leavell-Greene said, “is, ‘Do you know my child?’

“If they can tell you a few things that let you know you are talking about the same child, then the next question is ‘What can I do at home to make your life easier?’” she said.

That’s where I must have messed up in that conference with my daughter’s second- grade teacher. Maybe we weren’t talking about the same child.

“Parents need a partnership with their child’s teacher,” Leavell-Greene said. “In order to be in a partnership, you have to be a part of the ship.”

Other parent meetings include information about the school their child will be attending and how it performed on the School Report Card. Plus, parents

guardians will receive information about their rights and the rights of their children, about the Site Based Council, Central Office, the school board, PTA/PTSA and assistance in registering for kindergarten.

Orientation for the program is Oct. 8, with the four classes scheduled for Nov. 12, Jan. 14, Feb. 11 and March 11.

The program officials hope that helping children at an early age will have an impact on the achievement gap. If children begin on the same level and parents are engaged, the gap will be significantly narrowed if not closed by graduation.

The program is funded by a grant from Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, along with support from the Community Action Council and the Urban League of Lexington. Members of the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., Lexington’s Graduate Chapter, Educational Team serve as volunteers. The upcoming session will be the third, Leavell-Greene said.

Participants have included young single mothers sending children to school for the first time, as well as foster parents and grandparents rearing their grandchildren.

The meetings will take place on the second Wednesday of each month at Russell School and Community Center. The time of the meetings will be determined by the participants. Child care for other children in the family, as well as a meal for all, will be provided. Registration starts Aug. 20 and ends Sept. 27. Parents must commit to attend the meetings with their children.

“We ask them what a quality education looks like,” Leavell-Greene said. “Then we show them this is what you have to do to get to that kind of education.”

To Apply

If you are the parent or guardian of a 3- to 5-year-old who will enter kindergarten in the fall of 2015, you can apply for the free monthly meetings of the Ready to Learn Academy, which will be held at the Russell School and Community Center, 520 Toner Street, from October through March. Call JoJuana Leavell-Greene, (859) 608-9735, or email her at

August 12th, 2014

NFL, justice system demean women

When my son played football, starting when he was 8 years old, it was not uncommon to hear coaches shaming players by saying they were playing like girls.
Demeaning women continued throughout his sporting career, mostly from coaches.
So when I heard all the uproar about the two-game suspension and $58,000 fine handed down to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell because of domestic violence, I was surprised.
The NFL did more than our judicial system did in this case.
Rice was charged with third-degree aggravated assault when, on Feb. 15, he was seen on surveillance camera dragging his then fiancé Janay Palmer out of an elevator that she had walked into on her own two feet.
According to police, Rice knocked her out after she spit on him.
Rice was indicted but agreed to enter a diversion program to avoid jail time. After a while, the charge will be expunged from his record.
That was our judicial system’s decision. I didn’t see any comments from anyone about it.
The uproar came with the NFL meting out “only” a two-game suspension and fine for Rice. Seems society wants our workplaces to deliver harsher punishment than our justice system.
If our courts had dealt with him more severely, we wouldn’t be criticizing the commissioner dishing out what folks are calling a slap on Rice’s wrist. Rice would still be behind bars and there would be far more games missed than two.
I’m not letting the NFL off the hook, mind you. There is a big house to clean in a league where domestic violence doesn’t seem to have great importance.
My point is, outside of women’s groups and agencies that have to help the women and children scarred mentally and physically by abusers, where is the outpouring of indignation that should be focused on our laws and enforcement?
Palmer is now Rice’s wife. She married him a day after he was indicted, days after she was dragged limp from an elevator. Palmer had been charged with assault as well, but charges against her were dropped.
Rice apologized and our judicial system said a diversion program was sufficient punishment.
The court said hitting a woman is not OK, but it was Rice’s first offense, so we’ll go easier on him than his fist did with Palmer.
After all, she spit on him. She caused it, just like women wearing short skirts cause their own rapes, right?
Come on, people. We should be past this.
It is never OK, first, fourth or 40th time, for a man to hit a woman. And it is not only women who should be shouting this, but also men.
I’ve seen some public service ads and posters urging men to stand up against domestic violence. There are men out there trying to do just that.
And, hopefully, coaches are no longer demeaning a gender to get their male players to perform better. If they are, it is time for the men, the fathers who received that type of motivation as boys, to tell coaches to find a better way for their sons. Demeaning another gender is not acceptable.
When women are demeaned they become less human. When they are made to be less human, any negative behavior or language about them or toward them, no matter how traditional or violent, becomes acceptable.
With dehumanization, a woman wearing a short skirt is asking to be raped. Hitting a woman, instead of walking away, serves her right.
The NFL can’t be expected to correct years of wrongs alone. If the court thought Rice’s actions deserved only diversion, there should be a louder outcry against the court.
“It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that’s my fault,” Rice said in a statement. “As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents. I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night. The counseling has helped tremendously.”
I hope so.
And I think if we are going to hold the NFL more accountable than our judicial system, then all workplaces should be held to the same standard.
We should be outraged when women in factories or in office buildings receive less pay than their male counterparts. That’s dehumanizing.
We should be questioning why there aren’t more women in top positions in businesses throughout this country. That’s demeaning.
And we should be enraged that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled businesses can decide not to cover birth control for women, the only gender that can reproduce. That’s just wrong.
The NFL has a problem it must deal with, true enough. But so does our judicial system. And so do all of us who should be holding both accountable.

August 12th, 2014

Native American conference a chance to be enlightened

My first assignment with an Ojibwe Indian photographer was quite a learning experience.
I was smart enough to know that everything I had learned about Indians via old-time Western movies was incorrect. However, that left a wide gap in my knowledge of that culture which I had no problem trying to close by asking her questions.
Thank goodness she was a patient woman.
One-on-one opportunities to learn about another culture is the best way to understand them. And when it comes to Native Americans, that one-on-one can help us better understand the slights we are inflicting with the naming of some sports teams.
Fortunately, on Aug. 22 and 23, we will have a chance to ask questions, observe and listen to American Indians.
The Native American Educational Conference will feature examples of Native American dance, storytelling, games, music, crafts, shelters and children’s activities, all free of charge.

Anne Wood

Anne Wood

Some of the Indians will be dressed in the native attire of their tribal roots and others will dress just like you and me.
“There will be examples of the different types of regalia,” said Helen Danser, chairwoman of the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission. “Someone will explain how it was earned, when it came into being, and what it was for. The regalia are what people call an Indian costume.”
Not all Indians wore feathers, however, and not all chiefs wore war bonnets. In fact, war bonnets were not worn east of the Mississippi River.
Indians also don’t greet folks with “how.” They aren’t all alcoholic. They don’t all live on reservations out west.
There will be morning discussions both days about the myths and stereotypes that we still have about Native Americans, and about the different tribes represented in Kentucky.
“Kentucky is still struggling with how to define Indian and whether Indians actually lived in Kentucky,” Danser said. “They said Indians just passed through,” using the state as a hunting ground.
In fact, Kentucky does not have any federally recognized Indian tribes, a designation that carries with it benefits of being a sovereign nation. And Kentucky also has not set up a process for tribes to be officially recognized by the state, although several attempts have been made to do that through the General Assembly.
The Ridgetop Shawnee tribe and the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky have been acknowledged through resolutions, however.
But many Indians found it safer just to blend in with the general population instead of announcing their culture.
Anne Wood of Centenary United Methodist Church, where the conference will be held, said she was a middle-aged adult before she learned of her Native American heritage. Her family, like so many others, hid their culture to avoid discrimination and potential persecution. They chose to blend in.

Helen Danser

Helen Danser

Similar handcrafted items will be available at the conference.

Similar handcrafted items will be available at the conference.

That’s changing. More and more Indians are standing proud of their culture and seeking state acknowledgment of it, she said.
During the afternoons of the conference there will be demonstrations of flintknapping, the art of fashioning spearheads and arrowheads and a teepee exhibit, with discussions about the difference between a teepee and wigwam.
Vendors will be on-site throughout the day, selling Indian crafts, including beadwork and silver jewelry. Food concessions will also be available.
From 6-8 p.m. on Friday and from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, there will be exhibitions of drumming and intertribal dancing that requires audience participation.
There will be a special program for children on Saturday that features traditional games and discussions about tomahawks and blow guns.
“The children will learn how to use blow guns,” Danser said. “By age 5 or 6, young Indian boys could use that as a weapon to bring down birds, rabbits, and squirrels for dinner.”
The children’s activities will be outside. All others will be indoors.
“We’re hoping to get a good many people to come at 10 a.m. for the discussions on myths and legends,” Danser said.
That will be your chance to learn and ask questions of people who are coming out of the shadows wanting to teach and to be heard.

The Native American Educational Conference will feature storytelling, dancing, discussions on myths and stereotypes and children’s activities.
When: 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Aug. 22; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 23.
Where: Centenary United Methodist Church, 2800 Tates Creek Road.
Cost: Free.
Information: Email Anne Wood at, or Helen Danser at


August 12th, 2014

Would-be King assassin found in nursing home

In September, 2007, I wrote what little I knew of Izola Ware Curry, the woman who stabbed and nearly killed Martin Luther King Jr., some 10 years before James Earl Ray succeeded in assassinating the civil rights leader.
Curry was 42 when she plunged a letter opener into King’s upper chest as he was autographing copies of his first book,  Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, in a New York department store.
He was rushed to Harlem Hospital, where doctors later would tell The New York Times that had King, 29, sneezed or coughed, his aorta would have been cut, causing him to bleed to death internally.
Later the chief surgeon, Dr. Aubre de Lambert Maynard, said having a patient of King’s stature with such a severe injury put Harlem Hospital in the world’s spotlight. “You see,” Maynard said in 1996, “it was a city hospital and it was looked down upon. It was up to me to show the world that it could be done there.”
Dignitaries and famous physicians observed the procedure which, obviously, was successful. King left the hospital less than two weeks later and continued his work.
Curry was interrogated, charged, and found to be incompetent to stand trial. She believed King and members of the NAACP were stalking her and trying to kill her.
Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Curry was committed to Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in upstate New York on Oct. 20, 1958.
I was shocked at how little was known about Curry and about her whereabouts after that. She seemed to have faded away like smoke with the wave of a hand. Even a librarian I called at The King Center in Atlanta said the center had no record of Curry after she entered the asylum.
While recovering in the hospital, King, who refused to press charges against Curry, wrote a two-page statement, part of which said, “First let me say I feel no ill will toward Mrs. Izola Currey (sic) and know that thoughtful people will do all in their power to see that she gets the help that she apparently needs if she is to become a free and constructive member of society.”
Until recently, not many people knew if she had received or been helped by medical treatment.
But a reporter at The Smoking Gun, a website that contains legal documents, arrest records and mug shots and other information about criminals and celebrities, found a voter registration for Curry that listed an address for a nursing home in Queens in 2012.
According to TSG, “During a 30-minute conversation, Curry spoke haltingly and, at times, mumbled answers that were hard to decipher. At one point, she directed her visitor to fetch a chair from her room so that he did not have to stand over her.
“While Curry described her daily routine — up at 5:30 a.m., bed around 10 p.m., and not much going on in-between — and how she ended up in the nursing home, she met questions about King and the stabbing with a furrowed brow and a blank stare. While offering no recollections of the attack, Curry referred to “1958” and said that she was placed that year in a “hospital for the criminally insane.”
Through investigation, the website learned Curry had spent 14 years at Matteawan, another year at a facility in Manhattan and then the rest of her life, before the nursing home, in at least two certified residential care homes.
“On the eighth floor of a nursing home in Queens, N.Y.,” the report said, “a 98-year-old woman sits slumped in a wheelchair in the hallway outside her room. She is sleeping, oblivious to the roar coming from the television of her next-door neighbor, who is watching The Price is Right at an ear-piercing volume.
“Though the corridor is uncomfortably toasty on this July morning, the woman has a knitted shawl over her shoulders. She is wearing green sweatpants, a green T-shirt, and black shoes with Velcro closures. The remaining wisps of her hair are gray and tangled.
“As she naps in the hallway, it is hard to imagine that frail Izola Curry was once a would-be assassin, a woman who nearly changed the course of U.S. history with a seven-inch steel letter opener.”
Both King and the state of New York realized then what we seem to have forgotten now. Those with mental illness need to be treated differently even if they commit criminal acts.
The reporter in me wanted to know what happened to her. The human being in me is glad her illness was understood and she has been cared for.
If society back then could treat a very sick woman with compassion and medical expertise after what she did, surely we can find more humane ways to treat the mentally ill now. has a lot more on Curry’s history and the years leading up to her criminal act, including pages of police interrogation and her background. It is a good read about a piece of history that has almost been forgotten.

July 30th, 2014

Violence dims hope of achieving American Dream

I’ve been waiting for someone a lot smarter than I am to come up with a solution for the rash of murders, shootings, robberies, home invasions and unsettling violence that has made headlines in Lexington.
That’s when I will dive in, I said, and give all my energy to help with the cure.
But if I am really truthful with myself, I’m really hoping it all dies down and I won’t have to change anything in my daily routine.
That’s what happened in 2011 when there was a similar surge in violence in Lexington. That’s what always seems to happen.
The trouble is, waiting isn’t working this time.
What I’m seeing is a loss of hope. Our young people no longer believe going to school and then working hard will culminate in the American Dream. My parents fed me and my siblings a daily dose of the American Dream. Get good grades, go to college and success will come knocking at your door.
Back then, teachers, preachers and neighbors all sang the same song. They believed in the dream, too. Young people were bombarded with high hopes that they assumed were their duty to fulfill.
We are not telling our young people that anymore. In recent years, the “I got mine; you get yours” philosophy has coupled with poverty, a nominal education, fewer jobs and lax parenting to birth a generation that we are now losing.
We tell parents who have served time in prison that we won’t hire them, but we expect them to provide for their families.
We don’t want to drive through neighborhoods some children live in even though it is the best housing their parents can afford.
We send the least experienced teachers to school districts that need the most wisdom and then criticize the kids for not learning.
Where is the American Dream in that scenario? And where are we, the community, the people who can affect change?
Rabbi Aaron Alexander, associate dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post in October challenging our leaders to act more intentionally to stop the violence.
“We also must demand from our leadership a serious attempt to identify areas prone to violence, conditions ripe for abuse, and inundate them with programs and resources that work to stem the surge,” he wrote. “That necessarily means reaching out to urban areas, too often forgotten and ignored, seeking out those saints who dedicate their lives to elevating the existence of others in danger, and asking for their assistance.”
But that doesn’t let us off the hook.
Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, board chair of the LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, N.J., wrote, “Throwing more dollars against tighter law enforcement is only one part of the solution. The community needs to play its part, too.”
She suggested organized community watchers as a proven effective way to supplement police patrols. That means we have to be concerned about our neighbors.
“As teachers, parents, mentors and role models, we must be a light for our children and teach them that peace and justice will never come through violence,” she wrote.
That message must be fed to our children every day by everyone, just as the American Dream was fed to my generation.
We have to support the eight women of Sisters and Women Against Gun violence (SWAG) as they try to unite the community and end the cycle of violence in Lexington.
We need to send parents, children and friends to the YOLO (You Only Live Once) Stop the Violence two-day conference on Aug. 8-9 at Imani Family Life Center. The first day is a college and career readiness fair that is meant to help youths improve their chances for a good education and help their parents, even if they have a past criminal record, find better employment.
The second day is filled with workshops after a keynote address by Marlon Shackelford, a violence prevention specialist from Dayton. You can register at Cost is $5 and includes lunch.
Several youth ambassadors have helped design the event because this problem requires everyone’s input to solve it.
Paul Prather, pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling and a columnist at this paper, wrote that chronic poverty, a situation often cited as a reason for violence, has many causes “including physical disability, mental illness, ignorance, family dysfunction, violence, drug addiction, despair, self-loathing, isolation, bigotry, and inferior health care.”
When you address one problem, others appear from a hiding place behind it.
“So you just keep giving, keep loving, keep caring with your pocketbook and your prayers – knowing you’re bound to fail,” he wrote. “You stay at it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s what St. James called ‘pure and undefiled religion.’”
And it is what my parents’ generation called the village.

July 22nd, 2014

Free play about Alzheimer’s seeks to make us more aware

Garrett Davis wrote the play Forget Me Not as a tribute to his grandmother who died of Alzheimer’s disease when he was in college, and to all the family members who cared for her.
It is an urban theater play, the genre in which Tyler Perry became famous, that shows the funny, sad and frustrating emotions that caregivers and family members experience when the patriarch becomes lost in that illness.
The play is on tour, stopping in Lexington at the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center on Aug. 16 for a free performance, sponsored by the University of Kentucky, Sanders Brown Center on Aging.
The play serves not only as an entertaining way to make more people aware of the disease, but also as a way to educate people about the need to have more participants in clinical studies, said Dr. Gregory Jicha, a specialist in Alzheimer’s at Sanders Brown.
As Davis became more aware of Alzheimer’s, he reached out to doctors and researchers to learn more and then to tell what he had learned to audiences everywhere, Jicha said.
“Not only is this guy great,” Jicha said, “but he is also so darn entertaining. He has an important message to share with everyone.”
Jicha and staff members learned about the play while at a conference in San Diego. So when the need arose to get a more diverse group of volunteers for clinical research, the staff thought the play would be a great outreach and educational tool.
Both Davis and Jicha will talk prior to the play. After, there will be snacks and an opportunity to interact and learn more about Alzheimer’s.
For the Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s study, or A4, Sanders-Brown is recruiting 1,000 participants ages 65-85 who do not have symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The study hopes to prevent memory loss years before signs appear.
Sanders-Brown is the only study site in Kentucky for A4. Eventually, there will be 59 other sites throughout the United States,  Canada and Australia for the 39-month trial, involving 10,000 people.
However, the study requires that one-fifth of the volunteers be minorities. Jicha said if a true sampling of people is studied, then the chances of skewed results are lessened.
“We are all in this together. We have got to be working across the board. This is a battle that no one person can win,” he said.
That is why Davis started the Forget Me Not Project in 2010 after he discovered how underfunded Alzheimer’s research is and how often the disease strikes in the black community. He has become an advocate for greater awareness of the affects of Alzheimer’s in communities and is a founding member of the African American Network Against Alzheimer’s disease.
First identified more than a century ago, Alzheimer’s research into symptoms, causes, risk factors and treatment has gained momentum only in the last three decades.
According to African American Network Against Alzheimer’s disease, black people are usually diagnosed with the disease at a later stage, limiting the effectiveness of early intervention treatments. Blacks are about two times more likely and Hispanics are about one and a half times more likely than their white counterparts to have Alzheimer’s and other dementia. Of the estimated 5.4 million people living with the disease, two-thirds are women.
The disease is incurable, irreversible and progressive, slowly destroying memory and thinking skills to the point the patient is unable to carry out the simplest tasks. It is the most common cause of dementia in older adults, with the greatest risk factors being advanced age, race and family history.
And without participants in one of several studies underway, Alzheimer’s will remain that way.
“If their life has been affected, if they have watched their loved ones slowly become lost, losing their minds through Alzheimer’s, then this is such a great opportunity to help,” Jicha said.
“If people recognize these issues and how close we are to making tremendous strides in curing Alzheimer’s, they should join the fight and make a difference.”
A good way to start down that road is to enjoy a funny and touching play.
Although the event is free, advance registration is required. The Lyric seats about 600 and more than 450 spots are still available.
Registration forms have been distributed to many local churches and community centers, as well as to the Lyric. You may have as many tickets as you want.

What: Forget Me Not, a play by Garrett Davis, will be performed in Lexington to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. Free, but registration is required.
When: 3-6 p.m. Aug. 16.
Where: Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third St.
Information and registration: Call (859) 323-5550.

July 22nd, 2014

Reunion set for volunteers, staff and students of Family Care Center

When former Lexington Mayor Scotty Baesler learned I wanted to talk with him about the Family Care Center, he didn’t wait for my call.
Instead, he called me to repeatedly say how proud he is of the program he and former Commissioner of Social Services Barbara Curry and Jean Sabharwal, then-director of the city’s Early Childhood Center, started in 1989.
“I asked Jean and Barbara to put something together and they did,” Baesler said. “It is one of the few programs I thought would make a difference.”
And that it has.
During its 25 years, more than 500 mothers have graduated from the center’s high school program and more than 7,000 children have attended the low-cost, nurturing child-care facility.
The mission is to help parents become self-sufficient, help children become successful, and to strengthen family units.
“I think it way exceeded my expectations,” Sabharwal said. She served as director of the center for 20 years. “Everywhere I go I see Family Care Center graduates employed and bragging about what their children are doing. The next generation is doing so good. We just had to change the path of the families.”

 Joanna Rodes, director of Family Services

Joanna Rodes, director of Family Services

On July 26, the Family Care Center will be celebrating its 25 years by hosting a reunion of all its clients, children, volunteers and employees. Anyone who has been affiliated with the center is invited to stop by and share memories of what the family service program has meant to them.
When the idea was planted, Lexington already had Virginia Place, a transitional housing, training and child-care program for single parents, but Baesler wanted something for younger mothers who had not finished school and were struggling to provide for their families.
Nationwide, there had been a surge in teen pregnancies, with more than 1 million pregnancies attributed to girls ages 15 to 19 in 1989 alone. The phrase “children having children” was coined and the country feared having so many children condemned to living in poverty.
As a judge, Baesler had seen young girls come through his courtroom living under similar circumstances and “always thought they didn’t have a chance.” He believed the solution was to “get to the young children early.”
That meant offering parenting skills to young mothers, dental care to the children, and a safe, educational environment in which mother and child could grow.
“It has grown a lot more than I thought it would,” Baesler said. “It has been my favorite program. It is special to me.”
It is special to Sharon Aguilar as well.

Sharon Aguilar, who graduated at the Family Care Center, held her daughter Isabell, 3.  Photo by Mark Cornelison

Sharon Aguilar, who graduated at the Family Care Center, held her daughter Isabell, 3. Photo by Mark Cornelison

Aguilar, 20, gave birth while she was a junior at Lafayette High School in the SCAPA program. For two months, she had to leave her daughter with her brother while she attended class because the infant was not old enough to go to day care. And, because she was breast feeding, she had to find the time and space to express her breast milk.
That was more stress than any teen mother needed.
One day, her Health Access Nurturing Development Services worker suggested she attend classes at the center. “She explained the layout,” Aguilar said, “and said it was self-paced. And she said I would get to see my daughter for 30 minutes a day.”
Spending quality time with her daughter and free transportation won her over, she said. But the work was not easy.
“I was never self-disciplined,” she said. “I would go to class and would never do the homework (at Lafayette).
“At the Family Care Center, I was forced to be self-disciplined,” Aguilar said. “You don’t sit in a lecture. The teacher says here’s the work and you do it. It changed my whole outlook on schoolwork. When I got to college it was much easier.”
Aguilar attends the Bluegrass Community & Technical College, studying for an associate’s degree in science. “I want to be a doctor someday,” she said.
Her daughter, Isabell, 3, is still enrolled in the center’s child-care program.
If she were to recommend the center to other mothers, what would she say?

 Tee Bergman, a long time volunteer, keeps the garden areas in the courtyard and all around the center beautiful at the Family Care Center.  Photo by Mark Cornelison

Tee Bergman, a long time volunteer, keeps the garden areas in the courtyard and all around the center beautiful at the Family Care Center. Photo by Mark Cornelison

“I would say it is hard, but being at the Family Care Center makes it easy,” she said. “I am still in touch with the teachers at the Family Care Center. That student-teacher relationship is just like an extra helping hand. They are part of our family.”
Joanna Rodes, director of Family Services which oversees the center, said bonding is what separates the center from other programs.
“The center is not just special because of the work we do,” she said. “It is the systems approach. The way we take care of our clients is special. We are better than a plain old child-care center.”
The center offers high school classes, child care, a full-service pediatric clinic run by the University of Kentucky, the HANDS program, and a case management program that encircles the family with a team of supporters.
At a recent graduation, the clients voluntarily told their stories about how they were challenged by their teachers and the support staff. They also said meeting those challenges made them better mothers and adults.
When the facility opened, Baesler said, “If 15 years from now we can say that 35 young people were able to lead fuller, more productive lives,” then the effort and the $2.9 million spent for the building would have been worth it.
Drop by the reunion on July 26. Listen to the memories and the sincere gratitude. Then tell any teen mother you know to sign up.

A reunion of staff, volunteers, graduates and children of the Family Care Center in celebration of the center’s 25th anniversary.
When: 1-4 p.m. July 26.
Where: 1135 Red Mile Place.
For information and to RSVP: Call (859) 288-4040.

July 22nd, 2014

Home Builders starting two-year apprentice program

The Home Builders Association of Lexington is looking for a few good men and women who want to become skilled workers in the construction industry.
Starting in September, classes for carpentry and for heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology will be held in the evenings at the new Building Institute of Central Kentucky, a school the association started.
“It is something we have talked about for a few years,” said Todd Johnson, executive vice president of the association. “But the need came to the surface. There is a crunch in the labor force (because) there are fewer people coming into the trades now.”
Traditionally, the skills associated with construction were handed down through the family from one generation to another, Johnson said. But now, families are sending their children to college, creating a shortage of skilled labor.
The apprenticeship program, called the Workforce Development Training Program, will be based on a model that has been successful in Northern Kentucky since 1967.
Enzweiler Apprentice Training Program, founded by Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky, is the longest running apprenticeship training program in the United States, according to the program’s website.
That program has classes in carpentry, electricity, HVAC, remodeling and maintenance, masonry, plumbing and welding taught by trades professionals.
Enzweiler graduates about 96 percent of its students and all of those graduates pass the test for licensure, Johnson said.
The Lexington program is driven by the 750 members of the association, some of whom sit on the advisory committee for the school and direct the curriculum.
“Our goal is to produce someone who is employable at the end of the two-year program,” Johnson said.
The National Association of Home Builders is predicting an increase in housing starts this year over 2013, he said, particularly with multi-family housing.
But locally, Johnson said, there is a sense that buyers have not “reached a full comfort level about the overall economy yet. Our members are busy with new construction but definitely could stand to be busier.”
Remodelers, he said, are “slammed,” but there are fewer bigger jobs in this market.
Still, the result of member surveys has shown there are 30 jobs available now in Lexington.
Students will attend class two nights a week, from 6 to 9 p.m. Most, if not all, will have day jobs in the trades they are studying. So far, 15 students have applied. Classes start Sept. 8.
So far, all the applicants are men, Johnson said. The association wants to attract women as well.
Although the training program’s policies have not been finalized for students, association members do have rules in place for their employees or potential employees.
A drug test will be administered at the time of the application and randomly throughout the apprenticeship, he said. And criminal background checks will be conducted and the results reviewed on a case-by-case basis with acceptance into the program based on the nature and severity of the criminal activity.
Tuition is $3,000 a year or $1,500 a semester. Books are covered, but tools are not. “Most companies have a tool-purchase program,” Johnson said. Tools will be available in the classroom, however.
Semesters run from September-December, and January-April. Classes will be held at the school, 124 Trade Street.
Next year, in the fall, three more disciplines — plumbing, masonry and remodeling maintenance — will be added to the curriculum, he said.
“We act on the direction of our members,” Johnson said. “We were told this is something they need. Employers are behind it.
“We are going to hopefully provide good skills to help (students) be employable,” he said. “There is still interest there for young people to work with their hands in a trade.”

For more information
For more information or to apply to the program, contact Bruce Maybriar, director of professional development, at (859) 273-5117, Ext. 33, or email bruce@

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