December 18th, 2014

‘Saving My Sista’ shines spotlight on teen dating violence

If there had been dance cards when I was attending high school events, mine would not have been filled.
In fact, the one boy brave enough to come to my house and sit on my front porch was soon scared off by my father, who chose that time to clean his shotgun, which he had never used before or after that day.
Boys talked to me only because I always did my homework, and it was always right.
I point that out not as a lesson in ancient history, but to show how much things have changed in the world of teen dating.
Had I been allowed to date in my teen years, I might not have been so surprised by the number of teens who are verbally and physically abused by those they date.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 22 percent of women and 15 percent of men who are adult victims of rape, stalking and physical violence by an intimate ­partner first experienced partner violence from the ages of 11 to 17.
And about 9 percent of high school students, according to the CDC, report being intentionally hit, slapped or physically hurt by a ­boyfriend or girlfriend within the previous year.
All that adds up to about 1.5 million high school students nationwide who have experienced physical abuse from a dating partner in one year.
What is that all about? Why are our children going through all that in the name of love?
Mattie Morton, a local youth services worker and coordinator of Imani Youth Achievers, doesn’t have all the answers, but she wants to stop it.
Her group, with help from a ­Partners for Youth grant, is hosting a free luncheon Dec. 20 for girls and their mothers to make them more aware of the disturbing trend.
“Saving My Sista” will be noon to 2:30 p.m. at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, 3534 Tates Creek Road.
“We have a lot of teenage girls who are in relationships and who don’t recognize the signs of abuse,” Morton said. “We’re doing this now because in the wintertime the abuse tends to increase.”
Stories she has heard include girls being controlled by cellphones or by being hit by guys, she said. Just saying they are not interested in dating a guy can lead to an altercation.
Gentel Blair, a 2012 graduate of Henry Clay High School, will speak to the girls and mothers. Blair ran track at Henry Clay and accepted a track scholarship at St. Augustine University in Raleigh, N.C.
She is the daughter of Sharrieffa Barksdale, an NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles for the University of Tennessee in 1983 and a semifinalist in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
“She was in one of my programs,” Morton said, “and comes from a single-parent household.”
Blair is studying communications at St. Augustine and is honing her skills by being a sideline reporter for the school’s other athletic teams and with The G Show. on which she interviews athletes, Morton said.
Blair’s purpose is to motivate girls to want more and to dream bigger, not settling for being treated badly.
Morton hopes to have a victim share her story as well.
“What we want them to get is that they are worth more than that,” she said, speaking of scantily clad women in music videos and TV shows. “You are not someone’s punching bag or someone’s toy. Some of them don’t get it.”
Sometimes there are long-term consequences from abuse in the teen years. The CDC reports that some lingering effects include depression and anxiety, engagement in unhealthy behaviors and thoughts of suicide.
Unfortunately, 81 percent of parents surveyed by the National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Initiative think teen dating violence is not an issue or don’t know whether it is an issue. And most parents, 54 percent, said they had not spoken to their child about the possibility of that kind of violence occurring.
That’s why Morton has invited mothers or grandmothers to attend as well.
The luncheon will be the second event this year that Morton has coordinated in an effort to combat problems teens face every day. The first one was in April, and it dealt with female bullying.
“I will show a video of teen dating violence,” Morton said, “and I will give them some statistics and facts.”
It sounds like we parents and grandparents especially need to hear what she has to say.

IF YOU GO
“Saving My Sista”
What: free luncheon to help girls ages 12-18 become more aware of teen dating violence.
When: Noon-2:30 p.m. Dec. 20.
Where: Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, 3534 Tates Creek Rd.
Registration: Mattiemorton@windstream.net.
Information:  (859) 243-0577.

December 8th, 2014

All I want for Christmas is fairness

I’m told there is a banner hanging in front of a local business that says something like, “All I want for Christmas is  No. 9.”
It’s a reference to a ninth NCAA men’s basketball championship for the University of Kentucky.
I wish I lived in that world.
Instead, if I were to hang a banner, it would read, “All I want for Christmas is to be treated like a 63-year-old, overweight, white woman.”
I just want, for once in my life, to be deemed innocent until proven guilty despite not looking like the Norman Rockwell version of a grandmother.
And I would also like for white people to give some consideration to my frustrations with the systemic racism that exists in America and not just discount them immediately.
Instead, I have to write about the disturbing actions and reactions in Ferguson, Mo., where a grand jury refused to indict a white police officer who shot 12 times in broad daylight at an unarmed black teenager whom he had tussled with moments earlier.
I had planned to write a piece after the U. S. Department of Justice released its findings. For decades, black people have received better treatment legally from federal officials than the folks we shop with or live near.
But then, a grand jury in Staten Island, N.Y., refused to indict a white police officer who used an illegal chokehold on an unarmed black asthmatic man while accusing him of selling “loosies,” or individual cigarettes. That’s illegal because taxes can’t be collected on cigarettes sold that way.
The coroner there said the chokehold was a leading cause for the man’s death, and ruled it a homicide.
How can two grand juries in different states hear evidence of two such senseless deaths and not indict the men who were charged to protect and serve?
But the failure to indict isn’t the fault of the jurors.
The district attorneys didn’t seem to try real hard to get an indictment because, as the old saying goes, a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.
I can only infer from their lack of effort in prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law that a black life isn’t all that important. Not worth the effort.
Still, two weeks before the killing in Ferguson, a black St. Louis County police officer was indicted for hitting a white man on the hand with his collapsible baton. That was deemed excessive force by the same prosecutor. The officer is facing second-degree assault charges and has been suspended without pay.
Still, I couldn’t come up with a different angle that would persuade non-believers that racism exists.
Then, Thursday morning, I got a phone call, telling me to visit Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson’s website.
What I found was a posting titled “Racism, the All Purpose Excuse.”
The post was the opinion of Bill Otis, author of the CrimeandConsequences.com blog.
“I won’t go into the obvious difficulties with riots,” the posting began. “I want to make only one point — that the Ferguson riot had next to nothing to do with the expression of dissent, about racial issues or any other.”
Here we go again, I thought. The disconnect.
At the Crime and Consequences site, I saw that the posting began with a criticism of a Time Magazine piece titled “Ferguson: In Defense of Rioting.”
The Time piece said, in part, “Instead of tearing down other human beings who are acting upon decades of pent-up anger at a system decidedly against them, a system that has told them they are less than human for years, we ought to be reaching out to help them regain the humanity they lost, not when a few set fire to the buildings in Ferguson, but when they were born the wrong color in the post-racial America.”
Otis took issue with those words and concluded that the rioting in Ferguson was more about stealing.
“You do it because it’s neat, it’s exhilarating, and most of all because you can — because a weak, self-flagellating culture has handed you an excuse; because the cops are too intimidated by ‘militarization’ talk to do anything; and because just to be clear, stealing stuff is easier than buying it.”
The piece was one of three Larson posted that discounted racism and deadly force by the police as reasons for the riots. The blame instead was placed on media and black-on-black crime.
I saw nothing on our commonwealth’s attorney’s website that reassured me he would seek justice for petty criminals who are dealt a death sentence, without trial, by police.
What was Larson saying? I had to find out.
“I’ve had two anonymous calls that were pretty agitated,” Larson said Thursday, when I called him. “They didn’t use foul language, but I’ve never been called ignorant so many times.”
Larson said he often goes to the Crime and Consequences site as well as the site for Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, where Kent Scheidegger is the director, and posts some of their articles.
“I go to their websites regularly because they talk about criminal justice issues and crime issues,” he said.
Of the “Racism, the All Purpose Excuse” posting, Larson said he puts “different perspectives on our web page and that is a different perspective.”
He said what his office strives to do is treat everyone the same.
But, I said, discounting that racism exists could turn off a lot of people who live it every day. Maybe the trust of law enforcement officials could be torn irreparably, keeping people from working with him to solve crimes.
“If that is what they think, they probably wouldn’t” talk with folks in his office or the police, he said. But, “the one thing we do here is we do everything to treat everybody the same with the same facts.”
It is not distrust in the black community that blocks the exchange of information with authorities, Larson said. It is the “snitch culture.”
“I have far more experience with this ‘don’t snitch’ thing than you do,” he said. “My experience has led me to the clear conclusion that people are afraid of retaliation, not by the police but other people they associate with.”
And, he said, it is not true that prosecutors can get the grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Cases go through a couple of steps prior to presentation to the grand jury, and that is a reason indictments are handed up more frequently than not.
His office, he said, is consistently rated 3.7 out of 4 on questionnaires completed by grand jurors after their term is completed. “That is Phi Beta Kappa,” he said.
Still, considering the negative response he had about those postings, Larson said he had them taken down.
“It is a perspective of pro-law enforcement and a pro-prosecution perspective that this guy does, but I’m not trying to upset people,” he said. “I can see how they might be upset. Sorry about that.
“Bottom line is, I’m going to be putting pro-prosecution, pro-crime victim (postings) on the website,” he said. “I suspect it is not the first time people have been pissed off with me … .”
I wasn’t so much pissed as I was dismayed that our district attorney believes, as evidenced by the posts, that racism is an excuse and not a reality lived daily by some of the people he is supposed to serve.
He is the man who would be presenting evidence to a grand jury if a case like the ones in Ferguson and Staten Island were to occur in Lexington.
Knowing that, I think my chances of receiving justice would be better in the hands of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Despite how much I like UK basketball, all I want for Christmas is for those in authority to believe that black lives matter.

December 8th, 2014

Inmates make a difference, donating 18,000 handmade items to agencies

Many of the inmates at the ­Leestown Road Federal Medical Center have spent time sewing, quilting, crocheting, knitting and creating wooden jewelry boxes and toys — 18,000 items — which will be distributed by agencies throughout Kentucky, just in time for Christmas.
And those gifts are not just thrown together, let me say.
“If it is not something you would give to one of your children or one of your family members, then it won’t go out,” said Gail Greathouse, 59, who is in training to be the coordinator for the project.
Greathouse will take over as boss when Norma Canipe, 54, is released from prison in March. And by all accounts, Greathouse’s task won’t be very easy.

Inmate Kim Brown held a quilt she made. From left, fellow inmates Toni Wilder, Luella Crayton and Norma Canipe, also create toys and items to be given away. Under Canipe's leadership, the program has become a huge operation.  Photo by CHARLES BERTRAM

Inmate Kim Brown held a quilt she made. From left, fellow inmates Toni Wilder, Luella Crayton and Norma Canipe, also create toys and items to be given away. Under Canipe’s leadership, the program has become a huge operation. Photo by CHARLES BERTRAM

Under Canipe’s direction, a fledgling program that produced a few hundred items each year is now a mammoth operation.
“I don’t do a lot of crocheting; I just make sure it is done,” she said. “I say I need a hundred of these and make sure it gets done.”
But there’s a little more to it than that.
Toni Wilder, 68, said the group makes about 200 bears a year for the Kiwanis Club in Scott County. Those bears were completed in April. When Canipe learned that she was leaving, she had the women make 100 more so far, just to get a good start on next year.
“She didn’t think the ­quality would be up to her standards,” Wilder said.
Wilder’s specialty is making mats for partially sighted preschoolers in the Visually Impaired Preschool Services, and some children with the Down Syndrome Association of Central Kentucky. The mats have textured shapes that can be traced by little fingers and appliqués that move or make sounds.
“I am the garbage person,” Wilder said with no hint of a smile. “I go through all of the scrap material to make these.”
Nothing is wasted. Out of a couple yards of fabric, the women can make a baby blanket, a bib and a child’s apron. The leftovers are cut into 5-inch squares for quilting, and the scraps are stuffed into a doggie bed.
The project falls under the Community Relations Board, which is chaired by Sally Leukefeld, who has been with the board for 23 years.

Sally Leukefeld chairs the Community Relations Board.  Photo by CHARLES BERTRAM

Sally Leukefeld chairs the Community Relations Board. Photo by CHARLES BERTRAM

“When I came, it was just a little knitting,” Leukefeld said. “Then we started the quilting program.”
Quilting really took off when Elise Kalika became the quilting teacher, she said. “She made our program so much better,” ­Leukefeld said, About 200 of the 280 women inmates at the minimum security camp are quilters.
The woodcraft items are built by the male inmates. Some of them who are ill make crocheted and knitted animals, too.
Sometimes the women get to deliver the items, allowing them to see the joy their work brings to others.
One year, Canipe ­delivered items to a domestic violence shelter, where one little girl gleefully donned a hat and scarf and pulled a wooden dog wherever she went.
“That touched me,” she said, still emotional. “Everything that I’ve been through, to see that, it just touched me.”
Kim Brown, 50, quilts and crochets, when not at her job at the camp and other responsibilities. She proudly displayed a colorful youth-size quilt, complete with matching pillow case, that will soon become a treasured item.
“Time management is a great skill I’ve learned,” Brown said.
Kenny Coleman, FMC’s camp administrator, said the project, which distributed 10,000 items last year, is a “three-way partnership between the community relations board, the institution and the inmates.
“Many of them don’t have ties in the Lexington area,” he said. “They just feel the need to give back to the community.”
The amazing part to me is that the program has no budget. Everything the women and men use is ­donated. Everything. And with 18,000 gifts going out this week, material is desperately needed.
“Yarn is the hardest to get,” Leukefeld said. “I speak at churches and other groups and beg. That is the way we exist.”
About 10,000 yards of fabric has been donated, Greathouse said.
“Stuffing would be a gift from heaven,” Leukefeld said. “We’ll take money, too.”
Other institutions look at FMC’s program as a model, she said.

Photo by Charles Bertram

Photo by Charles Bertram

“This is the place where it is happening, where we are setting the example of how it should be.”
And that is fine by these women who just want to make a difference.

TO HELP
The Community Relations Board at the Federal Medical Center needs all types of crafting items for inmates to make gifts throughout the year for 26 agencies.
Needs include: yarn, fabric, ribbon, knitting and crochet needles, black and white thread, buttons, jewelry beads, 13-inch zippers, sew-on Velcro, batting and stuffing. Money also is acceptable.
To donate: Call (859) 263-8707.

December 1st, 2014

Conference plans to lynch last remnants of Jim Crow

Tim Wise makes you wonder if he has black ancestry.
Wise, one of the more thought-provoking white anti-racism activists in America, has traveled to 50 states challenging racism and white privilege. His mission is to awaken white people to what black people have seen and lived through for a very long time.
That mission just might not work as well if he were black.
“Nothing that I am going to say tonight, or at least very little of it, originated in my head,” Wise said during a speech on white privilege in 2007. “Nothing or at least very little of what I say tonight is in fact new.
“Almost every single thing I am going to say this evening is wisdom that has been shared with me either patiently or sometimes not so patiently by people of color who have in almost every incident forgotten more about the subjects of racism and white privilege since breakfast yesterday than I will likely ever know. And yet, they will not be asked to give 85 engagements around the country this year or next on this subject.”
I can’t imagine any black person in that audience not wondering how he got into their heads.
When he visited Lexington in 2003, I wrote how unnerving it was to hear spoken and unspoken black sentiment flow from white lips. In fact, I scrutinized his words, looking for that one slip-up that would indicate it was all for show.

Tim Wise

Tim Wise

I never heard it.
In his books that I have read, I’ve never seen it. From the musings on his Facebook page, I’ve never sensed it.
So it makes sense to have Wise, who has always been about inclusion and shedding light on hidden truths, return to Lexington on Dec. 5, as the keynote speaker for the Central Kentucky Diversity Consortium’s 2014 Multicultural Opportunities, Strategies and Institutional Inclusiveness Conference or MOSAIIC.
That conference, originally created by the Bluegrass Community and Technical College Office of Multiculturalism and Inclusion eight years ago, is sponsored for the first time by a consortium of several area colleges and universities. That partnership consists of faculty and staff from Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC), Transylvania University, Berea College, Georgetown College, Eastern Kentucky University, Centre College, Kentucky State University and the University of Kentucky.
A consortium is appropriate because if society is going to confront racism head-on, everyone has to be at the table.
This year’s theme is “The Lynching of Resurrected Jim Crow: the Problems and the Solutions.”
Jim Crow laws were enacted after the Reconstruction era in the South to sanction racial segregation and ensure blacks were less than equal to whites, trumping federal laws giving freed slaves more liberty.
Those oppressive conditions continued, bolstered by unfair state and federal legislation, until the Civil Rights Act seemingly banished them into history books.
But the relics of Jim Crow continue, under new names and new tactics.
“I am convinced that we are moving in the right direction in regards to being concerned about the backward movement of equality and justice,” Charlene Walker, vice president for the office of multiculturalism and inclusion at BCTC, said. “Themes around poverty, mis-education of people of color, concentrated killings and imprisonment of young men of color, all point back to the ‘New Jim Crow.’ We recognize it but how do we expose it and deal with it?”
Her way is to treat Jim Crow the way black people were often treated when it was the law of the land: hang it.
“A lynching of Jim Crow is in order and long past due,” Walker said, “but this execution will require all of us working simultaneously in a grass-roots strategy, first exposing these continued injustices, then challenging, and ultimately hanging, Jim Crow by its neck until dead.”
That means not only the victims of that oppression need to be involved, but also the perpetrators and onlookers.
The two-day conference begins on Dec. 4 with an explanation and history of the law and a panel discussion featuring young people who are still feeling its impact.
Later, a panel of professionals will discuss how black and brown people face similar obstacles to equity now as their grandparents did in the early 20th century.
On Dec. 5, community members, educators and activists will discuss solutions that are in place to confront the cause of the persistent school-to-prison pipeline, low self-esteem and lack of educational preparation.
At lunch, MOSAIIC awards will be presented to individuals and institutions that have shown a proven commitment to diversity.
That ceremony will be followed by Wise’s address.
Wise is the author of six books, including White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son; Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama; and Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity.
His newest book, The Culture of Cruelty: How America’s Elite Demonize the Poor, Valorize the Rich and Jeopardize the Future, scheduled for release in 2015, is about the ways society downplays the problems faced by the unemployed and the poor simply because their conditions aren’t as crushing as those of people in foreign countries.
When asked on his website why people should listen to him on matters of racism rather than people of color, Wise wrote: “The dangers of not speaking out as a white person are myriad: it allows whites to think racism is only a black and brown issue (rather than something that endangers us all in the long run); it allows whites to dismiss the critiques of racism offered by people of color, precisely because they can be perceived as narrowly self-interested; and it allows whites to never have to examine their own conditioning or privileges, since few members of any privileged group tend to respond constructively to criticisms of their privileges coming from marginalized group members (at least at first).”
Speaking out in a unified voice changes things. That’s what MOSAIIC is all about.
If not, Walker said, the adage comes into play: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
The repressive limitations of Jim Crow laws are a good example of that.
“This conference is going to blow a lot of stuff open that people haven’t really thought about,” Walker said. “The main reason people need to come is to realize things are not better.”

IF YOU GO
What: “The Lynching of Resurrected Jim Crow: the Problems and the Solutions,” the 2014 MOSAIIC conference, featuring Tim Wise, well-known anti-racism activist.
When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 4; 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Dec. 5. Keynote address at 1 p.m.
Where: Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third St.
Cost: $100 for entire conference; $50 one day with luncheon; or $25 for keynote only on Dec. 5, paid directly to Lyric box office. Students are free.
Registration and information: Registration is required. Visit bluegrass.kctcs.edu/Multiculturalism_and_Inclusion, or call (859) 246-6439, or e-mail charlene.walker@kctcs.edu.

November 7th, 2014

Two nonprofits that will get my help at holidays

It has to be difficult to run a nonprofit organization this time of year.
The donors who have blessed the organization throughout the year are highly sought-after during the holidays by other agencies just as desperate to make their clients or participants happy around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Tammy Fight, left, and Gabrielle Theneman sorted stuffed animals during the annual Reindeer Express event at The Nest last year. Photo by Pablo Alcala

Tammy Fight, left, and Gabrielle Theneman sorted stuffed animals during the annual Reindeer Express event at The Nest last year. Photo by Pablo Alcala

Because those groups are so passionate about what they do and who they serve, competing for dollars is a necessary evil.
“It can be very challenging,” said Jeffrey White, executive director of The Nest Center for Women, Children, and Families. “There are a lot of things going on and a lot of good organizations.”
But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t help them. While there are many worthy nonprofits, two of my longtime favorites are Fostering Goodwill, which serves young people, 18-25, who have aged out of foster care, and The Nest, which serves families in crisis.
Fostering Goodwill hosts a Christmas party to be held this year at GattiTown for the sixth time, thanks to the generosity of owners Jeff and Kim Frye.
At the gathering, more than 150 people — those who have aged out and their children — enjoy several hours of games, food and fun. Jeff Culver and another social worker, Earl Washington, founded the organization about nine years ago because sometimes the foster youth just weren’t ready to be on their own at age 18. But, because they are transitioning out of foster care and may not have any family members to speak of, those youth could go without gifts at Christmas if it were not for Fostering Goodwill.
“We try to give each youth at least $50 in gift cards,” Culver said. “For those with kids, we try to give them more.”

Earl Washington and Jeff Culver

Earl Washington and Jeff Culver

Plus Culver and Washington give out door prizes and even have an award, the Nick Carter Award, that acknowledges four youths who are succeeding despite the odds.
“We still help throughout the year,” Culver said. “We help with rent and with electric and water bills and we keep extra gift cards on hand for when the youth get hungry.”
There are more youths coming in the pipeline, Culver said. The biggest group entering foster care is those age 13 to 17.
“It is the breakdown of the family,” he said, “and as the years pass, you see the results. A lot (of the youth) are coming through with status offenses, truancy and runaway (problems).
“These families just don’t have a lot of support,” he said.
The Nest understands that all too well. That nonprofit offers four programs for struggling families: child care, a domestic violence program, crisis care, and parenting programs. Most of their services go to crisis care.
“We see 1,800 adults in that program,” White said. “They come in and have basic needs, such as diapers, formula, children’s clothing and toiletries.”
Eighty percent of the families served are the working poor, he said, who just can’t make ends meet.
Through those four programs this year, 717 children received services. They are the ones White wants to give a nice Christmas through Reindeer Express, a program in its 36th year. It allows parents to choose new, unwrapped toys, books, and warm clothing for their children up to 5 years old.
Gift suggestions include games and puzzles, dolls of various ethnicities; sports equipment, cars, trucks, dinosaurs, action figures, art supplies, new winter coats, hats and gloves, and wrapping paper and tape.
The parents have all been sent invitations, but not all will respond. Some have moved away. So White hopes to have at least enough new items for 500 children.
The parents will come on Dec. 12, and will be accompanied by a volunteer serving as a personal shopper. By the end of the visit, the parents will have a bag filled like the one Santa Claus carries, plus they will be given a box of food.
“If (donors) bring the items by the 10th, it would be really helpful for setup,” White said. “But we will take items all the way up to the day of.”
And both groups welcome monetary donations, too.
Whether you give to the newly independent foster youth, or to struggling families, or to another nonprofit altogether is up to you.
“You have to do whatever speaks to your heart,” White said.
These two organizations speak to mine.

IF YOU WANT TO HELP
For Fostering Goodwill: Send store gift cards (the youth prefer Walmart or Target) or checks to: Fostering Goodwill, P.O. Box 54561, Lexington, Ky., 40555. The deadline is Dec. 16. Call: (859) 433-1206.
For The Nest Center for Women, Children and Families: Purchase new toys, warm coats and gloves for children 5 and younger, along with wrapping paper and tape, and take the unwrapped items to: 530 North Limestone, Lexington, Ky. 40508. Deadline is Dec. 10. Call: (859) 259-1974.

November 7th, 2014

Many aging residents could use a few basic gifts

We are nearing the time of year when the wants and needs of children direct our emotional and financial actions.
That’s fine. But I would just like to tweak that a bit.
If you notice that the children in your life have an abundance of loot, consider not buying one or two items on their wish list and using that money to bless a senior in need.
Yes. Seniors. Remember them?
With the program Be a Santa to ­Seniors, Home Instead Senior Care’s network has tried since 2006 to ensure that those seniors get a gift at Christmas that they might not otherwise receive.
Blair Huffman, human resources director for Home Instead Senior Care Lexington, said her agency partners with the Salvation Army, ­Sayre Christian Village, ­Emerson Center, Briarwood Apartments of Lexington, and others to find seniors in need of being remembered at Christmastime.
“We are looking to gift 200 seniors at least,” Huffman said.
The names, along with their wishes, will be attached to an ornament and placed on a tree in the agency’s office. Anyone may come to the Home Instead offices at 207 East Reynolds Road, Suite 150, claim an ­ornament, and return it by Dec. 5 with a gift, wrapped if possible. If not, there are volunteers who are willing to wrap the items.
“We will have a wrapping party,” she said. “Just make sure the ornament is ­attached to the gift.”

Blair Huffman

Blair Huffman

Since Be a Santa to Seniors began in Lexington, about 1,000 seniors have ­received gifts. In North America, that ­number has grown to 1.2 million with help from more than 60,000 volunteers.
None of those who qualify for the ­program are clients of Home Instead, which provides nonmedical home care services to clients and their families. The services could include simple household chores, companionship or accompanying a client to a doctor’s appointment.
Those seniors who do qualify to have their names on the tree have basic wants, Huffman said.
“It’s everyday needs, such as sweat suits, socks, blankets and hygiene products,” she said.
Beaumont Family Dentistry has donated boxes of dental supplies, and The J.M. Smucker Co.’s Jif Plant has donated tiny jars of peanut butter to which her office added a sleeve of crackers.
There have been a few requests from outside Lexington, including one person who wanted firewood, she said.
There are ornaments on the tree now, but they are willing to add more as ­additional names come in.
If you can’t stop by to pick up a name, Huffman is willing to bring an ornament to you and then return to pick up the gift, she said. If that won’t work, she can email or fax you a picture of the ornament.
Whichever way is easiest for you, Huffman is willing to do it. This is the time of year when she is out delivering ornaments or passing out fliers to make more people aware of the program.
“November and December, I am constantly coming and going,” she said. “I will literally bring the ornament right to them.”
If you know of a senior who might qualify for this program, give Huffman a call. If you would like to donate multiple items, she’d love to hear from you, too.
With just a little bit of effort on our part, we can show seniors that we value them just as much as we do our children at Christmas.
After all, at one time, they valued us.

HOW TO HELP
What: Home Instead Senior Care in Lexington needs you to select the name of a senior from its Christmas tree for its Be a Santa to Seniors program.
When: Now until Dec. 5, when the gifts should be returned, wrapped if possible.
Where: Home Instead Senior Care, 207 East Reynolds Rd., Suite 150.
Information: If you want to know about giving gifts or nominate a senior, call Blair Huffman at (859) 273-0085, or go to ­Beasantatoasenior.com.

November 7th, 2014

Woman who inspired ABC-TV’s ‘Scandal’ speaking at UK

I’ve had to watch videos of the first season of ABC’s hit political drama Scandal in order to understand how powerful Judy Smith must be.
Olivia Pope, the main character in Scandal who is played by Kerry Washington, was fashioned after Smith who, for more than two decades, has been stamping out ticklish kerfuffles and dousing major ignominies that could have spelled the end of corporations, celebrities and even government officials.
Smith is the founder and president of Smith & Co., a crisis management and communications firm in Washington and in Los Angeles. She is also the former White House deputy press secretary and special assistant to President George H. W. Bush, an author, and the co-executive producer of Scandal.
When Paula Deen was submerged in negative press last year, she hired Smith to help save or rebuild her folksy image. And it was Smith who, in photographs from 1998, can be seen trying to shield Monica Lewinsky from journalists and cameras during the sexual scandal involving President Bill Clinton.
Smith has worked with other politicians, corporations and athletes such as NBA stars Kobe Bryant, Chris Webber and Juan Howard; NFL players Michael Vick and Donté Stallworth; and MLB’s Gary Sheffield during their encounters with the judicial system.

Kerry Washington and Judy Smith

Kerry Washington and Judy Smith

That’s pretty impressive.
The reason I had to familiarize myself with the TV series, which premiered in 2012, and with the woman who inspired the series, is because Smith will be speaking on Nov. 11 at Memorial Hall on the University of Kentucky campus.
My daughter and her friends, who are big fans of the show, just might camp out at Memorial Hall to ensure they get a seat for the free event. Passersby could think there is another Big Blue Madness event in the making instead of simply a group of young women hoping to glean advice and pointers from an intelligent and skilled woman of color.
Sponsored by the Multicultural Committee of the UK Student Activities Board, Smith’s appearance is part of a series of lectures called “Women of the World.”
“The foundation of the series lies in harnessing and highlighting the power that we women have,” said Kristyn Cherry, SAB director of Multicultural Affairs and host of the event. “I don’t think society as a whole showcases it enough. Our goal is to celebrate women from diverse backgrounds who have any type of influence in the social, political and economic arenas.”
Cherry said SAB sends out an all-students survey one semester prior to the date of an event. The results help the organization plan for more than 100 entertaining, educational and enriching events in the upcoming semester for the university community and general population in Lexington.
“So, essentially, it’s the student who picked Judy Smith,” Cherry said. “We want to be sure that we’re serving our student body because that’s what our organization is all about.”
More lectures are planned, she said, but she wasn’t ready to reveal any names.
“The current survey includes some amazing names that we’d like to keep private,” she said, “but there are a multitude of other women that we would also love to bring to UK.”
Smith points out in her 2012 book, Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities into Your Biggest Assets, that we all have problems in our lives that need to be smoothed over. The methods she uses in high-profile cases can calm the troubled waters we find ourselves in, she says.
A wife and mother of two grown children, Smith writes there are seven traits at the root of a crisis: ego, denial, fear, ambition, accommodation, patience and indulgence. If one of those traits is out of balance, bad behavior usually results.
While she was writing that book, her agent asked if she would meet with people who produce TV shows. She has said she was scheduled to talk with Shonda Rhimes, creator and producer of successful ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, for about 20 minutes, but the conversation continued for more than two hours. A deal was signed soon after.
Not everything in the show is true to life. Smith has said she and Bush never had an affair, unlike Pope and the show’s president. However, Bush has teased that such a rumor would give him credibility with the younger members of his staff, she said.
Smith has said her first “gig out of law school” was working with Lawrence Walsh, special prosecutor of the Iran-Contra investigation. She had commented to a friend that the messages about the Reagan administration’s illegal sale of weapons to Iran were not transparent, consistent or believable. The next day Walsh called and hired her to improve the public’s take on the scandal.
“Smith is an incredibly inspirational woman and we’re so excited for her to open our lecture series,” Cherry said. “I hope that attendees are able to appreciate her story and realize that she is just one of millions of inspirational women of the world.”

IF YOU GO
“Women of the World” lecture series, sponsored by the UK Student Activities Board, featuring Judy Smith, crisis management expert and inspiration for the ABC drama Scandal.
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 11.
Where: Memorial Hall, UK campus, 610 S. Limestone.
Cost: Free.
For information: Email: contact@uksab.org, or text a question beginning with SABQ, followed by your question or comment, to 411-247.

October 20th, 2014

Candidates forum for the underserved

Sometimes the Kentucky candidates who are vying for elective offices on the federal level seem to think I am overcome with worry about President Obama’s “war on coal,” or about losing my right to walk around Walmart with an AR-15.
And if not those two pressing issues, they seem to think I lose sleep at night about the Affordable Care Act rim-racking hospital budgets.
While highly publicized, those issues aren’t what should keep us on our knees at night.
With all due respect to those who have lost jobs in the declining coal industry, there are millions of other Americans who are unemployed, under-employed or simply struggling, whose plights the candidates haven’t addressed sufficiently. Those people are losing their homes, cars, and any future they had planned for their children because their savings accounts and hope have dried up.
There also are families who have been devastated when loved ones have been felled by bullets from legal or illegal guns that are so accessible. What do the candidates propose to ease their grief?
When fear and gun rights allow ordinary citizens and the police to become judges, juries and executioners, someone ought to be talking about that. Where is that outrage?
And, Lord have mercy, please let someone stand up and say Obamacare has lifted the burden of medical uncertainty and financial ruin from the shoulders of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who had been held hostage by the insurance industry.
Can we hear something like that slip from the lips of these candidates?
Well, The Rev. Clark Williams told me we would if we attend the final candidates forum presented this year by Operation Turnout, a non-partisan, grassroots, social justice organization that wants the needs and concerns of the under-represented, poor, or minority voters to be heard. Williams was a founder of the group in 2010.
The group’s 2014 Truth Campaign Forum Series will end with the two candidates seeking the 6th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives — Rep. Andy Barr and Elisabeth Jensen. U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes cancelled on Saturday. Incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell has not confirmed.
When asked if he hoped McConnell would show up, Williams said, “Hope is a strong word. He should be expected to show up. I was told on Thursday that I would have a definitive answer by Friday but I don’t have an answer.”
Unlike other debates and forums, Williams said this one on Oct. 21 at Shiloh Baptist Church, 237 East 5th Street will drill down to the issues that impact the under-served, especially those in Lexington’s East End community where unemployment is at 20 percent.
“That is our biggest distinction by design,” he said. “Obviously, I’m biased.”
He said the questions will center on raising the minimum wage, the stability of social security, and perfecting but not eliminating ACA.
The questions, which will be generated by the moderators, by members of Operation Turnout and by the audience, will be seeking solutions and not just yes or no, up or down responses, he said.
“Whether (the candidates) give solution-based answers is up to them,” Williams said. “But you need to come seeking solutions and noting if you actually heard one. There will be no softball questions.”
In addition to the candidates for federal offices, Williams said the four candidates for the two seats on the Fayette County Public Schools board have also agreed to attend. Second district incumbent Doug Barnett and his opponent Roger Cleveland, along with 4th District incumbent Amanda Ferguson and her opponent Natasha Murray will open the forum with their stances on equity issues in our schools.
This is a great chance to be better informed about the candidates who are courting our votes.
No matter how many TV commercials would have you believe otherwise, this mid-term election should be about the needs of the voters and not the position of political parties.
I have lived through many years of one party ruling both houses of Congress and I have been through years of gridlock when opposing parties ruled each house.
The operative words are “lived through.”
Americans will continue to stand tall no matter who wins and if we don’t like the way our representatives behave, we can vote for changes in two years.
It would just be nice for Kentuckians to progress at the same rate as residents of other states. It would be nice to have better jobs, a better educational system, and better health care, just like other states.
The only way to get that is to vote for the candidates who can deliver what we want.

IF YOU GO
What: Operation Turnout’s 2014 Truth Campaign Forum Series featuring candidates for U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, as well as Fayette County School Board.
When: 6:30 p.m., Oct. 21.
Where: Shiloh Baptist Church, 237 East 5th Street.
Information: Email operation.turnout.forum@gmail.com.

October 20th, 2014

Mr. Bills has his day at Yates Elementary

Gene Bills, 76, wasn’t very happy Wednesday morning.
A faithful volunteer at Yates Elementary School, Bills had been called into the school by Principal Twanjua Jones for “safety training.”
“He said, ‘I don’t know why I have to go to mandatory safety training at 9 o’clock on my day off,’” said Bills’ wife, Joyce. “I don’t need safety training.”
And he was right. He didn’t need safety training and wasn’t going to get any.
Jones and members of the Yates staff were planning to honor Bills as their first “Yates Volunteer of the Month.”
Wednesday was “Mr. Bills Day.”

Gene Bills was honored as the first Yates volunteer of the month during a surprise ceremony on Oct. 15, 2014. Photo by Charles Bertram.

Gene Bills was honored as the first Yates volunteer of the month during a surprise ceremony on Oct. 15, 2014. Photo by Charles Bertram.

Shortly after 9 a.m., Bills entered the cafeteria to find children cheering for him and Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton waiting to congratulate him for his faithful service.
“I’m the last to find out anything,” he said later after learning that his wife, daughter and two grandsons who attend Yates all were in on the secret.
Bills hauled gasoline around Lexington for more than 44 years, the last 25 while owning his own fleet of trucks. He said he retired 11 years ago, but continued to work part-time for nine more years. “I drove for three million miles accident free,” he said.
Last year, Shelton came to the Wednesday night prayer meeting at Immanuel Baptist Church to ask for volunteers to help out in the schools.
“Joyce was sitting beside me and said, ‘That is a good job for you,’” Bills recalled.
He hesitated because he wouldn’t earn any money. “She said ‘You haven’t worked in the last two years, so it doesn’t make any difference,’” Bills said.
He applied online and four days later he was notified he had passed the background check.
“So I came here and started doing it and fell in love with it,” Bills said.
He claims he was shy when he started, standing back and watching teachers correct children. It didn’t last long.
“After four or five weeks, I said, ‘Turn around and put your feet under the table.’ After a while, I was a little Hitler.”
That’s not how teachers or staff described him. And, after watching him call students by name and offering hugs, it doesn’t appear the children see him that way either.
“You can’t teach a person to love and care,” Jones said. “That is innate. Kids see that through your actions. Mr. Bills’ actions show it, not just for the children, but with the staff. It gives me chills to think about it.
“On these rainy days, he brings sunshine,” she said. “He is a breath of fresh air, the energy that we need.”
Bills helps prepare the lunch room for the children who start coming in for lunch about 10:50 a.m. He works from about 10:15 a.m. to 12:40 p.m., three days a week.
When he’s not doing that, his hobby is working with the American Truck Historical Society, Bluegrass Chapter.  Last week, he and his wife, along with Roseanne Mingo of VisitLex, Lexington’s convention and visitors bureau, and members of the group traveled to York, Penn., where the national group was meeting. They won the right to host the 2018 annual antique truck convention at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“It was between Lexington and Kalamazoo, Mich.,” Bills said, “and we won. (Mingo) presented our side.”
Throughout the trip, Bills was telling everyone he met about how much he enjoys working with the children, said Joyce Bills, his wife of 51 years. “When we go on vacation, he gets homesick to come back to the children and to the staff,” she said.
Fayette County Public Schools would love to have more volunteers like that.

Gene Bills, a senior volunteer, was honored with the first volunteer of the month award at Yates Elementary during a surprise ceremony in the school cafeteria. Photos by Charles Bertram

Gene Bills, a senior volunteer, was honored with the first volunteer of the month award at Yates Elementary during a surprise ceremony in the school cafeteria. Photos by Charles Bertram

“We go to church together and he shares with me regularly on Sunday about how much he loves working with kids,” Shelton said. “Our faith-based community has stepped up but we need more.”
Volunteers can work in a variety of jobs in the schools, from tutoring to clerical work, helping in the library or with computers. Most jobs require little or no training.
“Teachers work really hard with the children,” Jones said. “The volunteers add an extra layer of support for the students. Children want to please. You can see the children’s faces light up when they see people giving of their time.”
A background check is required and the application process can start on the schools’ Family and Community Engagement (FACE) page, fcps.net/administration/departments/family-community.
“If you don’t have anything to do, it gives you something to occupy your time,” Bills said. “You will fall in love with it.”

October 20th, 2014

We have more pressing issues than Ebola

My husband was hospitalized a couple of weeks ago for knee replacement surgery. During his recovery, I spoke with a native Nigerian at the hospital who was more than a little put out about the coverage or lack thereof of the Ebola virus outbreak on her native continent.
While the spread of Ebola in Nigeria has been tamped down, the disease is still spreading in other West African countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Unfortunately, not much coverage was given to the thousands of people who have died in West Africa during this recent outbreak, and this woman couldn’t understand that.
I don’t either.
And now that the epidemic has come into focus because of the American aid workers who contracted and successfully fought off the disease, reports are zeroing in on the first Ebola death on Oct. 8 in the United States, rather than the 121 people who died in one day from Ebola in Sierra Leone, according to daily statistics kept by Sierra Leone’s Emergency Operations Center.
The hospital worker I met during my husband’s surgery said we Americans were blaming Africa for spreading the disease, rather than helping Africa contain the disease.
And now that a nurse in Dallas has contracted the disease, calls to close our borders will only increase. The new case will have TV and radio commentators panicking and hypochondriacs heading for the nearest emergency rooms.
I suggest we all take a deep breath.
Ebola is a scary disease. No doubt. Patients suffer vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, fever and unexplained bleeding. About half of sufferers in Africa die, amounting to about 4,000 people.
Malaria killed 600,000 people in Africa in 2012. Use that for perspective.
I’m not seeing the reason for all the fear in our country. We have far more to fear from the flu than Ebola, and we can’t close our shores to the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 226,000 Americans are hospitalized with the flu every year and some 36,000 die from flu-related complications. Still, only 46 percent of Americans get a flu shot.
Two Americans have been successfully treated for Ebola and, currently, four people are being treated for Ebola in America. Only the Dallas health care worker contracted the disease here.
Those numbers seem really low.
Don’t we have enough to worry about?
Right here in Fayette County, we have students who might be going to school every day and learning little or nothing. We have an elementary school that sank to the bottom of all schools in the state. Shouldn’t we be embarrassed enough about that and worried about the future of the children who are being educated there?
Throughout our state, we have students graduating from colleges and universities with enough debt to keep the American Dream at bay for more than 20 years while they pay it off. Shouldn’t we be worried about that?
And nationally, we have open season on killing black youth not only by police but by average citizens who somehow detect danger when none is present. We want to get them before they might get us.
Why doesn’t that scare us more than Ebola?
As a nation we are creating things that go bump in the night when we should realize how blessed we are. We purport to be a Christian nation, and the Bible I read says “do not be afraid” or “fear not” far more times than it says an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
It also says we should care for the sick, give shelter to the homeless, and feed the poor. Nowhere does it say close your eyes, ears, hearts and borders to the needs of your brethren.
I think we ought to be more afraid of missing those marks of being a good Christian than falling ill to Ebola.

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