This column by Steve Flairty first appeared in KyForward.com.
A frequent question I get regarding the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series is quite simple: “Steve, where do you get all those stories?” My prompt answer in recent years has gone something like this: “Well, I’ve been at this a while now. People know I do the project, so the stories pretty much come to me…”
And though the process may be a bit more complex than the answer implies, the truth is that people love to share with others about people who move them, or, in some cases, actually shake them, toward being a better person in their own lives.
We all know that such positive examples, though not rare, are not exemplified by everyone with whom we cross paths. Probably most aren’t. That brings us to the people we’ll meet in this, the fifth volume of the Heroes series. They’re described as heroes for a reason, and they perform that way every day. They are both “movers” and “shakers” for those looking for a template of living with a higher and better cause.
I’m honored to be an instrument for sharing these treasures.
Let’s start off with a couple of young people who lead their peers rather than follow—and in a noble way. Early in their years, they’re building legacies of compassion that could well touch thousands. Shelbyville’s Jessica Collins, an underclassman at Western Kentucky University, decided at age ten that she wanted, in her words, to “make a difference.” She meant it then, and now.
In 2010, Jessica started a still thriving program that donates beds to children who lack such a basic resource. In Louisville, high schooler Andrew Dunn directs a growing organization called Random Acts of Kindness (RAK). He shows us that joy can be obtained as a by-product as we seek to unselfishly bring joy to people in our communities. People are excited to send me such stories because they’ve been moved by them. With kids like Jessica and Andrew, we might see a healthy glimpse of hope for the future of the Bluegrass (and beyond), huh?
Some folks dedicate their marriages to reaching out to the vulnerable among us–and embrace them as an important part of their families. Travis and Christie Lynch, who grew up as “only children,” started God is Love MINistries a decade ago in their home near Berea. They define their work as “a family-oriented home that serves young men ages 12 and up as well as families who need help.” Amy and David Scalf have six adopted children as members of their clan, and the couple provides loving care to the emotional and physical needs of each. Both couples will tell you they are simply living out their faith journey.
And speaking of faith walks, Sister Juana Mendez works ceaselessly with a compassionate understanding of the Hispanic community who seek direction and support, all from her church office in northern Kentucky and sometimes on a mobile basis. Heather Nichols, Versailles, is spurred by her religious devotion to helping meet the physical and, often, spiritual needs of the poor in Woodford County. Dale Hatton, Winchester, works similarly to Heather by connecting to peoples’ needs via his Facebook platform.
Corbin Seavers chooses a unique way to make a difference. He has used his West Louisville Chess Club to make the game a “team sport” and to provide inner-city youths in Louisville with opportunities to stretch their minds–and dreams–toward present and future success. What a mover and shaker Corbin is! I’m so glad that stories like his come my way to pass on in a book.
Judge Leigh Anne Stephens, retired Hazard District Court Judge, always wondered what she could do to help young lawbreakers who appeared before her in court. She came up with the idea of a one-week summer gathering for youth in the area that teaches practical skills and provides good community role models. Camp Promise has been running for a decade and has nudged many along a better path.
Since the 1800s, the Kentucky Methodist Children’s Homes (KyHMH) organization has done a remarkable, ongoing work of assisting youth who have come from “lives they didn’t choose—abandonment, neglect, and abuse.” Their obvious track record of changed lives has moved thousands of people to financially support the comprehensive services they offer; KyHMH is the first service organization I’ve included in the Heroes series, and probably a good thing.
I love to have stories come to me about true overcomers, individuals who leap over their own mountains of challenges to thrive, and in doing so, give aid and comfort to those who struggle mightily. David Lane, now in his late twenties, made some unfortunate decisions as a teenager, developing a drinking problem that followed him into military service. He turned his life direction around, however, and now directs a mission of hope, called Uplifting Ministries, for economically disadvantaged and uneducated individuals in Guatemala. David continues to overcome daily as he encounters danger and limited resources in his project.
Then there is the amazing account of Irma Gall, who came to Stinking Creek, in Knox County, in the late 1950s with her friend, Peggy Kemner. They had a sincere desire to “lend a hand” in the deeply poverty-stricken area of southeast Kentucky. They bought a farm there and established the well-noted Lend-A-Hand Center, a base of operations to deliver babies and promote education—and farm. It’s a story for the ages, one of perseverance and deep devotion to a greater cause. There are hundreds of “stories within the story,” and Irma stands ready to share them, even in her late 80s.
Mike and Wilma Wilson, career music educators in Kentucky’s public schools, spent extra time while they were teaching, and now in retirement, being an important part of the community theatre in Bardstown for many years. Folks around the area greatly appreciate the couple’s enthusiastic sharing of talents in an already dynamic town. In Falmouth, educator Tammy Spicer has gone the second mile in establishing a summer meal program and more for hungry children of low-income parents.
And, if you like the aura of being around Kentuckians who care passionately for America’s military personnel, you’ll be enamored by Jackie “Mom” Kaye, of Burlington, in Boone County. For over three decades, starting alongside her deceased husband, Norman, she has supported U.S. sailors on submarines and battleships by opening her home, sending gifts, and lending emotional support to those she calls her “kids.” She steadfastly continues her work in her mid-80s.
I’m happy and proud of the individual stories that have come this way for the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series. They are remarkable and it is my hope that the reader will be inspired by them. There are times, however, when I am blessed to be right smack in the middle of a narrative touching me personally. I can attest to the compelling nature of it, and that I must share, too. It’s about my brother, Mike, who died recently. Few have moved or have shaken me like my only sibling.
It is to Mike Flairty, my hero of heroes, that I dedicate this book. The stories of others came to me. This one was already with me—nestled in the deepest regions of my heart–and there it will abide.
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• Joseph Beth Booksellers in Lexington and Crestview
• Kentucky Artisan Center, in Berea
• Court Street Gifts, in Winchester
• Marketplace On Main, in Versailles
• Directly, signed and personalized, from author Steve Flairty, 1012 Wil Rose Lane, Versailles, KY. Cost is $14 postpaid, with extra books only $10
• Shelby County Library, Shelbyville, Monday, July 29, 6:00 pm. (Fundraiser for Jessica Collins project)
• Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, Sunday, August 18 at 2 pm. Program with book heroes in attendance for a book signing
• Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Crestview, Sunday, August 25 at 2 pm. Program with book heroes in attendance for a book signing
• Woodford County Library, Versailles, September 16, 6:30 (fundraiser for Heather Nichols project)
Contact me to speak about Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5 at YOUR group gathering. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook private message.
Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s latest, “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was recently released. Steve serves as a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.”