Two cute rabbits and a pig looking quite noble caught my eye on a flier my daughter brought home from school recently announcing a livestock show for children with multiple disabilities.
Sponsored by the Boone County 4-H Livestock Club, the show is scheduled for 11 a.m. May 12 at the Boone County Fairgrounds. Participants can choose to show a rabbit, chicken, lamb, pig or goat. The event is free, and there will be prizes.
I love animals and the connection children can have with them, so this, I thought, was a great idea. I emailed Christy Eastwood, the show’s contact at the Boone County Cooperative Extension office. Christy did a super job several years ago setting up a cooking and healthy habits program for a group of families with special needs children that I had organized. I was happy to see her name connected to this program.
She wrote back explaining that this is the third year for the show, which was the idea of a 4-H family. While the show is promoted for ages 9-18, it’s open to people of any age. Last year, Christy said, a 2-year-old participated.
Also, it’s not limited to Boone County. “The more the better,” Christy said.
Here’s how the event works:
Upon arrival, participants and their parents sign in, sign a photo release and get a T-shirt. Participants are paired with 4-H youths and their animals and spend about thirty minutes working together and getting to know each other.
Then it’s time for the show. Participants show their animal by either walking it in a small show ring or carrying it to a table. The 4-H partners are with them at all times to ensure the participants do only what they are comfortable with or capable of doing. Participants receive a medal and get their picture taken. The event lasts about an hour.
Christy said everyone benefits from the event. The 4-H members get leadership and service experience, she said, and the individuals with special needs get the opportunity to interact with animals and other youth.
If you’re interested, you can RSVP to Christy at 586-6101 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can’t commit, that’s OK too. Christy says anyone who shows up can participate. Registering, though, helps her to have enough T-shirts and medals.
4-H is a youth development organization run through Cooperative Extension offices across the country. The four h’s of 4-H stand for head, heart, hands and health. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a great link I found with an overview : https://4-h.org/about/what-is-4-h/. And here’s one that tells more about Boone County’s 4-H program: https://boone.ca.uky.edu/files/4-h_program_information.pdf. Kenton and Campbell counties also have 4-H programs.
Photos provided by Boone County Cooperative Extension.
Kentucky has created a new category in high school bowling. On paperwork regarding my daughter’s participation, I saw it referred to as the unified division.
If you think on that a minute, the name could sound like an oxymoron. But don’t tell Highlands High School’s Parker Thomas that.
On a cold Feb. 9 morning in Lexington, Thomas advanced with partner Maddie Shelton to the bowling finals of Kentucky’s unified division. Held as part of the state high school bowling tournament, unified bowling pairs a student with intellectual disabilities and one without for training and competition.
And compete they did. But even in the midst of an intense match up with Louisville’s Southern High School, there was not much division. Thomas kept getting high fives from – and giving them right back to – a man coaching the opposition.
You read that right. The opposition. During competition. In the state finals.
The crowd that had gathered around the bowlers on lanes 19 and 20 at Collins-Eastland Bowling Center cheered on both teams as they battled back and forth. Strike after strike after spare. Pins crashing. Spirits soaring.
Three NKY high schools represented
Highlands, the Region 5 champ, was one of three Northern Kentucky teams to make history as competitors in the first state tournament for unified bowling. Region 5 runner-up Simon Kenton also qualified thanks to the skills of Nick Blacketer and Mitchell Kreidenweis.
From Region 6, my daughter, Anna Mimms, bowled with partner Hannah Day to represent Cooper High School. In the qualifying round, they bowled a 120 to earn a No. 3 seed, followed by Highlands at No. 7 with a 99 and Simon Kenton at No. 8 with a 97.
In all, 13 unified pairs represented ten schools and all eight bowling regions in the state. The teams bowled two-person Baker games, in which bowlers on the same team alternate frames to bowl a complete game.
I hadn’t planned on being a reporter that day. I was there to cheer on Anna, who has special needs, and Hannah in a state championship – an event I never saw coming for my daughter, sister to two big brothers, both former multi-sport high school athletes. A daughter who tried out for bowling at a different high school three years ago with little to no chance of making it. Who was cut and, even so, tried out again the next year. Who loved bowling with Special Olympics but so wanted to wear her school’s team colors, just like her brothers had.
The girl even designed her high school class ring with a bowling ball and pins on it.
Then, for unrelated reasons, came the switch to Cooper. Bowling coaches Joe Deters and Elmer Bales said yes to Anna’s being on the school’s team. And when the state presented the prospect of unified bowling, the coaches said yes again.
That is how I found myself, on that championship morning, breathing in an atmosphere of shared knowing. It is a shared knowing of hopes and dreams amid challenges and adjustments. It is watching together loved ones with special needs achieve something their families probably never saw coming either.
This bowling division had an immense sense of unity and inclusion. I felt compelled to put on my reporter’s hat.
Sport promotes growth and inclusion
Sarah Bridenbaugh is an assistant commissioner with the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. As part of her duties, she oversees bowling and is the association’s main liaison for unified sports. She was busy during the state competition gliding among the lanes, but during a break, the former high school math teacher and basketball coach talked with me.
Her enthusiasm for unified sports was apparent immediately. She commented on the great turnout and how much the teams enjoyed the tournament.
“This is an opportunity for all student athletes to represent their high school at a state championship,” Bridenbaugh said. They get to wear their school colors, do their school cheer, partner with another student and be part of a team, she added. Unified sports, she said, promotes the growth of athletes and inclusion for those with special needs.
KHSAA partners with Special Olympics of Kentucky to offer unified sports. Bowling is the second unified sport in Kentucky. Unified track and field was first offered in 2015.
Bridenbaugh said she envisions unified sports growing in Kentucky. While the state has no immediate plans, she said she hopes to have at least one sport available for unified athletes in each of the three high school sports seasons.
I could see that the competition meant a lot to her. “One kid getting that opportunity was worth all the work that we’ve done. … [It was] an emotional and spirited competition,” she said.
The unified competition was “a great way to kick off the state bowling tournament,” Bridenbaugh said. “The enthusiasm of these teams will carry over to the singles and team competitions.”
Enthusiasm electrified the crowd
Even with the tournament excitement swirling around me, I focused intently on Anna and Hannah as they bowled.
The girls had advanced to the quarter finals after the top three seeds got a bye in the first round of head-to-head competition. They were bowling against a team from Meade County High School when I heard an unfamiliar male voice cheering for Anna after she bowled.
I turned to my right to see a Meade County fan cheering on my daughter and her teammate. For the first time I noticed what appeared to be a family next to me. I got a quick reminder of what this competition was all about.
“Isn’t this great?” I said to the woman.
She agreed. She told me that she was the mother of the two Meade County boys, Parker and Brandon Whitaker. What a great opportunity for them to compete together for their high school, we agreed again. I widened my focus to include the two boys bowling against my daughter, cheering them on as well.
The Whitaker brothers won 99-70 and went on to the semi-finals, losing to Highlands 140-93. It was during that game that I first noticed Parker Thomas. As my husband put it, his celebrations at each frame he bowled “electrified the crowd.”
Highlands, and the ever enthusiastic Thomas, moved on to face No. 1 seed Southern in the final.
Coach happy to be involved
When Highlands girls and boys bowling coach Glenn Schmidt first learned of the unified division, he was less than enthusiastic.
I caught up with the coach, who owns La Ru Lanes in Highland Heights, during a break between the unified and singles championships. He told me that the prospect of coaching in another division left him unsure and wondering “How am I going to do it?”
But that all changed at the tournament.
“This is what bowling is all about,” he said. “It means the world to these kids.”
While Schmidt has had bowlers with special needs on his team for years, he appreciates the recognition and opportunity for inclusion they get in the unified tournament.
“I can’t say enough good about it,” he said. “I was completely wrong about it in the beginning, and I’m so happy I got involved.”
Schmidt said he had already talked with other coaches who didn’t participate this year but plan to next year. The word is going to spread about the success and support of this tournament, he said.
“I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger with leaps and bounds.”
The morning came to a crescendo as Highlands took on Southern in the finals. Fans that had been spread out among the lanes all morning gathered in to focus on the four bowlers. Joining Thomas and Shelton from Highlands were Dallas Derringer and Nathan Burnett from Southern.
The back-and-forth was intense as both teams displayed the skill and focus that earned them a spot in the finals. In the end, Southern prevailed, 191-169. The teams had spurred each other on to their best scores of the day.
All of the tournament bowlers gathered for a group photo, and all who competed in the quarter finals and above got their name called to receive an award, amid snapping cameras, from KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett.
Still, just to be here was a victory. Not only for the athletes, but the families, the coaches, the tournament organizers, the friends who came to watch. Who knew that knocking bowling pins down could raise so many people up?
The bowlers displayed “outstanding sportsmanship,” Bridenbaugh said, and set an example for a lot of athletes. She pointed out that at the end of the tournament, Thomas immediately went to Derringer, shook his hand and hugged him.
I didn’t catch those gestures. But I did hear Thomas after he had walked away from the lane toward those who had been cheering him on.
“Second place. That’s OK,” he said with the enthusiasm the crowd had come to expect and appreciate.
Yes, Parker Thomas. That’s OK. That is so much more than OK.
For complete results of the unified bowling tournament, click here.
KHSAA offers an online presentation for those interested in learning more about unified bowling, including information about how to get started at your school, here.
When guests with special needs dance the night away at Florence United Methodist Church on Feb. 10, they will be part of an international event.
Night to Shine is a prom program sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation to share God’s love for people with special needs. It’s designed to provide an unforgettable night of fun where guests are treated like kings and queens. And they get the crowns to prove it.
In all 50 states and in 11 countries, 375 churches are designating Feb. 10 as Night to Shine, according to the foundation’s website. Churches that want to host a prom apply to the foundation, which provides help and guidance, including manuals, prom kits and funds. The prom program started in 2015 with events at 44 churches. The number jumped to 201 last year.
That’s when Florence United Methodist Church got involved. Now it’s preparing to host its second prom, and if registration numbers are any indication, the night will shine brightly in Northern Kentucky.
Church member Kevin Meyer is organizing the event. We talked last week at the church, on Old Toll Road, during breaks at orientation and training for Night to Shine volunteers.
After crowning about 70 guests at its first prom last year, the church had planned this year for 85 guests, Meyer said. A recent spark in registrations, however, prompted organizers to regroup and refigure. They created more space for guests and accepted more registrations, bringing the total for the night to 105.
Still there’s a waiting list. While organizers want to welcome as many guests as possible, Meyer said, they must balance that with ensuring a comfortable space.
Last year’s event had a lasting impact on the church, Meyer said. Seeing how God worked, how the volunteers focused on the guests, how much genuine love was shared – these aspects made the prom “one of those life moments,” Meyer said, when you know “this is how you make a difference.”
The first stop on prom night will be check-in at Erpenbeck Elementary on Wetherington Boulevard in Florence. That’s where guests, who must be at least 14, will meet the volunteer buddies who will escort them for the night. Need hair and makeup done? That’s covered here. Guests can get their shoes shined too.
What about flowers? Guests can select boutonnieres and wrists corsages. And they can have their photos taken. Those photos, if all the technology runs smoothly, will be part of the gift bag they’ll receive at the end of the night.
Next a limousine will whisk them from the school to the church, less than a mile away. At the church, buddies will crown the guests, who will then walk the red carpet amid cheers from adoring fans and camera flashes from paparazzi.
Jeff Evans from Christian radio station STAR 93.3 has been tapped to announce each guest, and FOX 19 morning anchors Dan Wells and Kara Sewell are slated to greet each guest at the end of the red carpet, Meyer said.
Once inside, guests can enjoy heavy appetizers from Barleycorn’s, Gigi’s cupcakes, karaoke, music, dancing, a recorded message from celebrity athlete and foundation founder Tim Tebow and a balloon drop. A quiet room will be available for guests who may need a break from the activities.
For safety, all volunteers are required to have background checks and training about disabilities. Also, nurses, emergency medical technicians and law enforcement personnel will be at the church and school to help ensure everyone has a healthy and safe time, Meyer said.
Parents and caregivers who prefer to stay on site are welcome to visit a respite area offering food, games, movies, activities and a place to talk with one another.
While the Tim Tebow Foundation provides funding, Meyer said the church couldn’t host as big of an event without the help of area businesses, who are pitching in with donated and discounted goods and services. Add to that the 275 volunteers, and you’ve got a community coming together for the special night.
Fun with friends
Kelsey Coleman is looking forward to the big night and has happy memories from last year’s prom, she told me over the phone earlier this week.
“It was fun when we got to ride in the limo with the escorts, and we got to walk on the red carpet,” she said. Her absolute favorite thing? “I had fun dancing with all my friends.”
Brigitte Coleman made sure her daughter got signed up as soon as they heard registration was open for this year’s prom. “She did not want to miss it,” she said.
Brigitte said she appreciates the February prom being held in addition to the Royal Prom, which occurs at Crossroads church in September. A prom around Valentine’s Day creates an opportunity for couples and friends to celebrate together, she said.
Even though she did not use the respite area, Brigitte said it was a welcome offering. And she said she enjoyed seeing Kelsey get to ride in a limo.
Events like the prom help people with special needs expand their social circles, Brigitte said. They meet each others’ friends, she said, and create relationships with volunteers so that they are included more in society.
“I would love to see other things come from this at other churches,” Brigitte said.
A need to help
Catherine Willis sat in one of the blue-cushioned, metal-framed chairs at Florence United Methodist Church last week waiting under the high peaked ceiling for orientation to begin. A first-time Night to Shine volunteer, Willis is a paraeducator at Ockerman Middle School. She sat with her daughter Emily Edwards, a teacher at New Haven Elementary in the autism unit, who had told her about the volunteer opportunity.
“We needed to help,” Willis said. “[Everyone] should have an opportunity to enjoy every aspect of life, and they shouldn’t be limited by any perceived disability that they have.”
People with special needs, she said, should be surrounded by people who want to bring out the best in them.
Volunteers at last year’s prom also benefited from the experience. “I think we learned a lot from the guests about how to enjoy life,” Meyer said.
He noted how grateful the church is for support from the community, local businesses and the Tim Tebow Foundation. “The response from the community to this event,” Meyer said, “is just an example of the type of community we are all blessed to be a part of.”
An Old Kentucky Christmas to open early for families with special needs
Crowded, fast-paced holiday celebrations can be daunting for a family that cares for a member with special needs. To help with that, a Northern Kentucky church is opening its popular community Christmas event an hour early just for families like ours.
From 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, First Church of Christ in Burlington invites special needs families to enjoy An Old Kentucky Christmas before the event opens to the general public. The early opening will allow families to decorate cookies, make candles and play games in the 1800s-era village amid smaller crowds and at a more relaxed pace.
“Our biggest hope is just to be able to give the special needs families the same opportunity to have those family traditions that so many who come into the village get to enjoy throughout the weekend,” said Alissa Lancaster, First Church’s ministry leader for An Old Kentucky Christmas.
For the whole family
This is the fifth year for the free event, created to evoke a simpler time and to bring families together. It has been so successful that last year more than 12,000 people attended over four days, Lancaster told me in a phone interview last week. For people with special needs, though, those kinds of crowds can be overwhelming.
So overwhelming, in fact, that some families have told organizers that they couldn’t bring children with sensory issues, autism and other challenges that may make navigating a crowd difficult. After conversations with families and the visit last year of a group of middle school students with autism, the church planned this year’s special hour.
‘They can really come and just enjoy it and not feel like they have to rush through or be concerned about the crowds.’
— Alissa Lancaster, ministry leader for An Old Kentucky Christmas
“We don’t want anybody to feel like they have to exclude a family member,” Lancaster said. “They can really come and just enjoy it and not feel like they have to rush through or be concerned about the crowds. … That should make it easier for everybody, the whole family, to come together and enjoy it.”
The church is offering the special hour this year with the hopes of expanding it next year. Organizers want to see what works and what more they could do to help special needs families share Christmas traditions and memories.
“We’re not sure where we’ll go with it from here,” Lancaster said, noting that possibilities included adding more time next year on Saturday morning or somewhere else in the event’s four-day schedule.
Pioneer Village fun
Over the phone, Lancaster walked me through a typical visit to An Old Kentucky Christmas, which takes place outside and inside the church at 6080 Camp Ernst Road in Burlington. Transformed into the Pioneer Village, the church offers a multitude of activities and demonstrations. Everything is free.
As guests enter the village, Lancaster said, volunteers in pioneer attire greet them at the welcome center. Here visitors can get a map of the village, a note card to mark each stop they make and a goodie bag to hold items they receive during their visit.
The main outdoor stops include Wicks and Wax, where families can learn how to dip a candle to take home. Next guests might visit Sweet Tooth Candy, where they can make a chocolate- and sprinkle-coated pretzel rod.
At Woodworks, visitors can see a demonstration of 1800s work-working equipment and decorate their own wooden ornament. At the village Petting Zoo, the bunnies are especially popular, Lancaster said.
Outreach letters to spread cheer
At the School House, guests can write and draw on an older style chalk board. Then, with charcoal pencils, they can sign letters of support and holiday cheer for people in the community including patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and local police officers, firefighters and nursing home residents.
Guests can mail their letters at a post office housed at the General Store. The store also will serve hot chocolate, which guests can drink to wash down the sugar cookies they make at Grandma’s Cookies.
At the Village Church, guests hear the story of the candy cane and make a candy cane ornament. Horse-drawn carriage rides around the village are also popular, Lancaster said.
Inside activities include dulcimer musicians playing Christmas music, quilting demonstrations and pioneer games such as checkers, marbles, tops and ring toss.
Family photos for everyone
One of the favorite indoor attractions, Lancaster said, is the family photo station. There a photographer takes a family photo against a pioneer backdrop. Each family gets a print of the photo at the event and an emailed copy later.
“It’s so special for everybody to be able to walk away with that Christmas photo of their family,” Lancaster said.
Christmas should be a time to experience fun with family, Lancaster said, but so many families don’t have the ability to attend costly holiday events. That’s where An Old Kentucky Christmas comes in, she said. “The biggest reason we do this is to provide a gift to the community.”
It seems fitting. Here’s an event created to celebrate the simple joys of the Christmas season. Now its organizers are taking time to offer an even simpler experience to families caring for members with special needs. No strings or ribbons or wrapping attached. Only wishes for a joyful experience for the whole family.
If you go
What: An hour at An Old Kentucky Christmas for special needs families only
When: Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: First Church of Christ, 6080 Camp Ernst Road in Burlington, KY
An Old Kentucky Christmas Schedule
Thursday, Dec. 8 – Village hours from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; performance by the Ryle High School choir at 7 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 9 – Village hours from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; candlelight service of music and inspiration at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 10 – Village hours from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.; candlelight service of music and inspiration at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 11 – Village hours from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.; candlelight service of music and inspiration at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
How do you share the joy and meaning of the holidays with your family? I’m collecting ideas for a future article. Please send me a quick email at email@example.com. Or you can write me through the Contact section of the blog. Here’s a post I wrote to explain more about what I’m doing. Happy holidays!
Organizing a community event was unknown territory for me, a little daunting but worth exploring. I knew one thing: I wanted to invite families who deal with special needs. Whole families. So that everyone would feel accepted and understood.
I also wanted to have an outside event, so I reserved a park shelter. The one good date available was just before Halloween, so pumpkins and costumes seemed a natural fit.
The result? Picnic in the Park with Pumpkins.
I didn’t know how many people to expect. I hoped at least one person would come. About 50 people did.
Thanks to all the families who spent this past Sunday at South Fork Park in Florence. We enjoyed sunshine and a warm breeze. My grill master husband cooked up hot dogs and bratwursts. People set up chairs and blankets and gathered under the shelter to talk and eat.
We talked about families, schools and concerns about health, medicine and resources. We played yard games, listened to my nephew rock his guitar and broke into a sing-a-long of “Shut Up and Dance with Me.” Superman, a pirate and various other characters were spotted on the playground and basketball courts. Families visited the park’s creek and walking trail.
The day was one of beauty, relationship and wholeness.
A grant I received from the myNKY Nano Grant Program helped make this great day possible. A big thank you to the people at Skyward and The Center for Great Neighborhoods! They are all about creating community. If you want to know more, I wrote about the program in a previous post.
As one family was leaving the picnic, a man and I talked about how getting out of the house can be a challenge but how valuable the effort is. There was talk at some point in the day of this becoming an annual event.
As I continue on this blogging journey, that might be a road to explore.
As promised in yesterday’s post, Share your stories of thanks, here’s a column I wrote for The Kentucky Enquirer in 2013. Written, in part, to raise awareness about epilepsy, it needed a little editing to suit today’s purpose, but it still stands as a thank you letter to the community. Your story may look nothing like this, and that’s fine. I offer it as an example only if you need one.
Please refer to yesterday’s post for guidelines to submit your stories of thanks. The deadline is Nov. 11. Contact me if you have any questions. I look forward to reading your stories!
A particularly good day
Epilepsy lives at our house. We’ve asked it to leave, begged even. But it is a stubborn, cold-hearted monster that makes life challenging, to say the least. So when a particularly good day happens upon us, I soak up the warmth for as long as I can.
A recent Saturday was a particularly good day.
I headed into a bustling Boone County weekend with my daughter, Anna, who has a severe epilepsy called Dravet syndrome and associated special needs. Often when I’m with her, we are movie characters caught in slow motion while everything around speeds past. She moves at her own pace, and I’ve learned, agonizingly, that no amount of rushing or pleading will change that.
Sometimes the slow pace is the residue of seizures. They occur mostly in her sleep these days, but in her early years they struck all over Northern Kentucky, dropping her to the floor or the ground at school, church, the bowling alley, restaurants, playgrounds, soccer fields, the library, swimming pools, dance class.
On that particularly good day, though, not a seizure was in sight.
Our first stop was the office of the Boone County Cooperative Extension. Here Four-H agent Christy Eastwood took time out of her morning to work with our St. Timothy Church group of families who have children with chronic physical, intellectual or behavioral challenges. The group gathers regularly to support each other and have fun, and on this Saturday Eastwood played games with us to teach about food groups, how germs spread and proper hand washing.
Then she showed us how to layer vanilla yogurt, granola and apple pie filling into a sweet and crunchy parfait. As she shared her knowledge, patience and enthusiasm, Eastwood gave us time to relax and enjoy each other.
The parfait didn’t fill Anna’s tummy, so next we scooted into a booth at a Burlington Pike restaurant for lunch with friends, including another girl with a type of epilepsy that slows life down.
Our attentive and kind-hearted waitress quickly realized that we sat apart from the lunchtime bustle swirling around us. She waited patiently while the girls decided on chicken nuggets and grilled cheese.
“Do you have any coupons?” she asked.
We did not. But she did. And she gave us two for the girls’ meals.
I still can see that waitress’s smile.
Next on this unusually busy day, Anna and I headed to Introduction to Martial Arts for Special Needs, a class offered through Boone County Parks & Recreation.
We walked into the echoing Maplewood gym in Burlington and met instructors from Tri-State ATA Martial Arts. Master Marge Templeton and instructor Chris Jones worked with Anna on kicks, punches and the use of nunchucks. They spoke gently, offering instruction, encouragement and praise, especially at the strength of her kicks. Anna was so proud of herself that she burst out laughing.
Yes, our recent Saturday was a particularly good day, a day warmed by the kindness of strangers. I wonder if the people we met that day have any idea that their patient acceptance of a child is a true gift to the child’s parents. I wonder if they realize how much gratitude grows from their simple acts. Maybe now, they do.
Have you ever been driving along and suddenly felt moved to offer up a special thank you?
Maybe it was a day when you were running late and somehow you hit all green lights along Dixie Highway. Maybe you were trying to turn left out of the bank to cross five lanes of US 42, and suddenly traffic cleared. Maybe that pothole that always jarred you on your way to school or work or the grocery finally got filled.
What about on your special needs journey? Have you ever felt a rush of gratitude when a day seemed easier to navigate, when opportunities were more accessible, when life – for an amazing moment – hummed along smoothly.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I invite you to share your encounters with gratitude as you’ve traveled the special needs road.
Maybe your gratitude was prompted by a person who made the journey less stressful, more enjoyable. Maybe it was a place or an organization that made all the difference. Maybe an event filled you with a rush of thankfulness.
A moment, a year, a stranger, a dear
You might write about a moment. You might write about a year. You might write about a passing stranger, a dear teacher, a doctor who wouldn’t give up. You might write about a random act of kindness or an achievement long fought for.
Whatever you write about, please follow these guidelines:
Don’t stress about spelling and punctuation. Don’t worry about anything that might hold you back. Just tell your story from the heart.
I’ll select at least three stories to share on Special Needs Northern Kentucky in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Several years ago, I wrote a column for The Kentucky Enquirer expressing thanks for a special day on our journey. I’ll share that tomorrow as an example of what such a story might look like.
I believe that when we focus on the good things in life, we create more good. When we focus on gratitude, we feel more grateful. My hope is that our stories can be a way to give back to our community – to honor the people, events and organizations that have helped us along the road. My hope, too, is that in sharing our stories, we lift readers up, remind them they aren’t alone, and provide hope for their journeys.
Here’s the update I promised in an earlier post, Special Needs NKy awarded grant, about the community event that’s part of the myNKY Nano Grant program. I hope you can come out and enjoy the day!
Picnic in the Park with Pumpkins
Sunday, October 30, 2016
South Fork Park in Florence
2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Families dealing with disability or special needs are invited to gather at the park shelter for food, treats, games and music. Enjoy a playground, walking trail, basketball and volleyball courts and lots of open space to play.
You are welcome to wear your Halloween costumes. Bring chairs or blankets if you’d like to spread out.
The Bean Bash – a down-home, big-hearted October tradition at Turfway Park in Florence – gets under way this weekend. It’s an event filled with family, friends and co-workers, food, auctions and entertainment, all coming together to help children and adults with disabilities in Northern Kentucky.
The weekend starts with painting and poker Friday night. Volunteers fire up the kettles for the Bash’s signature bean soup early Saturday morning before the start of the Bean Bash Dash, a 5K walk/run. Soup’s on at 1 p.m., and served with it are cornbread, coleslaw, tomatoes, hotdogs, chips, ice cream and soft drinks, all included in the $5 admission. Children under 12 are free.
This will be the event’s 43rd year. That’s a lot of years. And a lot of beans.
To learn more about the event, and all those beans, I talked with Bean Bash President Donnie Martin, who first got involved with the Bash about 10 years ago as a bartender. He moved on to oversee the Texas Hold ‘Em tournament for a few years and is now in his third year as president. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation supplemented with information he sent me.
Q: I have a daughter with special needs, and I was touched by how many of her friends we’ve seen at the Bean Bash over the years. It’s a huge event but has a welcoming, close-knit feel – like a church festival or something similar. How would you characterize it?
A: It’s a very similar atmosphere as a church festival, but with a lot more wonderful items to be won in the silent and live auctions. Everyone is welcome, from the most able-bodied athlete to those with special needs who may not often get to special events like festivals.
I greatly enjoy seeing the clients of the specials needs charities in attendance for a couple reasons. First I’m glad to see so many of them out and about, and I hope that helps them see they are not alone and that many others go through what they go through. Second I hope the Bean Bash opens other people’s eyes by introducing them to people with special needs that they may not have experienced before.
I grew up with a step sister with special needs. When we first met I didn’t understand why she was the way she was. That wasn’t easy to handle at 7 years old. Some people reach adulthood with little to no interaction with a person with special needs. Years ago, families with special needs children were shunned, embarrassed, and often hid or abandoned their children with special needs. Now they have options, and the Bean Bash supports local charities that provide those options.
Q: How much money does the Bean Bash raise?
A: Last year the event brought in a record $121,250. Some money came out of that to cover costs, but we try not to pay for much. Donations from local businesses and individuals keep our expenses down. I would guess we have less than $5,000 in expenses and that might be high.
We support four local charities that serve people with disabilities: BAWAC; New Perceptions, which was added last year; Redwood; and Special Olympics of Northern Kentucky. Each organization collects auction items and receives the proceeds from those. The Bean Bash board’s portion – money from the door, donations, live auction items, and extra events like the 5K and poker tournament – is divided evenly among the charities.
Q: What’s new at this year’s Bean Bash?
A: We were looking for an event to complement the Texas Hold ‘Em tournament on Friday night and decided on a Wine and Paint event, sponsored by Wine & Canvas of Florence. The cost is $45, which includes supplies and step-by-step instructions to create a piece of artwork to take home. A glass of wine or a cocktail, light food, and admission to Saturday’s Bean Bash are also included.
The Wine and Paint will start at 7 p.m., the same time as the Texas Hold ‘Em tournament. Both will take place on Turfway’s third floor. Registration for the Wine and Paint ends Wednesday, Oct. 5. Participants can register at www.beanbash.org or contact Becky Price at 859-760-3951 for group discounts and pricing. The $75 online preregistration for the Texas Hold ‘Em ends Thursday, Oct. 6. Players can register at the door for $85. The door to both events opens at 6 p.m. on Friday.
We’ve never stayed open after the live auction, but this year we’re having an after-auction concert by popular local band Doghouse. The band has quite a following, so we’re hoping the concert will bring more people out.
Another exciting addition is an employment drive. During the Bash, FedEx will be set up to accept applications for full- and part-time jobs at FedEx Ground in Independence.
Bean Bash by the numbers:
Years held: 43
Organizations helped: 4
Guests expected: more than 2,000
Volunteers: about 300
Bowls of soup: nearly 2,000
Pounds of dried beans: 200
Large pans of cornbread: 40
Hot dogs: 1,200
Bags of chips: 1,000
Gallons of Ice cream: 50
Q: The Bean Bash added a trap shoot last year as an additional way to raise money. How did this year’s trap shoot go?
A: It went well, especially since the rain held off. We had 25 shooters in the tournament, and raised about $1,000. Last year we held the trap shoot on a date after the Bean Bash. This year we did it beforehand, on Sept. 17. We had a lot more people come out this year, and we hope to keep it growing. It was sponsored by the Crittenden AAA Gun Club and held at the Lloyd Wildlife Management Area.
Q: Where do the Bean Bash volunteers come from?
A: We have students who volunteer from many schools including Boone County, Cooper, Ryle, Notre Dame, St. Henry, Covington Catholic, and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Other volunteers include the charities’ employees, Boone County Business Association members, local pageant winners, news personnel, local celebrities, and family and friends of the Bean Bash board and charities.
Q: Who are the people on the Bean Bash logo?
A: The face on the right represents former State Representative Bill McBee, who founded the Bean Bash as a political fundraiser in 1974. The other face is that of Stevie McBee, Bill’s son, who had special needs. Stevie inspired organizers to transform the Bean Bash into a fundraiser for charities serving people with disabilities. Stevie died in 2009, and Bill in 2011.
Many people thought for years that the Bean Bash was a political event, but it has been a charity fundraiser since 1975. No campaigning is allowed.
Q: How is that soup made?
A: The beans get soaked the night before, and the cooks arrive before 6 a.m. to fire up the kettles. Sand goes down on the parking lot, and cooks build fires to set the kettles over, using air deflectors to help regulate the heat. Piles of wood are out there for the cooks to feed the fire. The health department is out there to make sure everything is set up right.
When the water is boiling, the ham hocks go in. Once cooked, the hocks come out and the ham is cut off, chopped and set aside. Next go in the beans, white pepper and onions to cook. Eventually we throw in the ham from the hocks and extra ham. Sometimes hot sauce gets put in, sometimes it doesn’t – it’s always a matter of opinion depending on whose out there cooking.
The soup is cooked for hours in the same cast iron kettles and stirred by the same wooden oars we’ve used for years. They probably have their own special seasoning. One seasoning that’s not added to the beans is salt. We stopped using that years ago, so if you like your beans salty, you need to use the salt packets offered with the meal.
Usually a couple of generations of people come out to cook. Several of the bean cookers started out as kids helping their fathers. They use the lessons they learned as kids to bring their youth into the world of community service.
Bean Bash 2016 Schedule of Events
Friday Oct. 7
6:00 p.m. Registration Open
7:00 p.m. Wine and Paint event begins
Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament begins
Saturday Oct. 8
10:00 a.m. The Bean Bash Dash 5K registration opens
11:30 a.m. The Bean Bash Dash 5K begins
1:00 p.m. The Bean Bash begins, admission $5.00 (kids under 12 free)
1:00 p.m. Silent auctions begin / All charities have items for auction
2:00 p.m. Live music begins
4:15 p.m. First silent auction table closes (Redwood)
4:30 p.m. Second silent auction table closes (Special Olympics NKY)
4:45 p.m. Third silent auction table closes (New Perceptions)
5:00 p.m. Fourth silent auction table closes (BAWAC)
5:00 p.m. The 43rd Bean Bash remarks and presentations
5:30 p.m. Live auction begins
7:30 p.m. (estimated) Doghouse rocks The Bean Bash
I have an aunt who has been instrumental in an organization called Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky for years. I’d heard about it through the family grapevine on occasion but never really knew much about it. Then I started this blog.
Aunt Pat, or Pat O’Bryant to most people, asked me to help get the word out about the upcoming pageant in Louisville. So I looked into Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky to find out what it’s all about.
I found out that Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky is all about education, advocacy and opportunity. The organization gives women in wheelchairs a means to educate society about the achievements and needs of people with disabilities. It gives them a platform to advocate for change to improve the lives of people with disabilities. And it gives them the opportunity to branch out into the world.
I also found out that the pageant, which is not a beauty pageant, has a strong Northern Kentucky connection.
But first, Aunt Pat wants you to know some things:
She wants you to know that the organization needs contestants. Now.
She wants you to know that the application deadline for the pageant is Monday – but if you need more time, especially to get together the $400 fee that helps pay for the pageant, just let her know. “We will work with them,” she said.
She wants you to know that contestants should be US citizens aged 21 to 60 who have lived in Kentucky for at least six months and who use a wheelchair or cart for all of their mobility outside the home.
She wants you to know that contestants should be accomplished and articulate because the winner must be able to communicate with the general public, the business community and elected officials.
The Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky pageant will be held Nov. 5. The pageant venue recently changed; it is now Jefferson Community and Technical College at Broadway and Second St. in Louisville. The winner of the state pageant goes on to compete in Ms. Wheelchair America, which will be held Aug. 14-21 in Erie, Penn.
Aunt Pat knows a little about these competitions. While talking with her, I learned that her husband, a.k.a Uncle Tom, used to be the president of Ms. Wheelchair America. And then Aunt Pat was the executive director of the national organization some time after that, in addition to working as the Kentucky state coordinator.
“They’re my heroes,” Aunt Pat said of the contestants. “The things they overcome …[are] unbelievable.”
Now, about that Northern Kentucky connection: Robbin Head, of Burlington, lived in Louisville when she was 38 years old and suddenly found herself with a disability.
She was goofing around with her husband one day when he picked her up from behind in a playful bear hug and her vertebrae fractured. She eventually found out that she had severe osteoporosis and was told it was not a matter of if her vertebrae would fracture, but when. The injury left her paralyzed.
This woman – who had joined the military at 18, had married and lived all over the world – now needed a wheelchair to get around.
Three years after her injury, in 1998, a vocational rehabilitation counselor working with Head in Louisville suggested she enter the Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky pageant. It was the first year for the pageant after an independent delegate from Kentucky, Terri Cecil, won Ms. Wheelchair America and came home to start a state organization.
“The Ms. Wheelchair pageant is what really helped me discover and more understand the world of disability,” Head told me when we spoke on the phone recently.
Head didn’t win that year, but she entered again. She was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky 1999 and went on to compete in Ms. Wheelchair America. While she didn’t place in the national competition, Head relished spending the week with so many other women in wheelchairs.
“It was probably one of the most rewarding experiences that I have ever been to in all of my life,” she said. “It made you feel like you were really part of a community again and part of actually the real society because you didn’t feel like you were the only one sitting there in a wheelchair.”
After her Kentucky reign, Head, who moved to Northern Kentucky in 2000, served as the state organization’s president for six years. More recently, she’s in her sixth year as the pageant’s head judge. As you might expect, she speaks highly of the program and encourages women to participate.
“It’s a way to be in touch with not just being a woman in a wheelchair but a woman of the world,” Head said. “It makes you feel like you’re part of something more than just being yourself, that there’s a place that wants you as a woman or as a person with a disability to use your voice and to use your experience to help others.”
Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky strives to give voice to the needs of those with disabilities of all kinds, whether they are mental, physical or both, she said. The organization, she said, educates the public about special needs and “why we are different and yet very much the same as the able-bodied community.”
If you know a woman in a wheelchair who might be interested in this effort, please get them in touch with Aunt Pat. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can call her at 502-394-9160. You also can visit the Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky website to find out more. And if you think this is a great program and want to support it, Aunt Pat is always looking for sponsors.
Aunt Pat is not the type of person who needs anyone to speak for her, but I’ll go out on a limb here as her niece and say this: Aunt Pat thanks you.