Share and inspire

During the holidays, where do you find fun, meaning?

In my neighborhood during these early days of December, the nighttime streets are getting brighter and brighter as my neighbors, one-by-one, string Christmas lights along their homes and in their yards.

I enjoy this gradual awakening to the holiday season. The neighbors who choose to decorate do so in their own way, in their own time, and I get to be surprised as I drive along at night to see what new lights and displays went up before the sun went down.

Most years we – and by “we” I mean my husband – get our lights up, but some years we don’t. Some years the weather doesn’t cooperate or family circumstances keep us too busy or work obligations limit our time. Still we can drive along our street and find holiday inspiration in our neighbors’ lights.

In the midst of this season, I hope we can bring each other inspiration right here at Special Needs Northern Kentucky.

Joys and challenges

Like putting up light displays, celebrating the holidays is full of joys as well as challenges. That’s certainly true for families who have members with special needs.

As we plan our holidays, we consider the health, behavior and abilities of our loved ones. We try to find balance, elusive and mysterious as it may be. We strive to create a glow and warmth to our holidays for everyone in our families.

While we all have our unique situations, I thought we might help each other by sharing what we’ve learned along the twinkle-lighted holiday road.

How do you celebrate the holidays?

I’m wondering about the ways you celebrate the holidays in Northern Kentucky with your loved ones with special needs. Where do you find fun? Where do you find meaning?

Where do you go, what do you do, what events do you attend that bring you the joy of the season?

What’s out there that serves well families dealing with special needs? Have you ever been unsure initially about a place or event only to be surprised by how good your experience was?

Do you celebrate at home in ways that you’ve found to bring particular delight and meaning?

Share your thoughts

I hope you will share your thoughts and comments, ideas and suggestions. Please send them to angie.mimms@gmail.com by Wednesday, Dec. 7. I’ll compile your responses into a post that I hope will be full of holiday inspiration.

I look forward to reading and sharing your responses along with getting some fresh ideas for celebrating the holiday season with my own family. In the meantime, my wish for you is that you enjoy the beautiful lights along the road.

Bean Bash cooks up fun, raises funds

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.

donnie-martin
Bean Bash President Donnie Martin

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.

auction-tables
Bidders browse tables at the Bean Bash silent auction. The auction raises money for BAWAC, New Perceptions, Redwood and Special Olympics of Northern Kentucky.

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?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-stir
Volunteers cook the bean soup in cast iron kettles and stir it with oars.

 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

Photos provided.

Special Needs NKy awarded grant

Skyward and Center LogosThis blogging journey just took an exciting new turn! Thanks to the people at Skyward and the Center for Great Neighborhoods, I’ve received a grant to upgrade Special Needs Northern Kentucky. To top it off, the grant includes money for a community celebration to launch the improved blog.

The grant is part of the myNKY Nano Grant Program, which awards up to $250 each to projects that propose creative ways to strengthen communities.

While Special Needs Northern Kentucky has had steady traffic from readers connected to its stories, the grant money will pay for changes aimed at making the blog easier to find on the internet. I hope the upgraded blog will create a larger community around the stories of people, events and organizations working to improve the lives of individuals with special needs in Northern Kentucky.

Here’s a bit from my grant application:

“The special needs community is far-reaching and diverse. … My [upgraded] blog would create a web of understanding, connections and support. It would strengthen community by bringing information from around the region into one place. It would open possibilities and provide hope to families who may often feel isolated. It would create understanding in the wider community by bringing these stories to light.”

Well, that’s a tall order. But there seems to be some mysterious drive urging me on. I can explain it about as well as I can explain how to get this blog to show up on search engines. Even while applying for this grant, I felt it. I read over information about the application for weeks, maybe months, and then, as if a kind stranger came along to push my stalled car on a lonely road, I began to move. I wrote my application on deadline day.

I got the full grant amount, and I plan to begin posting on the upgraded Special Needs Northern Kentucky in September. I am not the least bit tech savvy, so I am giving myself plenty of time to make the changes.

As for the community celebration, I’ll update you when the details are finalized. The grant program requires recipients to include in their project a free, publicly accessible element. The grant is also tied to a geographic location — in my case, the Florence area, since that is where I work — so I plan to organize a fall gathering at a local park for families and others with ties to the special needs community.

I plan to organize a fall gathering at a local park for families and others with ties to the special needs community.

In the meantime, I want to thank readers for reading my posts, sharing them and leaving comments. I want to thank those who have signed up to follow the blog. My blog site tracks the number of visitors, and I admit that I check those stats often. (It’s all anonymous, though I can see what country visitors are in.) Your visits are the fuel that keeps me going.

I want to thank the people who’ve talked with me for interviews. Thanks for sharing your stories and trusting me to tell them. It’s an honor. Thank you for inspiring me with your spirit, enthusiasm and hard work.

And I want to thank the people at Skyward and the Center for Great Neighborhoods for the work you do to strengthen Northern Kentucky. Thank you for awarding grants that encourage creativity and build a sense of community. Thanks for helping me travel this road.

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Theater invites guests to ‘feel free to be you’

AMC logo

When Max and Duke romp onto the big screen in The Secret Life of Pets this weekend, a Northern Kentucky movie theater will turn the lights up and the sound down so some special patrons can watch the dogs’ animated antics in comfort.

The accommodations are part of Sensory Friendly Films at AMC Newport on the Levee 20. The film series, offered by AMC Theatres in partnership with the Autism Society, invites guests with autism and other special needs to “feel free to be you.”

The screenings offer a more relaxed atmosphere for moviegoers, said Kevin Coffman, a supervisor at the Levee theater. If viewers like to get up, walk around or make noises, that’s all OK. The audience is more understanding, he said. Guests also are welcome to bring their own snacks.

The theater shows Sensory Friendly Films on the second and fourth Saturday and Tuesday of each month. The Saturday shows begin at 10 a.m. – that’s when you can catch The Secret Life of Pets this weekend.

The Tuesday shows begin at 7 p.m. and were added last summer for guests looking for more mature films, said Ryan Noonan, AMC’s director of corporate communications. Originally focused on families and children, the film series expanded to meet more needs, Noonan said. “We’ve seen kids grow up now.”

The movies for each month are selected by AMC’s film department according to demographics and popularity. Almost half of AMC’s theaters offer Sensory Friendly Films, Noonan said. A check of their website showed 175 participating theaters. The Newport on the Levee location was the only one listed in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area.

Coffman, the local theater supervisor, said moviegoers at the Levee have told him they appreciate the opportunity to view films in the modified environment. Crowds vary depending on the movie, he said. An average crowd may be 20 to 30 people, while a long-awaited movie like Finding Dory might attract as many as 50 to 100, he said.

Saturday morning movies cost $5.61. Tuesday evening tickets sell for $11.12.  Guests can get their Levee parking tickets validated at a booth near the movie ticket office so that they pay $1.25 to park.

Backstory

In 2007, a Maryland mother asked her local AMC Theatres manager to arrange a special screening for children on the autism spectrum after she’d had a bad experience with her young daughter at another movie theater. The manager agreed, the mother talked it up, and so many people showed up for the movie that the auditorium couldn’t hold them all, according to autism-society.org.

The manager added more movies and contacted AMC headquarters with the idea. The Autism Society partnered with AMC, and the film series grew to include theaters across the country. You can read more about it on the Autism Society’s website here.

Summer lineup of Sensory Friendly Films

  • Saturday, July 9: The Secret Life of Pets
  • Tuesday, July 12: BFG
  • Saturday, July 23: Ice Age: Collision Course
  • Tuesday, July 26:  Ghostbusters
  • Tuesday, August 9: Suicide Squad
  • Saturday, August 13 and 27: Pete’s Dragon
  • Tuesday, August 23: War Dogs

Check the AMC Theatres website for current Sensory Friendly Films here.

Have you attended a Sensory Friendly Film? Would you like to share your experience? If so, please leave a comment. Thank you!

Camp days full of fun, friends

Children and adults with disabilities will have the chance next month to make new friends and great memories at a summer camp right here in Northern Kentucky.

Individuals from middle-school age on up are invited to Capernaum Day Camp, which runs July 25-29 on the grounds of the beautiful Newman family farm in Union. In its fourth year, the camp boasts a schedule of activities as full as a summer day is long: field games, water games, fishing and horseback riding, tractor rides, crafts, speakers, a dance party at least once a day, and more. Much of the activity is set to music, lots and lots of music.

My daughter, Anna, has joined in the fun the past two years. So when I scheduled an interview with camp organizer Brian Kremer to find out what’s planned for this year, I took Anna along. We met last week in the lounge area of a local church, where Kremer’s face lit up as he talked about the event.

Camp allows Capernaum leaders to build a community that brings together people with and without disabilities “and really lavish God’s love on our friends in a big way,” Kremer said. “We try to go pull out all the stops and make it so much fun that [a camper] remembers everything about the camp a year later.”

Kremer is the area director of Northern Kentucky Capernaum, a nondenominational Christian ministry serving teens and young adults with disabilities. The group consists of college and high school students who gather with individuals with disabilities to create relationships and help them know Jesus’s love. They have a lot of fun along the way. Besides its summer day camp, Capernaum offers Bible studies; “club” nights with talks, skits, games and dancing; community outings; a summer overnight camp out of state; and a prom.

A camper’s questions

On the day of our interview with Kremer, Anna asked the first questions.  Each day at camp a speaker talks, and Anna wanted to know how long that talk would be. She also asked about the food and had lots of questions about activities.

Kremer told her someone will speak daily for 15 minutes about Jesus’s love and, this summer, the story of Lazarus. As for the food, Kremer said two women will cook a delicious lunch every day, serving meals such as tacos and chicken sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches also will be available daily.

Fishing – one of Anna’s favorite activities – will take place at the farm’s lake. Horses from Sunrise Ranch will be brought in for riding. In place of a scavenger hunt this year, campers will join in team-building exercises as part of the new Newman Farm Challenge. Inflatables will be set up as will equipment for basketball and cornhole.

Friday activities start at 6 p.m. with a banquet in the barn followed by a talent show.

The fun will begin at 9 a.m. on the first four days of camp. Families are welcome on the last day, Friday, when activities will start at 6 p.m. with a banquet in the barn. After dinner, campers will entertain the crowd with a talent show.

The entire activity list for the week is a bit long for this blog, but camper families can be assured: Capernaum knows how to play.

A parent’s questions

Next came my turn to ask questions. Kremer told me campers are welcome regardless of their faith. Each camper will have a one-on-one volunteer buddy to accompany him or her during all activities, he said, adding that each day follows a similar structure because many campers like routine.

banquet
Campers and their families gather in the barn for the Friday night banquet at last year’s Capernaum Day Camp.

To support the medical needs of the campers, Kremer has been trained to administer daily medications. Camp organizers also plan to have a certified health care worker on site every day in case of medical emergencies.

Kremer encourages campers to come even if they can’t attend every day of camp, even if 9 a.m. is a little too early. If someone wants to check camp out for an hour to see what it’s like before committing to the week, he said, that’s fine too.

Offering a day camp is a way for Capernaum to be a blessing to Northern Kentucky, Kremer said. It also enhances the group’s ministry. “We want to create a bigger community around our friends,” he said.

Things to know

Dates and times: July 25 to 28, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with registration starting at 8:30 a.m., and July 29, 6 p.m. banquet followed by a talent show

Ages: middle school to adult

Place: 2231 Clarkston Lane, Union, Ky.

Cost: $125

Register: Campers and volunteers can register at nkycapernaum.younglife.org, or the Northern Kentucky Capernaum Facebook page. You can also contact Brian Kremer at 859-394-2744 to register by phone or with questions.

Schedule for Monday through Thursday (give or take 15 minutes here and there):

  • 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. – Check-in.
  • 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. – Free time with activities around the barn and farmhouse.
  • 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. – Faith talk, songs and games.
  • 11:15 a.m. to 12 p.m. – Crafts related to the day’s theme.
  • 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. – Lunch.
  • 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. – Group activities around the farm such as horseback riding and fishing.
  • 2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. – All-camp activity.
  • 3:45 p.m. – Reminder of the theme for the day.
  • 4 p.m. – Check-out and pick up.

 

Finding friends along the road

In 1985, the summer after my sophomore year in college, I plotted the 550-plus-mile drive from Louisville, Kentucky, to a newspaper internship in Richmond, Virginia, on a large paper road map. I folded and refolded that map as I worked my way across three states in my cream-colored, two-door Chevette hatchback. Stuffed with clothes and belongings, the car had a manual shift, black interior and no air-conditioning.

blog illustration vertical

That was my first solo road trip. Those were the days before cell phones and satellite radio. Then the only thing to help a lonely traveler feel connected was spotty, shifting AM/FM radio reception. Or so I thought. But as I traveled along the interstate, through mountains, across rivers, I noticed something: I made friends on the road. Literally, on the road.

At least that’s how I would characterize what happened. I noticed that sometimes I found myself behind a car or truck on the interstate going about the same speed and so we traveled together awhile, like a driver following a pace car. Or sometimes a car stayed behind me for a time, a familiar presence in my rear view mirror that provided a sense of stability amid the ever-changing scenes outside my window. For a time, we shared the journey.

Many years and road trips later, I find myself on a different journey. I’m a parent of a child with special needs. Caring for my daughter’s mind, body and spirit; finding resources and opportunities to help her live her best life — these are the roads I travel now. I wonder which turns to make. I look for signs to follow. I encounter mountains to climb and rivers I see no way to cross.

I wish I had a map. Even better, a navigation system. With voice control. “In approximately one minute, you will choose this doctor.” Boom. Done. Maybe even voice control with attitude. That would be handy for those days I need an extra kick in the pants. “In approximately five seconds — heck, you should have started a week ago! — you will get your rear in gear and start filling out those forms for (insert: office/service provider of your choice)!”

Despite my lack of a map, I continue on the road. And just as I did on my trip to Virginia, I find friends along the way. Doctors and nurses, therapists and educators, coaches and instructors. Along with family and long-time friends, these people provide immeasurable and vital help and support. They keep my daughter alive. They keep me alive. They build bridges, point us in the right direction, fuel us when I’m not sure we can go any farther.

Still, the road did get lonely early on. To the rescue came a cheer team for people with special needs. My daughter joined, and for the first time in our lives we regularly gathered with families who understood firsthand the challenges we faced, families who spoke the same language and held in their hearts the same joys and concerns. We talked and laughed and complained together. We learned from each other. We shared the journey.

      I want this blog to be a place where readers can come to learn and to share ideas. I hope this space helps to create a greater sense of community.

That newspaper internship in Virginia? It worked out well. I worked as a journalist during college and after graduation, and those experiences contributed to the idea for this blog. I want to make these pages a newspaper of sorts with articles about the Northern Kentucky people, events, organizations and resources working to improve the lives of people with special needs and their families. I want this blog to be a place where readers can come to learn and to share ideas. I hope this space helps to create a greater sense of community.

I expect that working on this blog will help me too. While I’ve lived in Northern Kentucky for almost twenty years, I hope blogging will help me feel more connected. I expect I’ll learn a lot and meet a lot of people. And I expect also that this work will cause me to look with fresh eyes at my daughter, to notice anew her strengths and abilities and the qualities that make her unique.

I’m eager to start. Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for traveling the road with me.