This is a very special time of the year, and it only seems fitting to celebrate some very special people in our Louisville community. These three individuals, and their respective organizations, do so much to help others. Here are their stories about last year, their favorite moments, and what is to come in 2014.
My Mom Has Lupus-- Savannah Robinson
Savannah Robinson is a very special 16-year-old who started the awareness organization, “My Mom Has Lupus.”
Can you tell me a little bit about your organization, your mission and how you got started?
“My mom has lupus. She was diagnosed with lupus when I was really young. Growing up, I watched my mom struggle with it, which is not easy when you are a little kid- you just want a healthy mom. It was really scary and I feel like a lot people had no idea how sick she really was. I did because I lived with her and I saw her all the time. My mom and I are very close. I watch her fight every day. She is one of the strongest people I know. She is a very loving and kind person and never wants anyone to know how sick she is or how she is feeling. So, she will tell people she is fine. Behind her smile, they have no idea the battle she is fighting. So, that is why I do what I do. I now manage My Mom Has Lupus, a page to support lupus awareness. I think together with God we can make a difference in this world and one day there will be a cure.”
How does My Mom have Lupus reach the Louisville and Southern Indiana community?
“My Mom Has Lupus is based in the local community and my outreach efforts target the local area first. However, while my goals start local they build global. I have a Facebook page that reaches not only a local base, but also a national and international base increasing lupus awareness while encouraging people help raise funds for lupus research by supporting the Alliance for Lupus Research. In addition, I have designed a “Lupie Lucy” doll that travels the world helping spread awareness, and have plans during 2014 for a template to be released for teachers and children starting in Indiana and Kentucky to make their own.”
Were there any events or special moments for My Mom has Lupus in 2013?
“We announced the first ever ‘Champ’s Ball: A Night to Float Like a Butterfly for a Disease that Stings like a Bee’ to be held at the Muhammad Ali Center on April 30, 2014. In addition we had several local and national celebrities, heroes and hometown supporters step up to raise awareness with the #LHandSign campaign, including: Laila Ali, Mayor Fischer, Nina Clooney, Heather French Henry, Mike Pence, Carla Hall, The Monarchs, The Louisville Ballet School, Susan Olsen, Barry Williams, Christopher Knight and many more.”
Any plans in 2014 for My Mom has Lupus about which you would like to speak?
“On April 30th 2014 the first ever ‘Champs Ball’ will be held at the Muhammad Ali center. All proceeds will go to the Alliance for Lupus Research. I am one of the youngest gala hosts in this area.”
Kentucky Refugee Ministries-- Allison Smithkier
Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM) assists refugees who have been legally admitted to the United States as victims of warfare or other forms of persecution because of their religious or political beliefs. I spoke with Family Center Coordinator and ESL instructor, Allison Smithkier about her work with the organization. The Family Center is a program set up for mothers with children too young to attend school that provides daycare while they participate in ESL programs that include courses in job-readiness, parenting and finances.
What were some of your favorite moments of 2013?
“This may sound like a really simple thing, but the mothers and children from Family Center went trick-or-treating. There are several local businesses that had candy for us on our route, and it is really nice for the mothers and children to see how welcoming our city can be. Another great moment was Global Gourmet, our annual fundraiser. We also took some really successful field trips with our youth programs. For one, we went to Bernheim Forest. It was so great to see the kids connect to nature and to each other. It made them feel less alone.”
Are there any programs you would want to highlight?
“Well, at the Family Center we do a ton. We teach ESL classes that focus on readying mothers for life in America, including classes that focus on job-readiness, parenting and financial issues—all while providing free childcare. We also plan a lot of activities for the mothers, like library days and art therapy. Another program that is important is our Elder Care Program; this ESL program focuses a lot on community, as well as readying the members for citizenship exams. KRM also has a youth mentor program, in which volunteers help older children and teenagers with homework, English and with introducing them to the Louisville community.”
If someone asked you “why should I volunteer with refugees,” what would be your answer?
“That’s a good question—I would probably ask them to think of a time where they have felt on the outside; transferring to a new city, or, for kids, starting a new school. Then add on all the pressures that refugees feel. They don’t speak the language and come from a completely different culture. I would just ask people how they would want to be treated in that situation, and to treat others the same way.”
Are there any donation items your organization is in need of this season?
“We are always in need of kitchen tables and chairs. Furniture items and housewares, which we will gladly pick up. Also, we are always collecting backpacks filled with school supplies, because we get families all throughout the year with children.”
Any plans for KRM in 2014 that you would like to share?
“In January we are going to be combining our Family Center and Youth Services program to better be able to serve the family as a whole. We will also be extending our therapy services so as to be more accessible to all of our clients. Also, we will be having Chenoweth Allen, the art therapist who works with our clients, available more—she is great about weaving ESL lessons into her art therapy sessions.”
Author and Autism Advocate-- Jennifer Adams-Tucker
At first glance, Jennifer Adams-Tucker’s family looks pretty standard- a mom, a dad, two girls, and two boys. However, when three of your four children are diagnosed with autism, your story is anything but standard. And that’s the story that Jennifer, author of Autistic Angels; A Story from a Mother to her Children, wants to share with others to prove that individuals with autism can “shine, achieve, inspire” and can overcome societal obstacles to accomplish amazing things.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
“Well, I am on the Board of Directors of both FEAT (Families for Early Autism Treatment) and of Exceptional Teens and Adults, which is a program for older individuals with autism to kind of help them transition into more independent roles. I also work with the Interagency Coordination Council, which is associated with First Steps of Kentucky. We help families with autistic children research the free programs out there for their families, such as speech therapy. I also was appointed by Governor Steve Beshear to the State Advisory Board for Exceptional Children.”
Were there any moments in 2013 that were special for you and your work?
“Well, one of the most exciting moments for me was when Mayor Greg Fischer declared Louisville an ‘autism friendly city.’ I work so much with the special needs community and that is so nice to know that all of our work is paying off. I was elected to the “100 Louisvillians for Change” committee and I hope to be a voice for the special needs community. Also, I’ve been doing some editing on my first children’s book Up to Bat.”
Could you tell me about Up to Bat?
“Sure! It is a children’s book written by myself and my oldest daughter, Sydney (13 years old), and illustrated by my husband, Darryl, and Sydney. It is basically our family as bears who play baseball. It shows each child using something that helps them feel more comfortable. Sydney uses her asthma inhaler, D.J. uses earplugs because autistic children can sometimes be sensitive to sound, Danyelle wears a weighted vest because the weight helps her feel calm, and Dominique, who is nonverbal, uses sign language. This is a way to help children who come in contact with other children who have autism to understand some of the things they see and learn to become more accepting.”
Do you have any plans in 2014 that you would like to talk about?
“Well, my book will be published in February. With that I cannot wait to do special book readings and community talks. I plan on bringing autism experts to my events so that other families can receive the help they need. I really enjoy the community service aspect of being an author!”
I realize I haven't even come close to highlighting every special person in Louisville-- that would be a pretty long article. However, I am continually inspired by all the goodness our city has to offer. If you know of someone who you feel their community service is making Louisville a better place, please feel free to comment below or contact us. We'd love to hear about it! Have a happy and blessed holidays, everyone! Here's to a meaningful 2014!
Cover Photo courtesy of Shutterstock