In Kentucky, every season is the season for giving
You can go home again. Just ask Brice Long. He does it every year, in a big way.
When he left Hopkinsville in the early 1990s, it was to pursue a music career in Nashville. The move paid off—for him and others.
The way Long tells it, he heard more than applause when Nothing On But the Radio, a song he co-wrote, shot to No. 1 and stayed there two weeks in 2004.
He also listened to his heart, which told him it was time to give back to the people who had supported him throughout his life. Those were the people back home.
Long’s Back to Back Foundation debuted Christmas 2005. It has become an annual effort that helps families in Christian and Trigg counties have the Christmas they need and deserve, rather than just the one they can afford.
Five families were helped that first year by Back to Back, whose board includes Brent Gilkey, vice president of Member Services & Communications at Pennyrile Electric co-op.
Now, powered by a fundraising concert Long headlines in Hopkinsville every July, the foundation and its volunteers will provide Christmas this year for between 34 and 36 families who might otherwise do without. The 2016 show raised $62,000. The singer-songwriter’s grassroots efforts to help his neighbors are mirrored throughout Kentucky communities by people who help, and people who are helped, in ways big and small, materially and spiritually, from cradle to grave. These aren’t stories that make headlines, but they are the important ones that make the world a better place.
With Back to Back, the main focus of its help arrives at the holidays, although it provides other forms of community support throughout the year. For other nonprofit, neighborly assists, help is on the way whenever the need arises. The seasons of giving are year-round.
String A Long Quilt Guild
For Elaine Childers, it came on March 2, 2012, when a tornado destroyed her home just outside of Woodsbend in Morgan County.
She is matter-of-fact in describing how she took cover under a porcelain-top kitchen table while her husband and father hit the floor as the tornado approached. She remembers hanging onto two of the table’s legs—“my body was out like Superman”—and then she remembers being able to move only her eyes, because the rubble of what had been her home had buried her. The table, all but one leg collapsed, had shielded her. Her husband and father lived through the disaster, but other than a pan here or a plate there, she says they lost everything.
It’s not until Childers mentions Maudie Nickell and the String A Long Quilt Guild of West Liberty that she pauses and says, “I can’t talk about this without crying.”
Nickell, the Communications, Marketing, and Advertising coordinator for Licking Valley RECC, and others in the guild made 112 quilts for people in the area who had been affected by the tornado. (They have also given hundreds of quilts to assisted-living facility residents, to people who have lost their homes to fire, and others.) “The culture of this area is giving of one’s own self,” Nickell says.
Nickell presented a choice of five quilts to Childers, who found one that matched the bedroom of the home they’d built after the tornado. “Of all the furnishings in the house, this means the most to me,” Childers says. “I cherish that quilt.”
We Care of Cumberland County
In Burkesville, We Care of Cumberland County, a member of Tri-County Electric, is always ready for area cancer patients and their families. Founder and President Hazel Smith says the group came to be after the 1997 cancer death of her sister, Shirley Willis Anderson. Through her own experience, Smith learned that the so-called little things people face when they confront cancer aren’t so little. That’s why We Care helps by paying for gasoline, food, and lodging for those who need to commute for treatment. She says the group has also helped with house payments, cooked meals, and built ramps for “hundreds and hundreds” of people over the years. “We help in any way we can,” she says.
The big fundraiser every September is the Steel Horse Stampede Benefit Ride, when hundreds of motorcycles, bikers, and passengers show up for a ride that benefits We Care. The money raised stays in the county.
Bernice Boston knows the worth of We Care. Her grandson, TJ Branham, was diagnosed with brain cancer three years ago when he was 15. While he underwent treatment in Louisville, Boston says We Care helped the family with gas money and groceries.
“We couldn’t have made it without them,” she says. “I would have had to borrow money.” Just as important was the community love and support that helped the family through her grandson’s death in January at age 18—and his mother’s unexpected death from a heart attack just 10 days earlier. Boston says you don’t how much that means when you feel you have nothing left.
Watch the scenic, aerial video of We Care of Cumberland’s 2016 Steel Horse Stampede Benefit Ride in Burkesville.
Hope Center for Women
Scottsville’s Hope Center for Women, also a member of Tri-County Electric co-op, steps in to help women who are coming out of jail or prison, most of whom have had addiction issues. Founder Sue Cline says the “faith-based, Christ-centered” program, in its 10th year, helps women learn life skills, earn degrees, and obtain jobs and savings before going back out into the world.
She takes no government funds, only private or church donations, and recently signed papers for a house where eight women and a housemother will be able to live. Until now, they have lived in the home she shares with her husband.
Learn more about Scottville’s Hope Center for Women.
Grand Paws Search Dog Team
Owen County’s Grand Paws Search Dog Team is an all-volunteer outfit—nearly half of its members are canines. The group has been involved in search-and-rescue missions for lost and missing people, including Alzheimer’s patients and suspected drowning victims. Owen Electric co-op makes its acreage available for search dog training exercises.
President Patty Petzinger founded the group in 1994 with Vice President Pam Brock, also of Owen County. Petzinger’s main partner is Izzy, a German shepherd that made her first find this year. Working with police and Owen County Search and Rescue, they found a woman who’d gone missing after she had fallen in a creek and had become hypothermic. “She was alive,” Petzinger says, who describes the experience as “awesome.”
Back in Hopkinsville, Back to Back volunteers have done their research on neighbors whose Christmas will be made brighter by community caring. If the past is any indication, volunteers will deliver clothes, furniture, school supplies, appliances, toys, and more to the approximately three dozen families. “We get them what they enjoy, along with the necessities,” Brice Long says.
As is often the case, giving turns into receiving, too.
Long grows emotional when he remembers a mom who had cancer and couldn’t afford Christmas for her three children. Enter Back to Back. The mother was able to see her kids get what they wanted, and what they needed.
“What a blessing to all of us,” Long says, “to make sure that that mom’s last Christmas was great.”
See Brice Long and Friends perform several songs at last year’s Back to Back Foundation fundraiser.
Recipes and remembrance
We Care of Cumberland County is a Burkesville support group that provides for the needs of people in that community who have cancer. Its 2016 third-edition cookbook sells for $10 and includes recipes dedicated to friends and family who have been touched by the disease.
Tammy Dyer submitted TJ Branham’s Favorite Pecan Pie recipe in memory of her nephew, TJ, who died in January 2016 after battling brain cancer. She says she made the pie for him every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and imagines she will make it again this holiday season in memory of him. You may want to try it, too.
1 C Karo light corn syrup
4 eggs, beaten
1 C sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 C pecan halves
1 9-inch unbaked, deep-dish pie crust
Preheat oven to 350º. Mix corn syrup, sugar, and butter in saucepan and bring to a boil. Add beaten eggs and vanilla. Pour filling into pie crust. Take pecan halves and start on outside edge of filling, laying pecans on top of filling, around and around, until top is covered. Bake on center rack of oven for 50 to 55 minutes.
Dyer writes, “I don’t like deep-dish pies so I double this recipe and make three regular pies.”
To order the cookbook
To order the 56-page cookbook featuring 100 recipes, send $10 to We Care of Cumberland County Inc. c/o Hazel Smith, P.O. Box 695, Burkesville, KY, 42717. For questions, contact Tammy Dyer, (270) 864-3800. Proceeds from sales of the cookbook support We Care’s mission.
Reach those who reach out
If you’d like to contact the organizations mentioned in this story:
• Back to Back; P.O. Box 477, Hopkinsville, KY 42241.
• Grand Paws Search Dog Association (aka Search Dog Team)
• Hope Center for Women; (270) 618-1442 or (270) 618-1205.
• String A Long Quilt Guild: Contact Libby Hammonds, president, (606) 743-4322.
• We Care of Cumberland County, Facebook: We Care of Cumberland County, Burkesville, Kentucky; P.O. Box 695, Burkesville, KY 42717; (270) 459-1201.