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Kinship Care Activist Katie Okumu

Kinship Care Activist Katie Okumu

Renee's guest is 18-year-old Katie Okumu of Berea who was raised in her early to late teens by her great-grandmother. She is one of the nearly 70,000 Kentucky kids raised by grandparents or other extended family members, called "kinship care." Okumu served on the First Lady's Youth Leadership Council that works on issues affecting Kentucky children. She is currently attending Harvard University.
S12 E46 Length 26:27 Premiere: 8.25.17

Kinship Care Advocate Katie Okumu

Katie Okumu is one of the 70,000 Kentucky children being raised by family members other than parents. In her case, Okumu’s grandmother and great-grandmother stepped up to care for her and her brother after the death of their mother more than a decade ago.

Now the 18 year old is set to face a new life challenge that she says is both exciting and heartbreaking: She will leave the familiarity of family and her Berea home to relocate to Boston, where she will enter Harvard University this fall.

Before she left for school, Okumu appeared on KET’s Connections to share the story of her life and discuss her efforts to lobby for more state support of kinship caregivers around the commonwealth.
 

 
Katie Okumu has no memories of her father or mother.

Her parents were married, but her father moved back to his native Kenya before she was born.

Her mother had mental health problems and committed suicide when Okumu was about a year old.

That’s when her grandmother stepped in to raise Okumu and her older brother. Okumu says her grandmother was a kind and giving woman who did her best to give them a normal childhood despite her age and her struggles to pay the bills and put food on the table. She even told young Katie stories about her mother, and complimented her for being as passionate a speaker as her mother had been.

“But there are a lot of little things that can’t be filled in by stories and memories, so I always felt the loss of her presence in my life,” Okumu says of her mother.

Then in 2012, her grandmother died of breast cancer. Okumu says it was like she’d lost a second mother. That’s when Ruby Ferrell, Okumu’s nonagenarian great-grandmother, took over raising the children.

“As long as I’m alive, I’ll try to keep a place for them to come back to,” Ferrell says in a 2014 short video that photojournalist Rachel Psutka produced about the family.

“I don’t think I would have been as successful as I am now if it hadn’t been for her influence and her constant dedication to raising my brother and I,” Okumu says. “I think that I’ve grown into my own confidence a little bit about where I’m going and what I can achieve, and I think that’s because of her and because of her continued support.”

A Passionate Advocate for Kinship Caregivers
Okumu excelled at school and as a singer. She attended to the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts to study musical theater. And she’s been civically active, participating in the Promise Appalachia Leadership in Service group and serving on First Lady Glenna Bevin’s Youth Leadership Council that works on issues affecting Kentucky children.

Okumu says she was five-years-old when she wished she had had someone who understood what she was going through and could advocate for her. That’s why she’s worked to help other children in kinship care situations.

“It’s about the 70,000 other young people in Kentucky who are living in the same circumstances I have, [but] who might not have had the opportunities that I have been given by hard work but also by chance, by people walking into my life at the right time,” she says.

The state once provided small stipends to kinship caregivers like Okumu’s grandmother and great-grandmother. Those caregivers tend to be older and have limited incomes, which can make it difficult to take on the expense of raising young children.

But the state ended those support payments several years ago during the budget crisis. Okumu and other kinship care advocates want lawmakers to restore those stipends.

“Kinship care families aren’t just asking for a hand out,” Okumu says. “Kinship care parents are the hardest working people in the commonwealth in some cases and they deserve not only financial support but emotional support and prayer.”

Embracing a Positive Outlook on Life
Okumu’s lobbying efforts will have to take a temporary back seat to her college education. She received a full scholarship to Harvard where she hopes to study government or sociology. She says the thought of moving to Boston is daunting, but she says the people she met when she visited Harvard’s campus helped put her at ease.

“I was really surprised and captivated by the kindness that I felt from fellow incoming students,” Okumu says. “So many passionate young people who are wanting to make real change in the world… I’m very excited to be surrounded by that.”

Then there’s the prospect of leaving her great-grandmother, who Okumu describes as her best friend. In recent years, Okumu has taken on more caregiving tasks like driving, cooking, and shopping for Ferrell who is now 96 years old. Okumu says she’ll call her great-grandmother every day to talk and make sure family and church friends are taking good care of her.

“I don’t think I can express in words how heartbreaking it is to leave,” Okumu says. “I think if I said that I wasn’t going to go, she wouldn’t take that answer very kindly. In her words, I fulfilled her wildest dreams and she couldn’t be more proud of me.”

For a young woman who endured the death of a mother and grandmother as well as the loss of a father who chose not to be part of her life, Okumu has learned to have a positive view of life.

“The bitterness that I once had about what I lost, what I wasn’t able to have, is gone,” she says. “I think everything happens for a reason, whether it be a wonderfully amazing or a really difficult circumstance.”

Okumu says she’s excited to embrace the new challenges her life at Harvard will offer her and eager to bring those experiences back with her to Berea.

“I always hope to come back to Kentucky,” Okumu says. “Kentucky raised me… It will always have a special place in my heart.”

Program Details

Connections

About Connections

Each week, host Renee Shaw and a variety of interesting and engaging people - including business leaders, entertainers, authors, celebrities, and more - explore a broad array of topics impacting Kentucky and the world.

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Kevin Chapman - S10 E28

Clinical psychologist Kevin Chapman of Louisville discusses anxiety disorders and an innovative approach called virtual reality exposure therapy to help ease those conditions.

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Filmmaker Sarah Burns - S17 E3

Renee Shaw talks with filmmaker Sarah Burns about her new documentary Muhammad Ali, a six-year project that offers viewers a multifaceted look at Louisville's most famous son who went on to become heavyweight champion of the world as well as one of the world's most charismatic and controversial figures.

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Connections - S17 E4

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Kiley Lane Parker - S10 E29

Filmmaker Kiley Lane Parker discusses her film, Raising Ms. President, about raising the next generation of female political leaders.

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Pellom McDaniels - S10 E30

Pellom McDaniels, faculty curator of African-American collections and assistant professor of African-American studies at Emory University in Atlanta, talks about his book, The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy.

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Jay Williams - S10 E33

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams is a former mayor of Youngstown, Ohio. From the recent SOAR summit in Pikeville, he talks about how Youngstown recovered from the decline of the steel industry and how those lessons can apply to Eastern Kentucky areas distressed by the sharp downturn in coal jobs.

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Susan and Morgan Guess - S10 E34

Susan Guess and her daughter, Morgan, began the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation nearly four years ago after Morgan experienced bullying. They have raised $50,000 to bring a variety of anti-bullying programs to the region. Susan Guess was appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear in 2014 to serve on the Kentucky Bully Prevention Task Force, which will make recommendations to the governor in fall 2015.

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Diabetes Epidemic - S10 E20

Gilbert Friedell, MD, and J. Isaac Joyner, MPH, discuss their book, The Great Diabetes Epidemic: A Manifesto for Control and Prevention. The book advocates taking a public health approach to addressing diabetes, emphasizes prevention of diabetes-related complications, and encourages more community responsiveness.

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Cathy Zion - Zion Publications LLC - S10 E38

Cathy Zion became owner and publisher of Zion Publications in 1996, after a long career in banking. Her company publishes Today's Woman, and added new magazines, Today's Transitions and Today's Family.

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Gigi Butler - Gigi's Cupcakes - S10 E39

Gigi Butler opened her first Gigi's Cupcakes location just off of music row in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008 and in six short years, with 98 locations and counting, Gigi's is now the largest cupcake franchise in the world.

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Cathe Dykstra - Family Scholar House - S10 E41

Cathe Dykstra, chief possibility officer, president & CEO of Family Scholar House, discusses the Louisville organization and its impact on families and communities. Family Scholar House's mission is to end the cycle of poverty by providing housing and educational support to single-parent students and their families.

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Infant Nutrition and Breastfeeding - S10 E42

Renee and her guests discuss the health benefits of breastfeeding in recognition of national breastfeeding week, as well as provide tips on proper infant nutrition. Scheduled guests include: Doraine Bailey, MA, IBCLC, Breastfeeding Support Services with the Lexington-Fayette County Health Dept.; Ana Maria Linares, an associate professor in the UK College of Nursing and a Lactation Consultant who has conducted research on attitudes and practices around breastfeeding among Latinas in Lexington; and Nicole Peritore, program coordinator for the Health Education through Extension Leadership (HEEL) Office at the University of Kentucky.

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Connections

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Connections

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Andre Taylor - S10 E43

Andre Taylor has a distinguished 35-year career, building and advising businesses. He's the author of You Can Still Win! and a half-dozen other books, a frequent guest expert on ABC News, and an international authority on winning and leadership. Mr. Taylor was a speaker at the 13th Annual Lexington Bluegrass Area Minority Business Expo.

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JoAnne Wheeler Bland - S10 E44

Renee talks with transgender activist JoAnne Wheeler Bland, who in her sixties transitioned from male to female. A practicing attorney for more than 40 years, she is a former Special Justice on the Kentucky Supreme Court, former Vice-President of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, current member of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education's Committee on Equal Opportunity (the Diversity Committee), and guest speaker at Women's and Gender Studies programs at Kentucky universities.

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Faith Politics - S10 E45

Renee and her guests talk about the role of religion in politics and public policy decision-making. Guests: Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, pastor of New Union Christian Church, and Rev. D. Anthony Everett, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church.

  • Wednesday October 13, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Kinship Care - S10 E46

Kentucky has one of the highest rates in the nation of children being raised by grandparents and other relatives, also known as kinship care. Renee and her guests discuss what research tells us about the financial, emotional, and legal challenges that kinship care poses. Guests: Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, and Jeanne Miller-Jacobs, a kinship care provider.

  • Thursday October 14, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk - S11 E2

Renee Shaw interviews new Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk, who talks about his experiences in public education and his goals for the district.

  • Friday October 15, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Connections

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The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia - Gerald Smith - S11 E3

Renee's guest is Dr. Gerald Smith, an author and history professor at the University of Kentucky, and co-editor of The Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia: Life and Culture in the Commonwealth. The reference book contains entries on the individuals, events, places, organizations, movements, and institutions that helped shape the state's history and cultural diversity.

  • Monday October 18, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Childhood Cancer - S11 E4

September is childhood cancer awareness month. Renee talks with survivors and parents about their experiences and the research on the rare maladies striking youth.

  • Tuesday October 19, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Kellie Blair Hardt - S11 E5

Renee speaks with special education teacher Kellie Blair Hardt, who overcame homelessness, an absent mother, an alcoholic father and school expulsion to earn her GED. She received the National Education Association Foundation's 2013 Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence as one of the nation's top educators. Hardt is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education at George Mason University. She was featured in KET's series Dropping Back In.

  • Wednesday October 20, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Jacinda Townsend - S11 E6

Author Jacinda Townsend discusses her critically acclaimed novel, Saint Monkey, a coming-of-age story set in 1950's Eastern Kentucky. The book won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for historical fiction. Townsend is a former Hurston-Wright Award finalist and currently teaches creative writing at Indiana University.

  • Thursday October 21, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Dorothy Butler Gilliam - S11 E7

Renee speaks with journalist Dorothy Butler Gilliam, who was the first African-American female reporter at The Washington Post. She retired in 2003 after a 35-year career with the paper.

  • Friday October 22, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Connections - S17 E8

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Allison Joseph - S11 E8

Allison Joseph is the author of six poetry books. She teaches at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, where she helped found {Crab Orchard Review}, a literary journal, and the Young Writers Workshop, a co-ed residential summer program for teen writers.

  • Monday October 25, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Kendell Nash - ECHO - S10 E27

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Dorothy Edwards and Diane Fleet - S10 E26

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Lois Combs Weinberg - S10 E25

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Elaine Chao - S10 E23

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Filmmaker Sarah Burns - S17 E3

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Diabetes Epidemic - S10 E20

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Mary Gwen Wheeler, 55,000 Degrees - S10 E16

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15K Degrees Initiative - S10 E13

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Sister Helen Prejean - S10 E12

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Jefferson County Veterans Treatment Court - S10 E11

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Charlene Buckles and Dan Wu - S17 E2

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Cynthia Knapek - Leadership Louisville Center

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  • Sunday September 5, 2021 11:00 am CT on KET

Bill Farmer - S10 E8

  • Friday September 10, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 10, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 10, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 10, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 10, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 10, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Diane Follingstad - UK Women's Circle Endowment Chair - S10 E6

  • Thursday September 9, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 9, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kevin Chapman - S10 E5

  • Wednesday September 8, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 8, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 8, 2021 2:20 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 8, 2021 1:20 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 8, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 8, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Soreyda Benedit Begley and Chris Begley - S10 E3

  • Tuesday September 7, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 7, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 7, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday September 7, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Chris Rabb - S10 E1

  • Friday September 3, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Tanya Torp and Holly Houston - S9 E46

  • Thursday September 2, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 2, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday September 2, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday September 2, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Frontier Nursing University - S9 E45

  • Wednesday September 1, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 1, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 1, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 1, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

SWAG - Sisters and Supporters Working Against Gun Violence - S9 E44

  • Tuesday August 31, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 31, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 31, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 31, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 31, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 31, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Marta Miranda - S9 E43

  • Monday August 30, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 30, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 30, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 30, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 30, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 30, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Sarah Taylor Vanover - Early Childhood Education

  • Sunday September 5, 2021 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday September 5, 2021 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday September 4, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday September 4, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday September 1, 2021 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday September 1, 2021 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Wednesday September 1, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday September 1, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday August 29, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday August 29, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday August 29, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday August 29, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday August 29, 2021 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday August 29, 2021 11:00 am CT on KET

The Rise of Anti-Asian Violence

  • Sunday August 29, 2021 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday August 29, 2021 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday August 28, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday August 28, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 25, 2021 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday August 25, 2021 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Wednesday August 25, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday August 25, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET

Judi Jennings - S9 E42

  • Friday August 27, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dr. Robert Hilgers - S9 E41

  • Thursday August 26, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday August 26, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday August 26, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday August 26, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday August 26, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday August 26, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Wil James - S9 E40

  • Wednesday August 25, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 25, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 25, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 25, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 25, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 25, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

African Americans and Mental Health - S9 E39

  • Tuesday August 24, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 24, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 24, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 24, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 24, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 24, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Charisse Gillett - Lexington Theological Seminary - S9 E38

  • Monday August 23, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 23, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 23, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 23, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 23, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 23, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY
Top

Season 12 Episodes

Kinship Care Activist Katie Okumu

S12 E46 Length 26:27 Premiere Date 8.25.17

Photographer Carol Peachee

S12 E45 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 8.18.17

Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative

S12 E44 Length 28:28 Premiere Date 8.11.17

Sec. Vickie Yates Brown Glisson

S12 E43 Length 29:17 Premiere Date 8.4.17

Criminal Justice Reform

S12 E42 Length 28:08 Premiere Date 7.28.17

Kayla Rae Whitaker

S12 E41 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 7.14.17

Uncovering Bias in Preschool Education

S12 E40 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 7.7.17

The Latest Data on Kentucky's Kids

S12 E39 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 6.30.17

Building Leadership Skills

S12 E38 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 6.23.17

The Ali Center's Donald Lassere

S12 E37 Length 28:46 Premiere Date 6.16.17

Improving Nutrition in the Daily Diet

S12 E36 Length 27:06 Premiere Date 6.9.17

Alzheimer's Disease

S12 E35 Length 28:19 Premiere Date 6.2.17

Innovation at the Alltech Conference

S12 E34 Length 28:33 Premiere Date 5.26.17

Political Journalist Cokie Roberts

S12 E33 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 5.22.17

2017 Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit

S12 E32 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 5.12.17

Alison Lundergan Grimes

S12 E31 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 5.9.17

Sexual Trauma in the Military

S12 E30 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 5.2.17

Foster Care

S12 E29 Length 28:46 Premiere Date 4.24.17

Justice Secretary John Tilley

S12 E23 Length 29:36 Premiere Date 4.14.17

Job Training in Kentucky

S12 E22 Length 29:31 Premiere Date 3.24.17

Kentucky Tourism

S12 E21 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 2.24.17

Reducing Youth Violence

S12 E20 Length 28:21 Premiere Date 2.17.17

State Treasurer Allison Ball

S12 E19 Length 28:51 Premiere Date 2.10.17

Poverty in America

S12 E18 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 2.3.17

Homelessness in Kentucky

S12 E17 Length 28:46 Premiere Date 1.27.17

Sadiqa Reynolds

S12 E16 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 1.20.17

Cory Jewell Jensen

S12 E15 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 1.13.17

Bill Goodman

S12 E14 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 1.6.17

Promoting Health Equity

S12 E13 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 12.16.16

Kentucky's Teacher of the Year

S12 E12 Length 27:22 Premiere Date 12.9.16

Important Issues for Seniors

S12 E11 Length 28:20 Premiere Date 11.18.16

Nonprofit Organizations

S12 E10 Length 28:22 Premiere Date 11.11.16

Iris Wilbur and Colmon Elridge

S12 E9 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 11.4.16

Alzheimer's Disease

S12 E8 Length 28:32 Premiere Date 10.28.16

Activism Through Music and Art

S12 E7 Length 28:31 Premiere Date 10.21.16

Paducah's Merryman House

S12 E6 Length 28:07 Premiere Date 10.14.16

The Achievement Gap

S12 E5 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 10.7.16

Discussing Domestic Violence

S12 E4 Length 28:32 Premiere Date 9.30.16

Musician Jon Secada

S12 E3 Length 29:13 Premiere Date 9.23.16

Playwright Mitzi Sinnott

S12 E2 Length 27:12 Premiere Date 9.15.16

FDA Chief Dr. Robert Califf

S12 E1 Length 26:26 Premiere Date 9.9.16

Smoking Cessation and Pregnancy

Preview Length 29:32 Premiere Date 9.8.17

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