Flipping through TV newscasts these days can be a disheartening exercise, with seemingly endless stories about partisan politics, mass shootings, scandals, and investigations.
But there are also people who perform unheralded acts of kindness in cities and towns across the nation. These good Samaritans devote themselves to addressing local needs and making our neighborhoods and communities better places to live.
KET’s Connections spotlighted individuals who work for three organizations that are improving the lives of central Kentuckians. Host Renee Shaw spoke with representatives from Surgery on Sunday, Bluegrass Families First, and One Parent Scholar House.
Surgery on Sunday
Every third Sunday of each month, a group of volunteer doctors and nurses gathers at the Lexington Surgery Center to provide something rare in today’s economy: medical care that doesn’t costs the patients, insurance companies, or the government a penny.
Surgery on Sunday is the brainchild of Dr. Andrew Moore, a Lexington plastic surgeon who has long devoted himself to helping needy individuals that the health care system has failed to serve. Since launching the non-profit organization in 2005, Moore and his cadre of volunteers have performed minor surgeries on more than 5,700 patients. That includes hernia operations, tonsillectomies, disc and shoulder surgeries, and cataracts.
“Anything that you can think of that you can do as an outpatient, we’ve done,” says Moore.
During the first years of Surgery on Sunday, patients could qualify for free procedures if they needed an outpatient service, had no health insurance, and were at 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, Moore says many of their patients now have health insurance but can’t afford the enormous deductibles that come with low-end policies. So Surgery on Sunday will take patients if their deductible is equal to 10 percent of their annual income.
“We treat people just like they’re a private patient coming in your office,” Moore says. “We see them pre-operatively, we see them post-operatively, we take care of them just like they were our own patient with the best insurance policy that they could have.”
Some patients find their own way to Surgery on Sunday, but Moore says most of them are referred by local health departments, social service agencies, and other partner organizations. Moore recounts the story of a Bowling Green man who poured concrete for a living. He suffered a knee injury and faced the prospect of paying $30,000 for surgery, which he couldn’t afford, or going on Medicaid disability for two years while waiting to have the operation. Moore says 80 percent of people who go on disability never return to work, which means that man probably would have been unable to earn a living.
Fortunately, a social worker referred the man to Surgery on Sunday.
“We took care of him, and three weeks later he was back gainfully employed, taking care of his family, and contributing to society,” says Moore. “It was a very positive experience for everybody involved.”
Moore says he spends much of his time these days trying to spread the Surgery on Sunday concept. He says the program has already expanded to Louisville and Dallas, and hopes to have branches opening soon in Cleveland, Knoxville, and Alabama. He says if Surgery on Sunday volunteers in Lexington can treat more than 5,000 patients in 12 years, then other cities ought to be able to do at least that many – and Moore believes that will go a long way towards helping those in desperate need of outpatient surgical procedures.
“They are at their wits’ end about trying to find somebody,” Moore says. “They are so grateful that anybody would even care to try to help them through this process.”
Helping Families Thrive in Life and School
Bluegrass Families First (BFF) is kind of a utility player for local social service non-profits: They can step in and provide a range of administrative and funding support that those organizations may not have the resources to tackle. These days BFF focuses on entities that provide early childhood development, education, and health and human services for Lexington families.
“We are available to do all the things that organizations cannot do,” says BFF Board President Kelly Duffy. “Maybe they do not have staff that can dedicate time and energy to do things, so we pick a project and use our volunteer force to make it happen.”
The organization presently supports the work of The Family Care Center, The Nest Center for Women, Children, and Families, and One Parent Scholar House. Duffy says BFF helps those groups with fundraising and outreach, and provides special services to their client families, such as funding for respite care, operating a clothes closet, and providing cribs, car seats, and high chairs.
For more than 30 years, One Parent Scholar House has provided housing, counseling services, and on-site child care for single parents who are full-time college students. Program director Mirsada Simic says she’s seen how the organization changes the lives of its clients.
“Most of our students, not everyone, is the first-time generation of college student,” says Simic. “So it does break the cycle of poverty because education is something no one can take away from them and [it] opens so many doors.”
Scholar House students must be at least 18 years old and attending classes full-time to obtain an undergraduate or graduate degree. Simic says they even had a student in their 50s who went back to school while they had custody of their grandchild. Those selected for the program must complete an application process, a formal interview, and criminal background check as well as provide letters of recommendation. Simic says between 15 and 20 students graduate the program each year.
Families live in Section 8 housing provided by One Parent Scholar House, and the children attend an on-sight child development center with a five-star curriculum. Simic says these child-care services are as big a draw for the program as is the program’s mission to provide adults with the opportunity to gain a college degree.
“We actually help two generations,” says Simic. “We help our children get ready for kindergarten… which is a big part of why those parents are there – they want their kids to succeed as well.”
Simic adds that a key indicator of how successful the program is comes when she receives letters from Scholar House graduates who want to return as volunteer mentors to new students entering the program.