Helping women, horses recover from hard track life

June 16, 2010

PARIS — Kim Rosier left home in Nebraska at age 13 and spent most of her life moving from one racetrack to another — grooming, walking, training, exercise riding, whatever needed to be done.

“It’s a rough life,” said Rosier, 53, who now has a bad back and other health problems because of her work. “When you get old … they have no use for you. What are you going to do, die in a tack room?”

What Rosier did in April was pack her belongings into a suitcase, board a bus in Hot Springs, Ark., and move to Bethlehem Farm and the Center for Women in Racing in Bourbon County.

The non-denominational Christian ministry helps horsewomen who need temporary housing, pastoral counseling or help with medical, legal or substance-abuse problems, or a safe haven from domestic violence. Some of the women care for retired and rescued race horses on the farm.

During the past five years, 37 women have lived at the center, the restored 1830s Wright-Barlow House near Paris, founder Sandra White said. An additional 112 — from stable hands to high-level Thoroughbred owners — have sought non-residential help.

The Wright-Barlow House is owned by Bourbon County and is leased to the Center for Women in Racing. White’s Bethlehem Farm is nearby.

“I developed a model to reach women who wouldn’t normally be reached by the church,” said White, who has a network of professionals to help with clients. “There’s so much need, we couldn’t begin to meet it.”

White has ambitious plans, which she will discuss June 25 at Horses and the Hearts of Women, the center’s fund-raiser. The event honors first lady Jane Beshear and includes a talk by jockey Otto Thorwarth, who appears in the movie Secretariat, which is scheduled to open in October.

White’s eventual goal is to acquire more land and create the Center for Renewal in Racing, a self-sustaining rehabilitation center for men and children as well as women and horses.

Much of the financial support for the Center for Women in Racing has come from White, her friends and donors in the industry. The center also sells gifts, including official Kentucky Derby silk scarves. The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture is helping White to develop a long-range strategic plan.

White, who grew up in a horse- owning Texas family with Kentucky roots, would seem an unlikely missionary and social worker. A former public relations executive in Houston, she sold her firm in 1990 and moved to Kentucky. She had always wanted to live on a horse farm — and she felt God’s call.

White earned a master’s degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in 1993 and worked with the Rev. Bobby Aldridge, a racetrack chaplain. “I had to spend a lot of time at the racetrack learning what it was like for the girls because I had never been allowed to be there,” she said. It was an eye-opening experience.

“It doesn’t matter how well you do in life. Stuff happens,” said White, a divorced mother of two teenagers and the incoming president of the Paris/Bourbon County Chamber of Commerce. “You may lose your business, you may lose your health.”

White bought a 50-acre farm on Bethlehem Road in 1995 and created a non-profit organization in 2000. In 2004, she opened the center in the Wright-Barlow House, where as many as six women can live in three upstairs bedrooms.

Bethlehem Farm also is home to a rotating cast of retired or rescued Thoroughbreds, and a gentle giant of a draft horse, a Percheron named Abram. Caring for them is good therapy for women at the center. The love of horses is something they all have in common.

Some women even come with their own. “We don’t separate girls from their animals, which makes us unique — and absolutely crazy,” White said. “But for many of these women, all they have is their horse or their dog.”

When White and Rosier showed me around Bethlehem Farm last week, it was a perfect summer afternoon: blue sky, plank fences and rolling meadows. Only horses, birds and our conversation disturbed the windswept silence.

Rosier said that living in such a peaceful place is helping her to mend her body and her spirit. “I feel safe here,” she said. “I’m a runner, but it’s like the first time in my life I haven’t wanted to run.”

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New Hope for Kentucky’s recovering addicts

May 22, 2008

Drew Thomas isn’t what most people visualize when they think of a homeless alcoholic and drug addict.

Captain of his high school football team, scholarship athlete at Eastern Kentucky University, semi-pro player in Arizona. On the outside, Thomas seemed to be successful.

Inside, he was a mess.

“I kind of always knew I had a problem,” he said. “But it took me a long time to come to the realization that I couldn’t control my addictions.”

Thomas, 31, began drinking in high school. He got hooked on painkillers after a knee injury, then took up crystal meth. He was dismissed from his semi-pro team after failing a random drug test.

Back in Kentucky, alcohol and drugs consumed his life. His parents kicked him out, then his girlfriend kicked him out.

Thomas ended up at the Hope Center’s emergency shelter and, last October, entered its addiction recovery program. His goal is to complete the center’s recovery program as 800 men and 300 women have done since 1996.

“They saved my life,” Thomas said of the shelter.

The Hope Center will be able to save many more lives now that it has the George Privett Recovery Center, a 96-bed facility at 250 W. Loudon Avenue. The center will greatly expand the men’s recovery program while freeing much-needed space at the shelter down the street.

The Hope Center also operates a 40-unit transitional apartment complex, a women’s recovery center and recovery programs for men and women at the Fayette County Detention Center.

Gov. Steve Beshear used the new building’s dedication Thursday to sign an executive order creating a task force to advise him on the Recovery Kentucky initiative.

After signing an executive order creating the Recovery Kentucky Task Force, Gov. Steve Beshear shakes hands with state Finance Secretary Jonathan Miller, who will be the task force’s vice chairman. Dr. George Privett stands at left beside John Y. Brown III. Photos/Tom Eblen

Recovery Kentucky is building 10 addiction treatment facilities around the state that will accommodate 1,000 people and use programs modeled after those at the Hope Center and The Healing Place in Louisville. But the new facilities will only begin to meet the demand.

“The numbers we deal with in Kentucky are staggering,” Beshear said.

Experts say that more than 375,000 Kentuckians need drug or alcohol treatment. But it is a good investment: for every $1 spent on treatment, $7 is saved in health care and criminal justice costs.

Recovery programs are key to the Hope Center’s mission, because more than 70 percent of the homeless men who come there are addicts.

The new building is named for Dr. George Privett, a Hope Center board member who owns Lexington Diagnostic Center. Privett is an active donor and volunteer in many local charity and arts organizations. Earlier this year, he received a humanitarian award from the Kentucky Conference for Community and Justice.

“There’s nothing that I can think of better to do in life than to give someone the tools to help him get out of the death spiral of addiction,” Privett told more than 200 people who attended the center’s dedication ceremony.

Privett gave $300,000 toward the center’s construction, but it was truly a community effort. Other private donations totaled $600,000; Lexmark gave the land; the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati donated $1 million; Central Bank provided financial services; and construction was handled at cost by Barkham Inc., the non-profit unit of Ball Homes. That company’s founders, Don and Mira Ball, are big supporters of the 28-year-old Hope Center.

Many other Lexington individuals and businesses donated furniture, equipment and even art for the walls. The value of the finished facility is about $3.5 million.

Earlier this week, I got a tour from staff members Kolan Morelock and Walter May, who were obviously proud of the building and the programs it will house.

The recovery program takes in addicts from the Hope Center shelter as well as some who are released from prison or are referred by judges. More than six in 10 participants succeed.

The program requires individuals to take responsibility for their behavior – and be held accountable by their peers. Participants must go through Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous programs, and do the chores necessary to keep the center and shelter running. In later stages of recovery, they also must get outside jobs.

As men advance through the program, they will move to progressively nicer dormitory rooms at the new center. “It reinforces the idea that what I am doing is making my life better,” May said.

Drew Thomas, the former football player, still has a long way to go in his recovery. But he said the Hope Center’s impact on his life already has been profound.

“I know that my attitude has changed 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of personal relationships back with my family. Through my addictions, I had harmed them, stole things from them, done a lot of bad things to them.”

Thomas said he has learned humility for the first time in his life, and he has found a relationship with God.

“It sounds corny, because when I first got here, to be honest with you, I was real skeptical about the whole deal,” he said. “But looking back today, I owe them my life.”

A ceremonial ribbon-cutting Thursday marked the opening of the Hope Center’s George Privett Recovery Center. From left, Luther Deaton of Central Bank, Mira and Don Ball of Ball Homes, Bonnie Quantrell, Hope Center Chair Randy Breeding, Gov. Steve Beshear and Cecil Dunn, the Hope Center’s executive director.