In the words of Magic Johnson: “All kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them.”
Those simple words are a dream fulfilled for thousands of children who have passed through the doors of Sunrise Children’s Services. For those of you who have never heard of Sunrise, let me share a snapshot of an organization which literally has transformed the lives of thousands of innocent children. Since 1869, Sunrise has allowed children and teens to find hope and healing after being removed from their homes due to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and neglect.
Often, Sunrise is the refuge of last hope for Kentucky’s hurting children. Because of the drug crisis in Kentucky, more, and more children find themselves in need of a place where they can go to heal, a place where they go to find love, and a place where they can go to bed at night with the assurance that they are safe. Sunrise is that place of last resort, that place of last hope, and that place where a child’s dreams for a future are fulfilled.
Although the stories of Sunrise’s children would fill volumes, it only takes a moment to listen to the stories of Aaron and Jessie to realize that without Sunrise, hundreds of Kentucky’s children and teens would be without hope for a better future. Aaron’s story begins when he is nine. In the words of Aaron, he and his sister were being raised by a mother who “was hooked on drugs.” Aaron’s story continues when he and his sister eventually have to move in with their grandparents. At 13, Aaron’s sister loses her battle with cystic fibrosis and passes away leaving Aaron alone and angry. At 16, Aaron experiences another tragic loss when his grandmother passed away. After the loss of his grandmother, Aaron’s grandfather was no longer able to care for him. At 17, as a teenager with a “rap sheet a mile long,” Sunrise found Aaron and Sunrise found a loving foster family for Aaron. In the words of Aaron, because of Sunrise, “I have hope; I have a family and I am studying to be a nurse, all because Sunrise found me.”
Next, there is the story of Jessie. Jessie’s story begins when she is six and her parents divorced. At six, Jessie found herself as the child responsible for caring for her mother and her four younger sisters. As Jessie tells her story, nothing she could do ever satisfied her mother. Not only did Jessie endure mental abuse, she soon became the victim of physical abuse. At the age of 13, and after being the victim of both mental and physical abuse, Jessie’s mom passed away. A year later, Jessie and two of her sisters were placed in foster care. In September of that year, Jessie gave birth to a precious little girl. When Jessie turned 18, she completed high school and was accepted into Sunrise’s Independent Living Program. Jessie tells everyone that she knows what it feels like to feel hopeless. Jessie also knows that everyone needs to know that someone cares for them. Like so many others, because of Sunrise, Jessie will tell the world that she has hope, she has a family, and she and her daughter have a future all because Sunrise found them.
So why tell the story of Aaron and Jessie, or any of Sunrise’s children and teens? It is because their stories need to be told so that the world will know that while Sunrise Children’s Services is a story of hope, every year that story of hope becomes more difficult for Sunrise and its staff to fulfill for many of Kentucky’s abused children and teens. Today, Sunrise receives only 60 percent of the cost of caring for each of the children placed in its care by the Cabinet for Family Services. The remainder must be raised through generous donors who understand that every child counts. Unfortunately, every year there are less and less donor dollars available to meet the financial needs of Sunrise which puts hundreds of other children with stories like those of Aaron and Jessie without hope. Without Sunrise, hundreds and likely thousands of abused children and teenagers are at risk of not having a place where they can find hope, a place where they can find a loving family, or a place where they can heal.
Oftentimes, I end with a request that you follow me to my imaginary mountaintop to help me shout my message to the world. Today, my request is somewhat different. Instead of joining me on my imaginary mountaintop, I would ask each of you to join me for a few minutes at Sunrise’s website, www.sunrise.org, and take a few moments to listen to the words of Aaron, Jessie, Christy and Roger, and then take a moment to look at the faces and smiles of the children, the children who now have a future because Sunrise found them. In the end, each of us, yes, one by one, can help Sunrise provide hope to Kentucky’s hurting and often forgotten children.
Oh, by the way, if you do accept my challenge to learn more about Sunrise Children’s Services, make sure you bring along some tissues, and of course a generous and giving heart.
Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington. He spent years prosecuting those responsible for abusing children, and now is strong an advocate for Sunrise Children’s Services.