“A place of healing:” Eastern Ky. Community Center serves children in times of mental health need

“A place of healing:” Eastern Ky. Community Center serves children in times of mental health need

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – Over the past month and a half, what people have experienced in Eastern Kentucky has been both catastrophic and traumatic.

We’ve seen the visible scars of the floods unfold before us, but what we don’t see is that those waters left behind leave an even deeper mark on the communities and people where it happened.

WKYT’s Amber Philpott recently returned to Whitesburg in Letcher County, a community devastated by the destruction, to talk to some of the youngest flood victims and to see how a community center opened to be an outlet for a break. of mental health.

It’s a soothing sound, meant to be relaxing – water flowing through a community in Letcher County flows to a place that was spared when the water wasn’t so still.

“The Cowan Community Center has been part of the community since I was little,” said Valerie Horn.

Horn, the director of the Cowan Community Center, calls this little piece of heaven tucked away outside of Whitesburg a blessed land.

“The space is comforting and a healing space,” Horn said.

The Cowan Community Center has been serving area children and families for over 50 years.

“We were also very lucky when we were able to reach space to learn that it hadn’t been flooded,” Horn said.

But Horn knew the devastation around him was widespread in a place that already faced so much.

“Nobody deserves disaster, having their house swept away from under them in the dark of night and into the early hours of the morning,” Horn said.

And it was then that Horn knew that this space of service would play a role in the healing to come.

“Within days, we realized this was a critical space that also needed to be utilized, and we went with what we do best and know best,” Horn said.

And it was in the service of children. For many, the scars of the floods are now deeply rooted.

“I heard parents just yesterday talking about how their child got worried when it started to rain. ‘We have to go home, it’s going to be flooded,’ Horn said .

The centre’s traditional summer program has evolved into a place of escape where children who have experienced flooding and those who have not have come together.

Meals were provided and simple things like games and art allowed emotions and healing to take place in a very normal way.

“Their wellbeing and mental health has been a priority and I think what’s happened is that a lot of people have just shaken their safety,” Horn said.

André is one of them.

“Like all the houses, they’ve been washed away, all the water has gone away,” Andrew said.

But despite losing everything, Andrew and his sister Ada found joy in being just kids in Cowan.

“It’s my home, it’s like my home,” Andrew said.

It’s not always just playing. The team there has had outside help with mental health training, and a lot of times it’s just about listening.

WKYT sat down at a time when talking about your feelings was okay. You quickly realize that everyone there, regardless of age, has been affected in some way and these young people have taken care of each other.

“These are people I’ve mostly known all my life,” said one student.

“It was terrible, I didn’t experience that, but seeing them get rid of their house hurts me,” says another student.

Kristen Polly is 11 years old and her family has lost everything in their home and been relocated several times. She was supposed to start college this year.

“Honestly, it’s really devastating to see all of this happening, especially in downtown Whitesburg,” Kirsten Polly said.

Kristen, being a little older, knew how to be a listening ear herself for the younger ones.

She shares a connection with so many people because of the floods, but she admits telling others about it has helped her own mental health.

“It helps get things off your chest, like it helps you let things out and talk about them. It makes you a little lighter to keep going,” Kirsten Polly said.

A sign in Cowan really says it all: “We love our children.

In a place where Horn says there’s a tradition of just being tough and accepting circumstances, she hopes that in the aftermath of the floods these kids know healing takes time, but it starts at a place where love flows stronger than water.

“There’s a lot of resilience in these youngsters,” Horn said.

Letcher County students are returning to school on Wednesday and many hope it will continue to help the healing process and provide even more normalcy.

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