As the prospect of spring and commemorations of luck roll around, March serves to be one of the most hopeful and celebratory months of the year. The VUE would like to keep up the positive occasions of this month by showcasing the stories of another three incredible individuals in the community with the second installment of VUElebrity.
In the February issue, readers were introduced to a series of stories about people who the VUE defines as VUElebrities. VUElebrities are individuals in the community who have a true servant’s heart—meaning that they are the kind of people who are always helping others and expect nothing in return, no matter the circumstance. What makes these people VUElebrities is that they can be found throughout many of the VUE’s previous issues, constantly demonstrating what it means to be dedicated to making the community a better place through charity and volunteering.
In continuation of February’s VUElebrity series, these next three stories make up the second installment of VUElebrity, and represent remarkable acts of charity that the VUE is blessed to share.
In the first story, selfless bus-driver Brittany English gives a firsthand account of her experiences in volunteering her time to Paducah’s Annual Christmas Cops Program each year to help families in need. As she details what it’s like to help spread joy to children around the holidays, get an inside look at how one person dedicating their time influences others in the best way possible.
Meet cute-as-a-button Nash Hall in the second story. This spirited three-year-old, who was born with seven heart defects, inspires all of Western Kentucky with his profound ability put himself out into the community while overcoming the challenges of living with “half a heart.”
LaToya Benberry serves as the virtuous star of the third story. Read all about her work as McNabb Elementary School’s Family Resource Coordinator and see just how important it is to supply the young minds of tomorrow with the necessary tools in order to stimulate their academic enhancement.
Although the people in these stories are just a few of the many individuals who have dedicated so much time to making a difference, these March VUElebrities offer inspiring insight into the beauty of being selfless.
On a cold December morning every year, many children and their families eagerly await a day full of holiday cheer. These excited families then board buses and police cars at the Paducah Police Department to take them on a Christmas shopping adventure. Volunteer bus driver Brittany English is one of the key participants that make this spirited Christmas Cops event happen.
Through the Christmas Cops program, police officers throughout the community join forces and celebrate the holiday season by giving back to local families in need. The event allows local police officers to escort several families in the area to an all-expenses-paid holiday shopping trip.
Brittany English has been dedicating her time to the event for years. English partakes in the Paducah Area Christmas Cops program by driving a McCracken County School System bus full of kids and parents to and from the various locations they go throughout the day.
The Christmas Cops program first enticed English to get involved through their mission to build positive relationships between local law enforcement and families who rarely see law enforcement in a positive light.
“I love how being a part of the Christmas Cops program offers me a role in showing these families in need that not all cops are bad. For a lot of struggling families, their only interactions with law enforcers usually stem from a place of negativity,” said English. “But this event brings those members of the community together in a whole new way. I get to see how deeply the officers bond with the families. A lot of the officers will even carry the little ones throughout the stores and help them onto the bus.”
However, what keeps English volunteering each year is the remarkable effect that the program has on the children that it helps. The event strives to help families in need who aren’t receiving assistance from other agencies. Due to the circumstances lots of these families go through, they can’t always provide Christmas presents for their children. This gives children who aren’t used to getting many toys a meaningful experience that stays with them for the rest of their lives.
“I absolutely love seeing the looks on the children’s faces. To see them looking out the windows of the bus and smiling from ear to ear is truly rewarding. I even take my son to join in and experience it with me,” said English. “And it’s especially heartwarming when the children arrive back at the police department at the end of the day and have sacks of toys in hand and parents go home with bags of groceries that they didn’t have to pay anything for.”
English plans to keep volunteering her time to the Paducah Area Christmas Cops program every year as a bus driver. Through her dedication and passionate drive, English’s role with the program showcases the true benevolence and charity that the event is all about.
Originating from Campbellsville, Kentucky, LaToya Benberry now spends her days in Paducah School System’s McNabb Elementary School lending her services to the young minds of tomorrow as the Family Resource Coordinator. Benberry’s position at McNabb allows her to make a difference in the lives of so many students, in turn influencing the community in a way that is inspiring.
As a Family Resource Coordinator, Benberry provides resources such as school supplies, accident preparation and homelife essentials to children in need. Most supplies for the Family Resource Center come from community donations, so lending her help to the kids of Paducah oftentimes means that Benberry is spending a lot of time out at community events promoting the advantages of the Family Resource Center for students of all backgrounds.
Furthermore, Benberry serves on the McCracken County Early Childhood Council where she services the community by dedicating her time to programming and community resources for children ages zero to five. This organization is responsible for the Kindergarten Readiness Fair at Western Kentucky Community and Technical College. This fair provides parents with the information they need to transition their child into their first year of elementary school. Benberry also works with the 4-H extension office, which provides food bags for her students in order to combat food insecurities within the community. She is the one who goes to make sure that there are bags set aside for McNabb kids, as well as helping to build those bags.
In addition to in-school assistance, Benberry partners with the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club outside of school hours to provide summer and after-school programming to make sure that the students are more prepared academically when they return back to school. Following that, Benberry even partners with the local health department to make sure dental services are provided to students.
Overall, Benberry focuses everything that she does towards the efforts of helping the children who attend McNabb and might be needing extra assistance regarding their educational journey.
“The main purpose is to remove any barriers to learning. So, if there are things that may not be academic-related but are affecting the families or students, and it impacts their learning or education, then we try to tackle those issues,” said Benberry.
Prior to her work in the field of family resource, Benberry’s line of work was all about mental health. She worked doing assessments for children’s services and case management for Four Rivers Behavioral Health before venturing into family resource with McNabb. It was when she learned about how beneficial family resources was that she decided to make the switch.
“Learning more about what the Family Resource Center did and about the impact it has on the lives of others is what got me seriously thinking about working within that field,” said Benberry. “Just being able to apply more of the creativity of the gift that God has given me has been amazing. I can use my experience more and partner in many unique ways through family resources that I couldn’t before.”
However, what makes Benberry the most passionate about her work is being able to see the bright futures that these kids have ahead of them. As time goes forward, Benberry wants to recognize the already exceptional work that’s been done as well as pray for the continuation of a truly beneficial Family Resource Center so that she can help others.
“I want to be a light in their life so that they can grow to be a light in somebody else’s life someday,” said Benberry.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 960 babies each year are born with hypoplastic heart syndrome, or HHS. This congenital heart condition results in the heart not being able to adequately pump blood to the lungs, resulting in an inadequate supply of oxygenated blood to be circulated to the body. This condition might be scary, but three year-old Nash Hall has been able to thrive with HHS by dedicating his heart to the community in many ways.
Besides his hypoplastic heart syndrome, which affects his right heart, Nash suffers from an additional six heart defects. These conditions have required Nash to have two open heart surgeries so far, with the first one being when he was only three days old. However, he doesn’t let this affect his daily routine as he does everything he can to keep happy and involved in the community.
“We have been very lucky because it typically does involve kids being on up to 10 medicines at one time, or having feeding tubes. It just really depends on how their body takes the disease,” said Nash’s mother Ali. “But we’ve been really lucky because he is developmentally on track and only has to take one medicine to cope with the effects of his condition. We’ve just been so blessed.”
Because of Nash’s success in overcoming the difficulties that heart conditions entail, he has been able to get involved in many community events and make a huge impact. One year, he was the poster child for Murray’s Timeless Heart Walk. And just this past year, he was the American Heart Association’s recognized survivor. These events have allowed Nash to show other families that there is a positive within all of the medical procedures and surgeries that come with heart defects.
Aside from shining a light on heart defects for others, Nash’s community involvement has offered him lots of opportunities to have fun and enjoy being able to go out and function normally.
“He just really enjoys the people and walking around to see everyone. At the American Heart Walk there were animals with heart bandanas on and he just loved getting to see that,” said Ali. “But he’s still little so when he sees pictures of himself he’ll just pat his chest and say ‘that’s me, that’s Nash!’”
Nash’s involvement has also been immensely beneficial to him being able to be just like everyone else in moments when he isn’t always able to be around a lot of people due to his defect.
“This is really great for Nash because we don’t get out a lot. The first six months he was born, I had to stay home with him and couldn’t put him in daycare because he couldn’t be around all of the germs,” said Ali. “And in the winters we still have to stay indoors a lot because we don’t want him getting sick. Seeing him be able to get out more and make a positive impact has made him so happy.”
With all that Nash has done so far, he still has a long journey ahead of him. In April, he is set to have his third open heart surgery in Cincinnati. The recovery for this will include Nash having to be put on blood thinners and diuretics. However, Nash still looks forward to a summer full of fun and being able to get outside of the house after healing.
Nash plans to continue his involvement in the community’s heart events and hopes to keep positively impacting the lives of others dealing with the same situation!
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