Eleven years ago, Cathy Bailey and her husband Irv realized a need in the community. During Derby in 2001, one guest had set out to be Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Justice Department. He walked them through a staggering concern in this country – the growing number of abandoned children with a mother or father in prison.
Cathy and her husband decided to set forth and address the plight of concern for these children and formed a charity called Operation Open Arms, committed to finding loving homes for children left alone after their mother or parent was sent to prison. Below, she talks about the cause that drives her passion and the Derby fundraiser that builds awareness in the hope of giving a child a chance in life they would not otherwise have.
LORI KOMMOR: What inspired you to start such a unique organization, supporting a cause we don’t hear much about?
CATHY BAILEY: In 2001 when we heard about the growing trend of kids who have a parent who is incarcerated there were over 100,000 children across our country that had either a mom or dad behind bars. Having been an elementary education teacher and one of the co-founders of the Ronald McDonald House, when it comes to children, I wanted to further my commitment in wanting to better the lives of children. In the news, we regularly read or hear about the high rate of crime facing our community but rarely do we hear what happens to their kids when they go off to prison. They often become wards of the state or lost in the foster care system. I could not help but be drawn to these kids – they seemed like “the forgotten child.” Now in our 11th year – our families at Operation Open Arms have been willing to bring these children into their homes, love them unconditionally and provide them with a safe and secure environment to be raised. What else could be more important to a child’s development than placing them in a proper home where they feel wanted and receive proper care and attention?
KOMMOR: Do you maintain contact with the children after they are placed?
BAILEY: Most definitely! We employ a full time executive director who is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed social worker. Most of our kids come to us from infancy and are immediately placed into one of the homes of our families. In most instances the child goes on to be placed into adoption with that particular family. What is important to note is that once a child is placed with an Operation Open Arms family, that family is committed to love and care for that child for as long as possible. Statistics show that the union of a mom and her child is important and should be made a priority. However, it is important to note many of these moms, once out of prison, are not capable of caring for these kids and therefore could put these kids at a very high risk of repeating the crimes of their parents, or involving them in extreme problematic behavior.
KOMMOR: How do you financially support the activities and efforts of Operation Open Arms?
BAILEY: Contributions and sustainability for Operation Open Arms comes from the generous support of people in the community as well as across the country, and the Beauregard Foundation. We also apply for various grants throughout the year and stay on the pulse of identifying other charitable giving organizations that match our mission. When we started out to host a signature event on behalf of Operation Open Arms, one of our goals was to build awareness about these children. Silks in the Bluegrass have worked to increase our visibility and awareness. We have a database of contributors and volunteers since our first Silks event that has grown substantially. We now are looking to expand outside of Kentucky and have been granted a license in the state of Florida.
KOMMOR: What do you have in store this year for Silks in the Bluegrass?
BAILEY: We are very excited to be joining forces with the Boys and Girls Haven of Louisville. Miss America 2013, Mallory Hagan’s platform issue is a child who has suffered sexual abuse. There are a lot of organizations doing extremely good things on behalf of children. We are all very fortunate to have a very giving community that supports human needs. This year’s Silks in the Bluegrass is proud to team up with the Boys and Girls Haven of Louisville – a night we can all look back on and say we highlighted “kids helping kids.”
This year’s Silks in the Bluegrass will be a return to Motown, and we are extremely pleased to have Valerie Simpson, of the music duo Ashford and Simpson. For anyone who knows Ashford and Simpson, they wrote or performed amazing classics like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “Solid (as a Rock).” It’s a great way to cap off the Derby festivities and at the same time support a good cause.
It’s a wonderful evening at the Crowne Plaza hotel, located at 830 Phillips Lane. So it’s very easy to come by after a day at the races, in track or cocktail attire, and cap off the Kentucky Derby experience with a fun evening of dinner, friends and music. Those interested in attending may visit www.oparms.org, or call 502.777.6300.