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Mayfield Youth Development Center reopens after repairing tornado damage

Lily Burris
Gov. Andy Beshear spoke highly of the employees of the Department of Juvenile Justice for their work in the aftermath of the December tornado outbreak at the reopening of the Mayfield Youth Development Center after it had been closed for seven months due to storm damage.

The Mayfield Youth Development Center held a ribbon cutting Tuesday to celebrate the facility’s reopening after it closed seven months ago due to damage sustained during December’s deadly tornado outbreak.

The facility suffered severe damage to some of the buildings during the storm and lost some smaller buildings completely, though no one was hurt or lost at the center during the storm.

Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed is a Mayfield native, and she had a lot of concern the night of the storm.

“I was worried for my hometown, but my first paralyzing thought was for our kids and staff that were at this facility,” Reed said. “Initially, I couldn't reach anybody, which was pretty terrifying … We at DJJ are like one big family, we care about each other. We care about what we call ‘our kids’ and that's how we think about them. We were very much relieved that although we'd suffered damage to the building the kids were okay.”

While there was damage and debris at the facility, workers there were also trying to check in with their families while staying with the teens at the facility. In the aftermath, workers started getting the children moved to other programs.

“I really want to take this moment to say how proud I, personally, am of our staff for what they did that night and for what they did for the days after,” Reed said.

Reed praised many of the people who helped with the initial aftermath of December’s tornadoes within the DJJ. She spoke of superintendents and staff at other facilities who received the teens coming from Mayfield and the community staff who assist with kids on probation or waiting on court action.

“We realize now that we're in good enough shape that we can start moving kids back into the building,” Reed said. “While we've managed to get by using other facilities during the time this facility has been shuttered, it's important for us to reopen this. Starting tomorrow, we're back in business.”

Mayfield Youth Development Center Superintendent Larry Jackson recounted his experience the night of the storms. He said the three minute drive the day after from his home to the facility were probably the longest three minutes in his life.

“I saw that our staff, I saw that our kids, I saw that everyone was safe, and then the process began,” the superintendent said. “Without a doubt, definitely thankful for that. I know with another 40 or 50 feet, we would have a different conversation here because this building and everything that we're talking about could have been completely destroyed.”

Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Deputy Secretary Keith Jackson said the teamwork and resilience of Kentuckians on the night of the storms made him proud, but he can’t imagine the fear of waiting to know if a child was safe in one of their facilities during a disaster.

“I recognize how difficult and I hope that the parents of these children know that we are caring for your child like they are truly ours and as long as they are our responsibility, we will do whatever it takes to ensure that they are taken care of,” the cabinet deputy secretary said.

Gov. Andy Beshear also spoke during the ribbon cutting ceremony, reflecting on the hard work of so many the night of the tornado outbreak. He also recognized three of the facility’s staff members who stayed on site during and after the tornado.

“Oh my goodness, the three of you. You could have left and gone home and probably nobody would have blamed you,” Beshear said. “You could have checked on your own home and nobody would have blamed you. But you huddled up in the safest place with those kids, and you made sure every single child that was in this facility is safe.”

Lily Burris
Gov. Andy Beshear and Kentucky First Lady Britainy Beshear received gifts from teens in some of the programs at the Mayfield Youth Development Center.

Beshear praised the teamwork and leadership of the Mayfield facility. He also highlighted the outpouring of support from the Mayfield community, Kentucky and the country as a whole in the storm’s aftermath.

The governor detailed some of the aid and donations that have poured into impacted counties across the western end of the state, like the $52 million donated to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, the millions of dollars of state funding set aside for the State Aid Funding for Emergencies monies and a toy drive organized by Kentucky First Lady Britainy Beshear.

“As we hit the seven month anniversary, we now believe that between the SAFE funds, between the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, between the Red Cross and other federal funds, more than $193.4 million has come to the aid of the people of Western Kentucky,” Beshear said.

The governor also expressed his appreciation for DJJ employees and how he hopes to continue to see their pay increased to meet the actual value of their work.

“I know sometimes you might not feel that support, but just look, we're here today cutting the ribbon right here celebrating the reopening of this facility,” Beshear said. “We are excited to have all of you back working here to do our very best for these kids.”

The center will start accepting youth later this week.

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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