By Magen McCrarey
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Cumberland College graduate Sallie Ray is reaching out to the forgotten children in Laurel County neighborhoods as an case coordinator for Sunrise Children’s Services of London.
Sunrise Children’s Services helps children from 12 to 17 years old who have been court ordered from the Laurel County Family Court to attend classes concerning behavioral issues, alcohol, drug and tobacco use. Currently, there are 25 children and teens being served at the center at 60 Bennett Circle in London.
“When I first started, there was a boy, and I just took to him. He did not talk at all and he was down on himself all the time. Finally, one day I decided I was going to communicate with him, however long it took,” Ray said. “I asked him ‘how was school today?’”
Although he was not mute, she began a blinking game with the boy — one blink for “good” and two blinks for “bad.” This minute body communication slowly brought the boy out of his protective shell, little by little, and trust between the two was formed.
“He just started to really open up. He was moved from family member to family member. It was really sad because he had such a good heart,” Ray said. “He was just a victim of circumstance, a true genuine person.”
This boy became one of Ray’s first success stories.
The boy was court ordered to Sunrise Children’s Services not because he had a drug or alcohol problem, but because he was truant and often times neglected. He himself was victim to early exposure to a heart breaking drug and alcohol problem at home.
“He mentioned to me (later) this place changed his life. He was able to find out that people really do care about him and he said he knows what it’s like to have friends,” Ray said. “He was really grateful at the end, and I’ll always remember him.”
That success story became one of many.
“Our goal as a staff is to make it all about our clients and helping them achieve their goals. It’s a very goal-oriented program and very structured because often times they don’t have structures in their lives outside of here,” Ray said.
Originally, Ray had her sights set on traveling for foreign mission fields, but realized a religion major was useless for her to do something practical in the lives of others in her own neighborhood. She then chose to study human services, and along the way, she picked up a second major in human psychology.
“I wanted to have a more well rounded education to help others so if I ever wanted to go into missions, I was ready for it,” she said.
Every day she drives children and teens home at the end of the day’s activities, dropping them off at homes large and small. Demographics don’t matter when it comes to neglect, Ray said, and sometimes the children begin to emulate their parent’s bad behaviors.
“We talk a lot about who you are, who you hang out with. If you think you have a handle on your drug or alcohol problem, yet you’re hanging out with people who do that all the time, whom you love and trust outside of our program, of course you’re going to fall back into it. It’s just influence,” she said.
In 2011 there were 6,779 children in foster care. The majority of those received by Sunrise Children’s Services are from foster homes or are being raised by grandparents, even great-grandparents.
Seventy-five percent of children are ordered to attend Sunrise classes because of truancy, said Mary Schild, program director.
Ray said Sunrise Children’s Services is a hidden treasure, but they hope to reach out to the entire community, communicating that they are a Christian non-profit and that they do, in fact, care.
“I care deeply, and if it’s a really tragic case, of course, I’m going to carry that home with me. But if you get so wrapped up in the emotions of your clients, it’s really hard to see the overall picture of their needs and goals,” Ray said.
“There’s so much hope with teenagers. If you can be a positive influence on them, then they’re going to listen and really take it to heart.”