MURRAY — As a team captain of the 2019 Kentucky Y-Corps, Abbey Turner has an advantage on the 15 other teenagers traveling the commonwealth this week on a community-service tour for the YMCA-affiliated program. 

Turner gets to know the itinerary, meaning she knew where the team was going to stop Thursday. She said she could not wait because it was a place she said brought her fond memories last year when she also accompanied a Y-Corps team — Murray.

“I was really excited when I found out we were coming here again because I remember that we just did so much service here and we got so much work done,” Turner said, just before she and a few other teammates began their first task of the day, shoveling soil into wheel barrows to fill bare spots near the Bailey Pavilion inside Central Park. “Last year, it was also one of our first stops (which is the case again this year) and it was when I really got to spend a lot of time with the people here and with my team and we really got to know each other. We had so much fun here.”

Central was once again a primary work site for the Y-Corps team this year with the teenagers attacking a number of different projects. That was a welcome site to Murray-Calloway County Park Board member Dan Thompson.

“It serves two purposes, really. First, it makes the park a better place, but it also fulfills work requirements that they have (50 hours of community service, to be exact) so it’s mutually beneficial,” said Thompson, who joined the board earlier this year, having developed a strong reputation for helping keep trails and the disc golf course at Central in top shape. 

“Even though they may not be as able to do things like our park employees (such as specialized work like electrical and plumbing jobs), when you get enough numbers together, they can accomplish quite a bit.”

Jim Recktenwald of Louisville, the west regional director for the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association, said the idea of keeping the destination of the day hidden to all except the leaders is intentional. 

“The motto here is for them to ‘Participate not to Anticipate,’” Recktenwald said. “It’s an opportunity for the students to just be in the moment and focus on what they’re doing and what they’ve been called to do. By doing that, they gain a comfort level so that they can gain confidence in service or in cultural experiences. We also want them to try to really absorb and experience these communities we’re serving and visiting.”

The tour began Sunday in Frankfort, which is where the Youth Association headquarters are located. From there, the group headed to Georgetown, where the teens assisted a nonprofit that specializes in helping families. Then, following Reckentwald’s idea of the group becoming exposed to a community’s culture, they headed to Georgetown’s Japanese Garden, which honors the Toyota automobile company having constructed a large plant several years ago. 

The next stop was Mammoth Cave National Park in the south-central portion of the state. There, they handled projects to contribute to the preservation of the park’s appearance as a main tourist attraction. Then came Murray on Thursday, where longtime Murray State University professor Mike Gowen helped put together the schedule as a local facilitator. He also happens to teach nonprofit leadership studies at Murray State. 

“It fits kind of perfectly,” said Gowen of how the team’s stay also included a visit to the campus. “We took them to the WKMS radio station (high atop the Price Doyle Fine Arts Building) and they got to take a tour and three of the kids were able to do an interview (during host Tracy Ross’s program ‘Sounds Good’), so I thought that went really well.

“It’s wonderful to have them here and, you know, if you show them the campus, that tends to recruit them by itself. We had many other things for them to do while they’re here, though, along with what they’re doing at the park. There, they’re going to be doing a lot of beautification jobs, but later in the day, they were going to Bee Creek to cut some willows and other invasive species for weaving and that goes along with a project that Justin and Shannon Roberts are doing at the Calloway County Public Library. 

“Finally, their day will end with some pizza and a pool party back here at the park.”

Ricki Brooke Link is ending her first year as program director for the Kentucky YMCA and she is also accompanying this particular group on its venture through the commonwealth. She said it has been a joy to watch the teens grow.

“They’re providing a service to the places they visit, but what’s really enjoyable is that they’re able to see the meaningful impact they’re making in these communities, sort of an altruistic return of that, but it’s really great to watch them mature and sort of take responsibility for what they’re doing,” Link said. 

“A lot of them are members of their schools’ student Y programs, which is part of the YMCA, and it’s a way for schools to have a program there and many of them participate in our two main programs — KYA and KUNA, one of which is a mock state legislature, the other a mock U.N. conference. Some hear about these programs through their friends, but for Y-Corps, they apply for it.”

As part of their conditions of being part of the Y-Corps, the teens must raise $500 to $1,200, which goes to the Y’s scholarship fund, allowing students who otherwise would not be able to participate in such programs to have that chance. Recktenwald also added that the students stopping in Murray Thursday are from as far east as Pikeville and as far west as Owensboro. 

He said this is one of five groups the Y-Corps is sending on service journeys this summer and one of two that will stay within the confines of the commonwealth. He said those other groups do have far-western Kentucky students included. 

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