The Mayfield Youth Development Center held a ribbon cutting Tuesday to celebrate the reopening of the facility 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 completely lost some smaller buildings, although no one was injured or lost in the center during the storm.
Juvenile Justice Department Commissioner Vicki Reed is from Mayfield, and she was very worried the night of the storm.
“I was worried about my hometown, but my first chilling thought was for our children and the staff who were at this facility,” Reed said. “At first, I couldn’t reach anyone, which was pretty terrifying… At DJJ, we’re like a big family, we care about each other. We care about what we call “our children” and that is how we think of them. We were very relieved that even though we had suffered damage to the building, the children were fine.
Although there was damage and debris at the facility, workers were also trying to check in with their families while staying with the facility’s teenagers. In the aftermath, workers began moving children to other programs.
“I really want to take this moment to say how personally proud I am of our staff for what they did that night and for what they did the following days,” Reed said.
Reed praised many people who contributed to the early aftermath of December’s tornadoes within the DJJ. She talked about the superintendents and staff at other facilities who received the teens from Mayfield and the community staff who help children on probation or awaiting legal action.
“We realize now that we’re in good enough shape to be able to start moving the kids back into the building,” Reed said. “While we managed to get by using other facilities while this facility was closed, it is important for us to reopen it. Starting tomorrow, we resume our activities.
Mayfield Youth Development Center Superintendent Larry Jackson recounted his experience on the night of the storms. He said the three-minute drive the next day from his home to the facility was probably the longest three minutes of his life.
“I saw that our staff, I saw that our children, I saw that everyone was safe, and then the process started,” the superintendent said. “No doubt, certainly grateful for that. I know with another 40 or 50 feet, we would have a different conversation here because this building and everything we’re talking about could have been completely destroyed.
Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Assistant Cabinet 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 to wait to find out if a child was safe in one of their facilities during a disaster.
“I recognize how difficult it is and I hope the parents of these children know that we care for your child as if he were truly our own and while he is in our care we will do whatever we can. ‘it takes to make sure it’s taken care of,’ the deputy cabinet secretary said.
Governor Andy Beshear also spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, reflecting on the hard work of so many people the night the tornado erupted. He also recognized three of the facility’s staff who remained on site during and after the tornado.
“Oh my God, you three. You could have left and gone home and probably no one would have blamed you,” Beshear said. “You could have checked your own house and no one would have blamed you. But you huddled in the safest place with these children and you made sure that every child who was in this establishment was safe.
Beshear praised the teamwork and leadership of the Mayfield plant. He also highlighted the outpouring of support from the community of Mayfield, Kentucky and the country as a whole in the wake of the storm.
The governor detailed some of the aid and donations that have been poured into affected counties in the western end of the state, such as the $52 million donated to Western Kentucky Tornado Team Relief Fundthe millions of dollars in state funding set aside for the State aid financing for emergency funds and a toy drive organized by Kentucky First Lady Britainy Beshear.
“As we hit the seventh 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 in aid of the people of Western Kentucky,” Beshear said.
The governor also expressed his appreciation for the employees of DJJ and how he hopes to continue to see their pay rise to match the real value of their work.
“I know sometimes you don’t feel that support, but look, we’re here today to cut the ribbon here to celebrate the reopening of this facility,” Beshear said. “We are delighted that you are all returning to work here to do our best for these children.”
The center will begin accepting young people later this week.