Last weekend, I had the privilege of taking part in Spellapalooza VII. The annual event benefited the Thorn Hill Education Center in Frankfort. Since it’s a fundraiser I thought it might be nice if I found out something about the organization. What I discovered is amazing!
“Thorn Hill is more than an education center,” says Executive Director Dani Smith-Thorne. “It’s a community focus point. We strive to be a positive influence on Franklin County to help make things better.”
With a small, committed staff of thirteen, plus six others who volunteer on a continual basis, Thorn Hill provides opportunities for adults to attain their GED plus the tools and assistance necessary to go on to college or to find and keep a job.
One of their programs is called WIN, an acronym for Whatever is Needed. WIN helps eighteen to twenty-four year olds who dropped out of high school determine a career path. The program includes things like getting a GED, preparing to go on to college, and job “shadowing.”
“Once you’re a part of Thorn Hill you are always a part of our family,” says Smith-Thorne, pointing out that people will come back years later to ask for help with a new life goal.
Thorn Hill provides GED testing and pre-employment testing on-site. Additionally, they provide technology training to organizations throughout Franklin County at minimal cost.
Smith-Thorne shared that Thorn Hill’s activities also include a variety of community outreach projects. Two weeks ago they gave away 400 backpacks to area children stocked with school supplies. And when the holidays roll around they do an old-fashioned Christmas for kids.
“The children make cards to give to the elderly, write letters to those serving in the military, and make ornaments,” Smith-Thorne shared. “They get to meet Santa and they receive a book,” she added.
After eighteen years in public education, Smith-Thorne, a native of eastern Kentucky, first drew the attention of former Director Mike Rubenstein when she applied for a job at the Center four years ago.
“Mike had just received a large donation of computers and was looking for someone who could teach math and technology. We struck up a friendship and I became his assistant. We worked closely developing ideas.”
When Rubenstein passed away last August the board voted to make Smith-Thorne the new Director. “My dream is to continue the work we spent hours talking about doing.”
Peg Harmon, who served as the Director from 2003 to 2007, provided some interesting history on how Thorn Hill got its beginning. “It was started as an entirely volunteer operation back in the eighties by Lillian Nunnelly. It met at First Christian Church.”
Later the Center moved to the lower level of the school board office. Finally, when the old Thorn Hill K-8 Elementary school was renovated, the Center moved to its current location. Nunnelly served as Director until she retired in 2000.
For a long time, the school system had fiscal responsibility for Thorn Hill but that ended around 2009, according to Harmon. “That’s when it became a non-profit foundation run by a board of community members.”
Harmon, who serves on the board, says events like the Spellapalooza are “very important to help us meet all of the things that aren’t included in state funding.” These include things like helping students with transportation and covering childcare so that students can attend classes.
One has to be eighteen or older to attend Thorn Hill. “I believe the oldest graduate was a 71 year-old woman,” Harmon told me. “You’re never too old to learn.”