Franklin County

Spirit of the Season: 'Non-profit for non-profits' has Frankfort on the go

Jason Shaw and his daughter Sawyier, 6, hauled brush to compost bins Saturday at Dolly Graham Park during the Go Frankfort event.
Jason Shaw and his daughter Sawyier, 6, hauled brush to compost bins Saturday at Dolly Graham Park during the Go Frankfort event. Amy Wallot

The early-morning spirit echoed that of a pre-game tailgate but, instead of beer, the beverage of choice was coffee.

Groups small and large totalling more than 300 people converged on downtown Frankfort on Saturday morning as part of the twice-a-year work day sponsored by the non-profit Go Frankfort.

Jason Shaw walked the short distance to Dolly Graham Park from his home on Third Street, java and hammer in hand, daughter in tow.

"We thought we'd just help to make our neighborhood a little bit better," said Shaw, who joined about a dozen other volunteers to build an arbor at the park.

Described by its leaders as "the non-profit for non-profits," Go Frankfort has its roots in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Brad Thomas and a group of friends wanted to do something for their community but weren't sure what. Gradually, they discovered the many needs of non-profits. "There were a lot of people doing a lot of great things," said Thomas, who is now president of Go Frankfort and works in the state economic development cabinet.

Over the years, the group has built picnic tables, painted murals and built retaining walls. Saturday's array of projects reflects the group's versatility. Teams painted a railing at a community center, helped underprivileged kids shop with the cops, and cleaned overgrown weeds from Greenhill Cemetery, a still-in-use black cemetery where some historical sections have fallen into disrepair.

At first, other non-profits seemed uncertain of what to make of Go Frankfort, said another organizer, Sarah Jon Gaddis.

"I don't think any of them thought we were going to follow through," said Gaddis, a geologist and business owner.

But they did and, over time, they found a way to help the non-profits and discovered ways for those groups to help one another. For example, a non-profit that replaced lights on a Frankfort T-ball field donated the old lights to the Josephine Sculpture Park for use in its amphitheater.

"It's good for them to learn that they are a part of something that is so much bigger," said another Go Frankfort organizer, Greg Hardison, who works for the Kentucky Historical Society. Aside from the work days, the group also puts on twice-a-year fund-raising dodgeball tournaments. Teams dress in costumes, and victors are awarded the "Golden Wrench," an homage to the Ben Stiller movie Dodgeball.

"What I am proudest of is the way people have become engaged," said Thomas, who said the Go Frankfort model could easily be replicated in other Kentucky cities.

On Saturday, a busload of Kentucky State University freshmen came out to help, and many ended up at Greenhill, cutting thick vines from fences and cleaning debris from grave sites dating back more than 100 years. A group of students is researching a long-forgotten paupers section and hoping to erect a plaque to honor those dead.

"I think the people who are buried here deserve respect," student Chantler Jernigan said. "We all came down to make sure that they had a nice place to rest in peace."

Lindsay Barnes, a teacher at Capital Day School in Frankfort, was glad to have a chance to help in her community. She brought a troop of eighth-graders to paint a railing at the Kings Center, a community center.

"I hope they have a better understanding of not only what is in their community and in their greater community but how they can give back," she said.

One of her students, Medora Jones, 13, said, "We get to do something that helps people, and it just feels really good when you are done. Plus, we get our 15 hours of community service, which really helps. We need that to graduate."

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