Rhonda Miller

Reporter

Rhonda Miller joined WKU Public Radio in 2015.  She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.

She has worked at Rhode Island Public Radio,  as an intern at WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke, Virginia, and at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Rhonda’s freelance work called Writing Into Sound includes stories for Voice of America, WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Conn., NPR and AARP Prime Time Radio.

She has a master’s degree in media studies from Rhode Island College and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.

Rhonda enjoys quiet water kayaking, riding her bicycle and folk music. She was a volunteer DJ for Root-N-Branch at WUMD community radio in Dartmouth, Mass. 

Marshal Ray

Southern Kentucky is seeing a huge boost in tourism spending. A new study shows a 10-county region including Barren, Logan, Simpson and Warren Counties had a nearly seven percent increase in tourism receipts last year.

The numbers come from the annual Kentucky Tourism Economic Impact Report released this week.

Telia Butler is a spokeswoman for the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. She says the spike in regional tourism is due in part to several new Warren County attractions and events.                     

“We’ve got the Mid-South Conference athletic  championships,” says Butler. “They announced their partnership with Bowling Green to host all kinds of their championships with sports at the beginning of 2015 and they’ve been here all year.”

She says new motor sports events also added to the growth in tourism. The first full year of operation for the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park drew a large number of visitors.

Kentucky Association of Food Banks

A Kentucky program that increases the amount of produce in food banks is paying farmers more for their crops.

The Kentucky Farms to Food Banks program wants to make sure farmers can cover the cost of growing, picking and getting their produce to food banks.

So the program is compensating farmers based on wholesale produce prices in Atlanta, Chicago and St. Louis, instead of on Kentucky markets.

Tamara Sandberg is executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. She says farmers will likely be paid 46 cents a pound for tomatoes this season, up from 30 cents a pound last year.

“Another real popular crop has been yellow squash. Last year we paid an average of 25 cents a pound and this year it will be closer to 39 cents a pound,” says Sandberg.  “Sweet corn went up a lot, too, yes. Last year it was 17 cents a pound and this year we should be paying closer to 43 cents a pound.”

The Farm to Food Banks programs buys produce that farmers can’t sell to grocery stores because it has minor blemishes. The program increases the amount of produce available for Kentucky food banks. 

Even though it’s early in the season, Farms to Food Banks has already begun expanding this year.  Last year 302 farmers took part in the program, and they are likely to continue in 2016. So far this year, 26 new farmers have signed on.

Sandberg says farmers from 58 counties are taking part in the program. 

Changes in food stamp requirements are causing some area food banks to prepare for an increased demand.

Up to 9,000 people in eight Kentucky counties could be impacted by the changes the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that went into effect May 1.

Glenn Roberts is executive director of Tri-State Food Bank in Evansville. It serves parts of Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. In Kentucky, it serves Henderson and Daviess counties.

Roberts says one Kentucky program is well-positioned to help stock food banks with healthy produce. It’s called Farms to Food Banks. 

“It’s a program that’s funded by the Kentucky state government in which farmers are compensated, they’re paid for what’s called their number two produce,” says Roberts. “This is the produce that doesn’t make it to the grocery store shelves.”

Roberts says the change in the food stamp requirements comes at a time when the growing and harvesting season could encourage more farmers to stretch the value of their produce.

Rhonda J. Miller

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders brought his populist message to Bowling Green on May 4, less than two weeks before Kentucky’s Democratic primary.  

Sanders told a crowd of about 80 campaign workers and supporters that Americans should have access to a tuition-free college education.  That goal was cheered by his audience, who were mostly in their 20s and 30s.

Sanders also stressed his mission to equalize the economic structure of the nation.

“What’s true in Kentucky is true in Vermont and is true in California,” said Sanders. “As a nation, we have millions of people who are working longer hours for low wages and almost all new income and wealth is going to the top one percent.” 

Sanders  repeated his pledge to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He also said he will work for campaign finance reform.

Sanders trails front-runner Hillary Clinton in the delegate count, but said his campaign expects to string together wins following his May 3 victory in Indiana.

Sanders arrived in Bowling Green on short notice and was accompanied by his wife Jane, who also got an enthusiastic reception.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Ashley

Some food pantries in Kentucky are preparing to serve more residents following changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that are now in effect.

Nine-thousand people in eight Kentucky counties could lose their food stamps if they haven’t qualified for new federal work or job training requirements.

Charity Parrish is a spokeswoman for Community Action of Southern Kentucky. She says her agency can be a buffer for residents transitioning to meet the new rules.

“First of all we would take their information, income information, and see if they qualified for help with food at our agency,” says Parrish. “We have food pantries in several of our community services offices. They can come in and get a box of food and it’s whatever we have available at that time.”

The new rules that went into effect May 1 affect able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49 who don’t have dependents. They have to be in paid or volunteer work, or job training for at least 20 hours a week. 

Kentucky Youth Advocates

Kentucky has the highest percentage of children who have had a parent in jail. A report released April 25 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation puts that figure at 13 percent, nearly double the national average of 7 percent.

That means there are 135,000 kids in the state who have had a parent who has been incarcerated.

Terry Brooks is Executive Director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. He says one of most important ways to address that problem is job training for the parents.

“Are there some things that we could do, while that citizen is locked up, to think about when you get out, where can you go to work, what skills do you need, can we use your time in prison to develop those skills?” says Brooks.

Local communities can provide employment opportunities when parents are released from jail. Brooks says the number of incarcerated parents in Kentucky is a call to action.

Henderson High School

Henderson County High School is gearing up for its new School of Fine Arts.

Current courses in voice, instrumental music, theater, dance and the visual arts will be expanded to create career tracks.

High school fine arts coordinator Brian Ettensohn is spearheading the program. He says the goal is to provide in-depth training that leads to a career path.

“There are a high number of students who are in probably band and theater, or possibly choir and theater,” says Ettensohn. “These are students that are passionate, highly passionate, about the arts. And they’re going on to college and looking at a career.”

The new program is being developed with existing staff.  So there will be no additional expense to the school district.

Ettensohn says one of the biggest challenges is parents.

Rhonda Miller

As wedding season shifts into high gear, some Kentucky farms are on the list of venues where couples can take their vows.  It’s one way farmers across the nation have been diversifying in recent years to bring in revenue. 

At one family farm in Kentucky, on any given day, the activity can run from corporate events to planning a wedding to taking care of the cows.                

The black Angus cows are grazing across the gently rolling hillsides at Charlie Mosley’s 160-acre farm in Warren County.

“Cows and calves and everything, there’s about 60 mamas here, and the rest of them are babies and bulls. They’re beef cattle, yeah, we sell ‘em when we wean ‘em,” says Charlie Mosley.

Mosley is 73 years old and farming in Warren County got into his bones long ago.

“Yeah, I grew up on a farm when I was a little boy, yeah, in Alvaton. Alvaton, in the Greenhill area, up in there.”

But Mosley didn’t spend his life farming. He started M&L Electrical with a partner in 1975 and the company has grown to more than 300 employees.

Mike Lawrence/The Gleaner

Many people hear the call to help others by working in emergency services. But as the Henderson County 911 Center is finding out, it can be hard to keep people in that kind of job.

The Henderson County 911 Center is having a difficult time finding enough dispatchers to stay in the job of answering those emergency calls.

“In the past couple of years we’ve lost approximately a third of our full complement in our dispatch center,” says Officer Jennifer Richmond, a spokesperson for the Henderson Police Department. “People get into the job and don’t realize exactly what it entails. They’re not willing to work rotating shifts. They’re not willing to go away for the training.”

That’s five weeks of paid training in Richmond, Kentucky.

Wesselman Nature Society

A nature center in the middle of Evansville, Indiana is experiencing a rebirth.

The Wesselman Woods Nature Center opened in 1972, but was empty for the last few years.

After a $600,000 renovation, the center has opened new exhibits with a fresh perspective on a nature preserve with deep roots. 

The spotlight is on the importance of the nature center in a 200 acre virgin forest. That forest is now bounded by a mall, a highway and suburban developments.

John Scott Foster is executive director of the Wesselman Nature Society that operates the city-owned preserve.

“The preserve here is basically what most of Indiana looked like for 11,000 years," said Foster. "It’s the largest old growth forest inside a city boundary in the country. So it’s a very significant natural feature that most people didn’t realize.”

Some of the new exhibits highlight two species with big populations in both Indiana and Kentucky.

Community Action of Southern Kentucky

Social service providers in Kentucky are dealing with the rollout of the new Benefind system for public benefits. Those benefits include Medicaid and food stamps.

Across the state, there have been reports of long waits on the phone to update or change benefits with the Department for Community Based Services.

Melissa Grimes is Community Action’s program manager for Kynect. That’s the state’s health exchange that Governor Matt Bevin has promised to dismantle and replace with the federal exchange through Benefind.

Grimes says some of Community Action’s facilitators called Kynectors have had long telephone wait times.

“Some of the holds have been quite extensive for some of my Kynectors. I’ve heard up to three hours,” said Grimes. “But I think most are starting to get through now within an hour if not shorter.”

Alcoa Public Relations

After 56 years in operation, the Alcoa smelter in Warrick County, Indiana has shut down. The aluminum plant ended operations March 24.

The Evansville Courier and Press reports the smelter had 600 employees and about 325 of those have been laid off.  Aloca said the rest have accepted retirement or severance packages or found other employment.

Alcoa announced the shutdown in January and blamed it on the drop in aluminum prices.  

The Alcoa Warrick smelter was one of the last coal-fired smelters in the country.

Apus Air

Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport is getting a new flight school that trains pilots for Chinese airlines.

Apus Air announced this week that it is constructing a flight training center at the airport. The project will create 35 jobs.

CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation Madison Silvert says the regional airport is a perfect fit for the company’s needs. 

 “They were looking for an airport that had the right balance of runway links and amenities and low traffic so they could provide a confident environment for new trainees,” says Silvert.

The California-based company is making an investment $1.65 million in the new facility.

Grayson County schools

Chefs are working with schools in eight Kentucky counties to increase the use of fresh food from local farmers. The goal is to create healthier and more appealing meals for students. 

The project is called the Chefs in Schools Collaborative.

Grayson County’s six schools have a chef working with food service staff during the month of March.

School district food service director Kristy Hodges says chef Chris Byrd has helped create lower sodium and less processed food with more natural seasonings.  

“In the past we had used a prepackaged mix for our taco seasoning and he’s helped some of the ladies in the schools come up with their own seasoning recipes,” says Hodges. “He’s doing the same thing with the chili recipe. We used to order spaghetti sauce.”

The students are confirming that the healthier recipes are proving the value of the visiting chef.

Cave Country Trails Inc.

Advocates for outdoor recreation in four counties around Mammoth Cave National Park are stepping up efforts to make the region a destination for ecotourism. Cave Country Trails has hired Helen Siewers as project director to guide the planning to link trails in Barren, Edmonson, Hart and Warren counties.

Siewers says there’s already a good foundation for the expanded trail network.  

"Starting with the existing 85 miles of trails that are within Mammoth Cave National Park, the goal is to develop a network of trails that connect to the park,” says Siewers. “Some are already in place, for example, at Nolin River State Park, Barren River Lake State Park, Munfordville, for example, Park City.”

Siewers says Kentucky has a lot going for it as far as ecotourism, starting with good climate much of the year for outdoor activities and all the traffic passing through on Interstate 65.

“A lot of those vehicles are carrying… there might mountain bikes, road bikes, kayaks, canoes," says Siewers. "And we have all the facilities right in this area to draw people to come and explore.”

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