More than 1,700 miles separate Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) from Frankfort, Kentucky, yet that is precisely the journey Kelley Anderson made, a journey that delivered her to a job she loves and provided Frankfort’s Thorn Hill Education Center with dynamic, positive leadership.
Growing up in Edmonton, Kelley, who came from an athletic family, was a star basketball player whose dream was to go to America and play college basketball. She recalls that she and her family — to get a personal taste of American sports and life — made an annual trip to Seattle or Minneapolis to watch a Major League baseball game. Kelley notes the visits both inspired her and fueled her dream of coming to the U.S.
Kelley ended up following her dream by making the trek across the border, eventually arriving in Richmond, Kentucky, where she played varsity softball for the Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) Colonels. After earning both a bachelor’s degree in teaching (K-12) and a master’s degree in Health Education at EKU, she taught several classes, including health, physical education and exercise science, at both EKU and Transylvania.
A few years later, her American journey continued when she transitioned to the Thorn Hill Education Center on Leslie Avenue here in the capital city, a place she has come to cherish and one where she feels she can truly make a difference in people’s lives. Beginning her Thorn Hill career as an instructor, Kelley soon stepped up to become the interim director. Following her Interim director assignment, she was selected to serve as the ninth executive director of Thorn Hill — a job she looks forward eagerly to five days a week.
A dynamic, energetic individual, Kelley is super excited about the many and various ways Thorn Hill Education Center serves the Frankfort and Franklin County communities. Among the many courses and programs offered at Thorn Hill are the very popular GED preparation course and the GED testing program. Other courses include FLIP (a course designed to help parents get their GED), ProV, Pearson and TABE testing, an ESL (English as a Second Language) course and Upskilling. Upskilling is a course used by Frankfort employers to help enhance a certain skill, or skills, for one or more of their employees. For example, an employee might attend an Upskilling class designed to improve their math or reading skills.
The GED program is certainly one of the most heavily used by local residents. Students from a wide variety of backgrounds and academic records attend, and their success rate is very high. Thorn Hill is one of the very few GED centers in Kentucky that actually conducts a full-blown graduation event, complete with a comprehensive cap and gown ceremony, and one with plenty of room for friends and family members to attend. The ceremonies are truly a time of celebration as Thorn Hill opens the door to new and valuable opportunities for hundreds of local citizens each year. More than 40 people have earned their GED in the past few months and will graduate this summer.
Growing up as an athlete, Kelley understands that no one wins every game and not all attempts are successful. This understanding provides her with great empathy for those whose first attempt at high school didn’t pan out, for whatever reason. She is especially excited that Thorn Hill GED instructors are now able to work with select inmates housed in local correctional facilities, in an effort to help them obtain their GED. If successful in passing the GED exam, inmates may see their sentence reduced by up to 90 days under certain conditions.
In addition to the standard programs, Kelley and her experienced, dedicated staff open up Thorn Hill and their hearts as they host special events for the community. Two such special events coming up are the return of the exciting and popular Spellapalooza on Aug. 12 and, in November, Friendsgiving, an event modeled after Thanksgiving, and one many people in Frankfort and Franklin County may have not heard about.
Friendsgiving, created in 2021, is an ongoing collaboration between the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce and Thorn Hill Education Center. Designed to bring the entire Frankfort and Franklin County community together. Friendsgiving allows Thorn Hill to work with local businesses, who donate all the food for the annual event. The community-at-large is then invited to 700 Leslie Ave. to enjoy the celebration and, of course, the tasty food items. As with all events held at Thorn Hill, Friendsgiving is open to all. And at Thorn Hill, all indeed does mean all. The Thorn Hill website, www.thornhilleducation.org, clearly states: “We will not discriminate against any person on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, creed, disability, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” Therefore, anyone can join in the Friendsgiving festivities and, while a food item or a monetary donation is appreciated, no payment is required. All proceeds from Friendsgiving go to local non-profits. In 2021, 35 different restaurants and individuals made contributions to the inaugural Friendsgiving.
Another new project that has Kelley and staff excited is the Community Garden they recently started behind the main building. Partnering with the Franklin Center For Innovation, and its president, Gary Stratton, the Thorn Hill staff’s goal is to offer classes and instruction on how to raise vegetables for the table and to provide a garden plot to all who are interested in growing a portion of their own food. Plots will be distributed on a first come-first serve basis until all are allotted.
Food is important to all of us, and another way Thorn Hill helps the community in this critical area is via their partnership with the Frankfort Panera Bread restaurant. Each Sunday, Panera Bread brings all their baked goods and other perishable items that went unsold that day to Thorn Hill. Then on Monday, Thorn Hill staff give away a portion of this leftover food to anyone who comes by and requests it.
The Thorn Hill Education Center is a 501(c)(3) organization, so raising funds is a constant challenge. Kelley notes that much of her time is devoted to applying for grants and donations. In addition, she coordinates a consortium of Kentucky adult education facilities. Currently, this consortium consists of facilities in Franklin, Bourbon, Estill, Jackson and Lee counties.
COVID-19 negatively impacted almost every person and organization, and the Thorn Hill Education Center is no exception. Not only were programs and progress disrupted, but grants and donations took a hit. However, Kelley Anderson is an optimist, believing that “whatever you want to do, you can do it!” Her ongoing goal is to make all programs offered at the facility free of cost to the participants.
In addition to grants and charitable contributions, Thorn Hill raises funds by renting space in the building to groups or individuals. For example, the Thorn Hill gym is frequently rented and various organizations rent one or more rooms for a variety of purposes. The Bluegrass Theatre Guild, rents out rooms for storage of costumes and props, and for use as a practice facility.
In prior years, the Thorn Hill Education Center offered community classes (Spanish, fiction writing, etc.) and Kelley hopes to offer them again in the near future. Many of these classes were conducted by volunteers.
To say that Thorn Hill Education Center is successful is certainly an understatement. To date in 2022, almost 1,000 people have been helped, in one way or another, by one of the myriad programs the center offers. For more information on Thorn Hill and/or the programs available, or to make a donation to support Thorn Hill’s work in the community, you can visit their website or call Kelley directly at 859-582-8383. She loves Thorn Hill and is always delighted to be able to share the latest about current and upcoming programs at the education center.