United Way honors Dunn for overcoming odds

Published 7:23 pm Thursday, March 7, 2019

A young woman from Mercer County was honored for her hard work and determination to become self-sufficient during the Heart of Kentucky United Way annual awards luncheon on Thursday.

Kayla Dunn, 25, was given the Rising Star Award after completing Mercer County’s Getting Ahead program.


Dunn “did not grow up in ideal conditions where all needs are met. Accomplishments and self-sufficiency were not promoted in the household,” said HKUW champaign chair John Nelson as he was announcing the winner of the award.

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“She was so serious about Getting Ahead, she not only asked to do it again, she asked to become a certified facilitator,” Nelson said.

Getting Ahead is a 16-week learning experience for individuals from generational poverty, explained Stephanie Blevins, executive director of HKUW.

“The greatest barriers to individuals in poverty is not money; it’s a lack of resources — social, emotional, educational, language, spiritual, financial, physical, mental and knowledge of hidden rules,” Blevins said. “The Getting Ahead participants address each of the resources and how to build them.”

Getting Ahead is run by the HKUW and sponsored by the Mercer County Community Endowment, Blevins said.

Those who enroll in the Getting Ahead program are paid a stipend and are helped to explore options they may not be aware of that are available to them, like job opportunities and continuing their education, Blevins explained.

They also work together to assess their community, its needs and themselves.

“The goal is to see how to better ourselves and our community,” Dunn said.

“The most profound thing I ever heard Kayla say was, ‘I didn’t even know there were other options other than staying home and receiving a check or working as a cashier at a store.’”

Dunn has now enrolled in college and wants to earn a degree where she can help others, Nelson said during the ceremony. “She wants to be in control of her life, become self-sufficient and help others.”

Because HKUW invested in her future, “you have not only changed her life, but generations to come,” Nelson said. “Kayla Dunn is not only a rising star — she is a star.”

After receiving the award, Dunn said she was the first person in her family to graduate high school and thought her employment options were extremely limited. Now, she’s on the president’s list at Campbellsville University in Harrodsburg and plans on becoming a social worker.

Kayla Dunn, of Harrodsburg, wipes away tears before accepting the Rising Star Award from the Heart of Kentucky United Way annual awards luncheon. Photo by Robin Hart.

Other local United Way award winners include:

Wilderness Trace Child Development Center — Education Partner of the Year;

Josh Wiglesworth — Board Member of the Year;

Debbie Baker and Melanee White — Baker White Day of Action Award, a new award created in their honor for being the “foundation” of the annual Day of Action;

Kathy Miles — HKUW President’s Award;

Crystal McPherson — Lockhart Community Impact Award;

John Funkhouser and Johnson Pohlmann Insurance Agency — Small Business Campaign of the Year;

Farmers National Bank — Medium Business Campaign of the Year; and Campaign With the Highest Average Per Capita;

Corning Inc. — Large Business Campaign of the Year; and Campaign Largest Corporate Gift ($16,711);

Durham’s Grocery, Stanford — Hero Everyday Business Award;

Hobart/ITW — Special Event of the Year Award;

Debbie Baker — Coordinator of the Year Award;

Tai Chi Circle of Danville — Partner Volunteer of the Year;

Mercer County Adult Education Program — Income Partner of the Year; and

Nursing Home Ombudsman Agency — Health Partner of the Year.