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Closing of two youth centers will not affect Letcher County, KRCC pledges

At least two youth centers run by Kentucky River Community Care will be closing this week, but KRCC officials say the Letcher County Sapling Center in Whitesburg will not be affected.

The Sapling Center is a youth center that allows young people ages 14-25 to “drop in” whenever they need to. The centers provide food, homework help, college financial aid counseling, mental health therapy, and a place to shower for those who have no way to clean up at home.

The Floyd County and Pike County centers will apparently close by the end of the week, though one official would say only that the two centers will close “this month.” Sources say there are plans to either close at least one more center, but officials said that is not so.

KRCC Board Chair Sandy Holbrook put the reports down to “disgruntled employees,” and declined to comment, referring calls to CEO Mary Meade McKenzie.

McKenzie could not be reached, but Holbrook later emailed a prepared statement from her to The Mountain Eagle.

McKenzie said the closings are in response to a “significant” reduction in Medicaid reimbursements several months ago.

“While KRCC was dedicated to providing those services and, initially, was able to bear the brunt of those changes, as an agency, can no longer financially bridge the gap between services provided and the cost to deliver those services,” McKenzie said in the statement.

She went on to say the centers in Pike and Floyd counties had the fewest clients and the highest operating costs, so the decision was made to close them.

“We regrettably decided to close these centers but must consider the agency staff, our community, and our clients, as a whole, and often, tough decisions are necessary,” McKenzie said. “All clients who attended the Pike and Floyd Sapling Centers will be offered referrals and transition services to community partners to receive ongoing services.”

Clients in Pike County produced a video asking the public to help save the Sapling Center and posted it to the center’s Facebook page. None of the young people who attend the center are identified in the video as they talk about how the program has impacted them.

“This is where kids go to eat if they don’t have a family of their own,” one young man says in the video.

He said the kids who go there have become a second family to him and to others.

“This place is a blanket around us in this cold world,” he said.

A young woman who identifies herself as having mental health issues says in the video that the center gives her a place to go to relieve stress.

“You don’t have to worry about parents. You can eat here, you can be happy,” she said.

Another said the center is “very calming to me.”

“It’s a big part of my life,” he said. “It would be sad to see it go.”

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