Hillbilly Days is one of Kentucky’s most popular festivals, attended by hundreds of thousands of visitors from all around. But to me, Hillbilly Days is something special. It’s billed as “the festival with a heart”, but what exactly does that mean?
When I was a child, I was born with deformities in my feet. This made activities like little league baseball, or any other sports related activities for that matter, very difficult for me. In fact, running or standing for any sort of period of time was often a more taxing activity for me than for everyone I knew. And while I came to terms with this, being a child of Eastern Kentucky during that time meant that care for this sort of disability was out of the question for my family and me.
Things changed when my mother learned of the work that the Shriners Hospital for Children did for kids like me. One of the biggest obstacles for getting me to the hospital was transportation. She didn’t have the funds to get me there, as money was tight during that time, and my mother wasn’t accustomed to driving in the “big city”. That is where the Shriners came in. My mother arranged for a Shriner to come to our home, pick us up, and take us to the children’s hospital. I’ll never forget the dedication the Shriners had for this kind of work. In fact, I would say they have a passion for taking care of children in our region. One may not realize how important transportation was for us, but it truly meant everything. The Shriner that drove us was more than happy to do so; in fact, they waited on me to receive treatment, and even took my mother and me out for lunch. I am able to walk today because a Shriner decided to donate their time, something that has had a profoundly positive impact on my life.
One thing that had a tremendous impression on me was the Shriners Hospital’s approach to healthcare. Instead of cold, white walls and a dreary hospital appearance, this hospital looked fun, colorful, and was staffed with healthcare professionals that seemed to understand the anxiety that I was feeling. Rooms were labeled with animals instead of numbers and everything had a lighthearted design to it. In the place of a waiting room was a toys and games room, making waiting far less stressful. I was easily preoccupied with video games anyway, so that made all the difference. While there, I met other children, some burn victims, that really opened my eyes to how lucky I was with what I was dealing with, and further taught me of the importance of the Shriners Hospital’s mission. It was the first time I’ve seen someone dealing with something like that, and it was eye opening. I will always remember how truly special this place is, and how the staff seemed authentic in their love for taking care of children.
With all of the lively festivities going on during Hillbilly Days, it can be easy to forget the importance of the work that these Shriners are doing for the children on our region. So when you see hillbillies on Huffman Avenue selling buttons, shirts and hats, pick something up. Also, be sure to thank a Shriner, they have a heart of gold.