Born and raised on her family’s Meade County farm, Julie Berry learned early on the value of hard work and the satisfac- tion that comes with doing for others. It is this sense of service that has been the driving theme through much of her career and, earlier this year, led her to her new role as Executive Director of Blue Grass Farms Charities.
A beacon of light for many farm and racetrack workers throughout the Thorough- bred industry, Blue Grass Farms Charities offers services and programs aimed at bet- tering the quality of life for those in Central Kentucky working directly with horses and their families. These programs include a free food pantry, financial assistance for housing and utilities, fresh produce distribution, on-site health clinics, health care referrals, free Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, English as a Second Language classes (ESL), backpack and school supply giveaways and summer camps for children.
“Even though Blue Grass Farms Charities was founded in 2003, the programs and services are needed by the workers now more than ever before,” says Berry. “There is a labor shortage on the farms. They are working long days, especially in spring with foaling, breeding, racing and some can’t afford certain services for themselves or their families.”
Before coming on board as the Executive Director of Blue Grass Farms Charities in January of this year, Berry worked at Ken- tucky Educational Television (KET), first as the Assistant to the President and later as Assistant to the Executive Director and CEO Shae Hopkins. At KET Berry wore many hats, most notably serving as the lead event planner for the organization’s popular Summer Celebration, a prodigious fun- draiser held at Donamire Farm each year.
With no shortage of needs to meet, Blue Grass Farms Charities never has an off- season or downtime. Those they serve work tirelessly to take care of the horses that make up Kentucky’s signature indus- try. Thankfully, Berry thrives on a challenge and was eager to jump in with both feet.
“Most Kentuckians have never been on a Thoroughbred farm or to the backside of the track. I wish they could go work along- side the grooms just for one day. I see the farm workers taking care of the horses, the barns and the land – regardless of the elements. They truly love their job and it is noted,” says Berry.
“During an ESL class, I asked the workers what they do on their off time,” she continued. “Their reply was ‘eat, do laundry, sleep.’ They work all the time! So, we try to break some of the monotony. Blue Grass Farms Charities hosts a soccer tournament in June where farm teams compete. We pro- vide ESL classes for the Hispanic workers, educational day camps (this year at Sayre School) for farm children and school back- pack distribution every August. Last year there were 836 backpacks given!”
In addition to food distribution, Berry says the most significant needs Blue Grass Farms Charities serve are those involv- ing healthcare. While she says most farms provide healthcare insurance for their staff, workers hesitate to use the benefit.
“We are grateful to partner with Bluegrass Community Health Center for such needs,” she explained. “Recently we were asked by CHI Saint Joseph to partner with them in getting the word out about their "Yes,
Mamm" program for low-income families. They will receive free mammography screenings, along with free transportation to and from the CHI hospital facilities.”
Behind any successful charity is a motivat- ed and engaged board, and the Blue Grass Farms Charities’ board is precisely that. Made up of farm owners, veterinarians, sales and bloodstock agents and businessmen and women who love horses, Berry says the board has a keen appreciation for those hands-on workers who are the backbone of the industry. Their motto: “A healthy worker makes a happy horse” is ap- parent in all they do.
To learn more about Blue Grass Farms Charities, or to purchase tickets or spon- sorships to their fall fundraiser "Casino Night at The Livery" on September 27, visit bgfcky.org.