Rufus Friday

Peter Chawaga

 

Heartbreaking as it is, you only need to spend a few minutes driving around the Lexington area to realize that homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health are significant challenges for our community. And while those challenges may seem insurmountable at times, there are local groups working tirelessly each day to prove otherwise.

In his newly-appointed role at Hope Center and One Parent Scholar House, Rufus Friday now leads one of those groups.

Hope Center is a non-profit offering substance abuse and detention center recovery services, mental health programs, emergency food, shelter and clothing, housing services, outpatient programs and more for those who seek its help. Meanwhile, One Parent Scholar House helps single parents earn college degrees by providing affordable housing for their families, onsite childcare and additional support.

“Every day, I have a ‘stop and smell the roses’ moment — just a, ‘wow, this is where I am now,’ and every time, my thoughts come back to the Hope Center and what it’s done

for my life,” said Jesse, who was brought to the facility from Nicholasville, per the organization’s website. “If it weren’t for [Hope Center], I’d probably be dead, I was out of options, addicted to drugs and homeless... I don’t have to preach recovery; I’m living proof of before and after and what the Hope Center can do.”

It’s progress from individuals like Jesse that fuel Friday’s inspiration, based on the knowledge that despite the size of the challenge, there is always hope to overcome it.

“Working together, we can help more of those in our community and Central Kentucky who are in need of overcoming substance abuse, provide stabilization and solutions for those with mental illness challenges, and to make sure that we keep those who are temporarily homeless from freezing on the streets,” Friday explained. “My ultimate vision and goal is to ensure that every single client that comes to the Hope Center and One Parent Scholar House has a means to achieve self-sufficiency and a happier, productive life.”

Friday spent 33 years in the media business, most recently serving as the president and publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader, and has acted as a special assistant to the president at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System before being tapped by Hope Center’s national leadership search. The decision to serve the region’s most vulnerable communities in a new position was one that he didn’t make lightly, but it could not be denied.

“It was a calling to their mission that kept coming up in my heart,” Friday said. “I eventually felt a pull to want to take the executive and leadership skill sets, the many relationships, the advocacy work and community involvement that I had nurtured when I was at the Lexington Herald-Leader and could easily transition to the non-profit sector.”

In his new role, Friday is responsible for the operations of eight facilities, developing and executing strategy and advocating for funding resources, but he framed his responsibilities around the organizations’ missions: to care for homeless and at-risk men and women by providing comprehensive, life-sustaining and life-rebuilding services and addressing underlying causes. Though this charge may seem vastly different from those of private-sector organizations, Friday is confident that he can lean on the skills he’s developed over his career to achieve it.

“I understand this community,” he said. “Key relationships that I have at the local, state, and national level and my understanding of the need for advocacy, collaborations, and support in addressing a very real challenge with homelessness and substance challenges are lessons that I feel I can bring from my time at the Herald-Leader. I also have made a promise that every resource, every dollar that is placed in my care for the Hope Center and One Parent Scholar House will be used to ensure a positive return on the investment in this community with tangible outcomes.”

But that is not to say that Friday does not respect the incredible challenge that these underlying issues pose in Lexington, throughout the U.S., and across the globe. It’s just that when he considers this challenge, he refuses to be overwhelmed by its magnitude. Instead, he views it as many of those who can call themselves leaders view such tasks: as vital opportunities.

“Every challenge has opportunities, and we will focus on those opportunities to tell the story of the great work and impact the Hope Center and One Parent Scholar House are making here,” Friday said. “We want to ensure that the challenges of homelessness, substance and drug addiction, along with mental health challenges, have a solution: the Hope Center.”