Rhonda Miller

Reporter

Rhonda Miller joined WKU Public Radio in 2015.  She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.

She has worked at Rhode Island Public Radio,  as an intern at WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke, Virginia, and at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Rhonda’s freelance work called Writing Into Sound includes stories for Voice of America, WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Conn., NPR and AARP Prime Time Radio.

She has a master’s degree in media studies from Rhode Island College and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.

Rhonda enjoys quiet water kayaking, riding her bicycle and folk music. She was a volunteer DJ for Root-N-Branch at WUMD community radio in Dartmouth, Mass. 

Kentucky Center for School Safety

One year after a student shot two classmates to death in Marshall County, Kentucky and a former student massacred 17 students and educators at a high school in Parkland, Florida, communities continue to search for ways to bring a sense of safety back to the classroom.

Kentucky has a free school safety tipline created by a former teacher and administrator who worked in the district where  a deadly high school shooting occurred more than two decades ago. 

Karen McCuiston was a teacher in McCracken County schools  prior to becoming the district’s public relations director in 1997.  She never expected that three months into her new job she would be the spokesperson for a tragedy that, until that time, was unimaginable in rural Kentucky. A 14-year-old student shot three classmates to  death at Heath High School in West Paducah on Dec. 1, 1997.


Feed My Sheep Ministries/Mitzi Dowell

There’s a new soup kitchen and warming center in Somerset and the homeless and the hungry are quickly finding their way there.

While she was volunteering at the Living Bread Soup Kitchen in Somerset for more than a year, Mitzi Dowell saw the community’s need for a place for the homeless to get out of the cold – not a shelter with background checks, but a warming center open to anyone when the temperature gets below 32 degrees.  

The door remains open as long as no one interferes with the safety of others.  

Dowell is a member of Somerset First Church of the Nazarene and felt the call to set up a soup kitchen along with the warming center.

She collaborated with the pastor, Mike Grant, and Feed My Sheep Ministries was born three weeks ago, with Dowell as director.

Two dozen overnight guests have already stayed at the warming center at Somerset First Church of the Nazareen. Dowell said the guests are a reminder that unexpected circumstances often cause a person to become homeless, like one man who showed up after serving in the military in Afghanistan. 


Chris Conley/twitter

The high water level of the Ohio River has the Owensboro-Daviess County region under a flood warning until Friday, Feb. 22.  Many roads are closed and the county is handing out sandbags on Saturday morning.

The Ohio River in Owensboro is in a prolonged ‘minor flood’ stage caused by excessive rain, with the flood warning in effect due to the on-and-off small amounts of rain, snow and sleet predicted to last through the weekend. 

Daviess County Emergency Management Director Andy Ball says this is not a flash flood situation like the one that put much of the Owensboro riverwalk and many roads and acres of farmland under water last February. 


USsoy.org

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that Kentucky soybean farmers harvested a record breaking crop last year, with 103 million bushels. That’s up one percent from the previous year. The increase was due mainly to more acreage, with 50,000 additional acres of soybeans planted across Kentucky last year.

But that record harvest is facing market forces impacted by America’s tariff and trade disputes, especially with China.  Some Kentucky soybean farmers are storing the beans, trying to wait until market conditions improve. 

Feeding America Kentucky's Heartland

America’s trade disputes have decreased the export of many food products, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture is buying surplus from farmers and distributing it through what’s called ‘trade mitigation’ programs. 

One Kentucky food bank director said the organization is short on funding required to get the perishables to families in need.

At Feeding America Kentucky’s Heartland in Elizabethtown, two tractor-trailer loads of apples from Michigan arrived recently, as well as a tractor-trailer full of potatoes. USDA surplus coming in also includes oranges, almonds, pistachios and canned pork in the form of barbecue or taco filling. More milk and cheese are due in.


Rhonda J. Miller

The president of Western Kentucky University said one of the priorities for the future growth of the region is to encourage a community of entrepreneurs. President Timothy Caboni laid out his vision for the next 10 years during a speech at the Bowling Green Noon Rotary Club on Jan. 30

Caboni said WKU has the potential to be the center of an 'innovation hub' that combines its strategic location in Bowling Green, affordable living and the talent emerging from the school. 


United Soybean Board

Kentucky farmers will soon be getting crops reports they use for market information and to make decisions about spring planting. The U.S. Department of Agriculture office in Kentucky that does those reports was closed during the government shutdown, but now - it’s open.

David Knopf is regional director for the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, based in Louisville. He said crop reports that were due out on Jan. 11 are now scheduled to be published Feb. 8.

Knopf said the report on corn, soybeans and wheat that’s in storage is especially valuable to Kentucky farmers. 

Jonathan Irish/Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park is open again, now that the government shutdown is over. Park staff jumped back into gear as soon as federal officials gave the OK.

Park spokesperson Molly Schroer said the Green River Ferry was back in service as of 2 p.m.  Saturday, Jan. 26 and cave tours began on Sunday, Jan. 27.

Schroer said initially, notification emails were sent out to ticket holders, and online reservations left open for spring and summer visitors, with alerts that the lapse in federal funding could affect cave tours. But she said that changed while volunteers from Friends of Mammoth Cave were staffing an information table at the park during the shutdown.

“We did receive notice from one of our volunteers that a group had showed up that had recently bought cave tour tickets," said Schroer. "So we immediately shut the reservation system down for everyone, and it has reopened, now that we’ve reopened.”

Salvation Army Bowling Green/facebook

Shelters and organizations across Kentucky are preparing to count the number of homeless people in their communities on Jan. 30. 

It's called K-Count and it's a 24-hour statewide count of homeless who are in shelters or 'unsheltered,' meaning staying outside in what’s described as "a place not meant for human habitation." 

K-Count is part of the annual count by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that’s required as a condition of funding for programs that serve the homeless. 

The Daniel Pitino Shelter in Owensboro will take part in the statewide project. The shelter serves women and families and can house up to 65 people a night. It also has a soup kitchen that can serve up to 175 people, seven days a week. 


Credit Somerset Pulaski County Development Foundation

Plans for a Texas-based company to locate a $75 million plant in Somerset appear to be in limbo over efforts to secure funding for the project.

Somerset officials announced a preliminary agreement with Houston-based Extiel in February 2017. Economic development leaders said the new state-of-the-art Somerset Energy Center was a main factor in attracting the 75-million-dollar project to Pulaski County.

Extiel would use its unique technology to convert natural gas into ultra-clean synthetic fuel products, waxes and industrial hydrogen.

Rhonda J. Miller

When elder refugees arrive in America they leave behind violence or religious persecution, as well as family, culture and their native language. A program in Louisville, Kentucky helps refugees who are 60 and older transition to American life and avoid isolation.

This is a protection against isolation – a social hall alive with music that inspires clapping and dancing among refugees in their 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s. It’s part of the Louisville Refugee Elder Program that serves arrivals from countries including Bhutan, Congo, Cuba, Iraq and Sudan.

The musician is 31-year-old Leiser Tito, a refugee from Cuba who came to the U.S. two years ago. One of the elder refugees comes up and enthusiastically introduces herself. 


Tri-State Food Bank/facebook

The partial federal government shutdown is sending unpaid workers across the country to food pantries as they struggle to pay essential household bills. 

In Kentucky, more than 600,000 residents get some of their food from the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The USDA issued February SNAP benefits earlier than usual. It’s unclear whether money will be  appropriated for SNAP in March if the shutdown continues.

Glenn Roberts is executive director of Tri-State Food Bank in Evansville, Indiana, which distributes food to soup kitchens and food pantries in parts of Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. He said local food pantries are starting to see more people come in, but that could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Federal Medical Center Lexington / facebook

Workers at federal prisons in Kentucky are among those feeling the financial pressure of the partial federal government shutdown. A nurse who works at a prison in Fayette County said working without pay is raising the level of stress for employees.

Robin Goode works at the Federal Medical Center in Lexington. It’s a prison for about 1,500 male and female inmates who require medical or mental  health care.

Goode is president of Local 817, the local union with about 400 members that’s part of the American Federation of Government Employees.

She said she’s heard a lot of sad stories from prison workers since paychecks were suspended during the shutdown.


Kentucky Association of Food Banks/WKMS

The partial government shutdown is beginning to affect Kentucky food banks as federal workers struggle to live without paychecks. 

Federal workers in Kentucky who are furloughed and or working without pay are feeling the financial strain on their grocery budgets.  

“What we are noticing is a large increase in inquiries," said Tamara Sandberg, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. "People are calling, they’re sending social media saying, 'I’m impacted by the federal shutdown. What do I need to do to get help?' That’s why food banks and food pantries are here, we are here to help between paychecks, as you’re waiting for your next paycheck to come.”


Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial

A project to recognize slaves buried in unmarked graves in the Lake Cumberland region is taking another step forward as part of the activities surrounding Martin Luther King Day. The groundbreaking will be held Jan. 18 at Somerset Community College.

The idea for the Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial took shape after a young white man fatally shot nine African-Americans during a Bible study at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.

Some Lake Cumberland area residents were at a sunrise service at Somerset City Cemetery and discovered that what looked like a vacant area was actually a site where slaves were buried. 


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