Thu. Dec 5th, 2019

Barren County Detention Center accepting stuffed animals, books as part of ‘SMILE’ program

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Several children's books and coloring books set among stuffed animals at the Barren County Detention Center. The books and animals were donated as a part of the SMILE program which serves children coming into the jail to visit. Brennan Crain/ WCLU News.
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GLASGOW, Ky. – If there is one place no one wants to go it’s jail.

The Barren County Detention Center is a building to many, but it’s a home to others. A new program was recently introduced to support families, residents of the jail and jail staff.

Jailer Aaron Bennett said he was inspired to ask the community for help after seeing children of residents enter the unfamiliar environment of the jail.

“It’s a new place – it’s a jail,” Bennett said. “They know it’s a jail even though they’re young. They walk in and you can kind of see that fear about them, that confusion. I just needed to do something to break the ice with them.”

Since posting to Facebook around two weeks ago, Bennett said the community has poured into the project. Several bags of stuffed animals and boxes of boxes lay around the Barren County Detention Center office.

Bennett said he talked with Oldham County Jailer Mike Simpson about strategies of welcoming children into the Barren County Detention Center after seeing children’s uncertainty of visiting. That’s when the SMILE program began.

“He said ‘stuffed animals, books, children’s stuff,'” Bennett said. “It does bother me seeing the children come in. He said, ‘just give them little things that they can carry with them.’ That’s why I decided the stuffed animals and children’s books. Of course, some coloring books and crayons have been donated.”

The children are only half of those affected by this initiative. Bennett said his deputies and residents receive the other half of the blessing.

“This program is ultimately for the children, but it also helps the deputies and it also helps the actual residents here,” Bennett said. “They see that we may be the deputies and we’re taking care of them here, but they also see we’re going to treat their families good.”

Several “hundred” stuffed animals and books were donated soon after the post was made. Bennett said some of those animals and books have been given to children already.

Bennett said a small children, likely one or two years old, was standing in the jail lobby when Bennett approach him. His family said his favorite color was red, and Bennett found a red stuffed animal to give to him.

“He just lit up,” Bennett said. “He started smiling right away when he saw that color red.”

While several of the donations have come from churches and other departments, Bennett said many community members have also donated. In fact, anyone can bring donations to the lobby at the Barren County Detention Center. Bennett said if donations are brought after hours, a buzzer can be pressed in the lobby to notify deputies.

“I’ll take them all. I’ll take as many as I can get,” Bennett said. “We can set them to the side. I know law enforcement does something similar to this where they always keep stuffed animals in their trunks if they’re in a bad situation.”

Bennett said he hopes to collect enough stuffed animals to give to local first responders for those situations.

“We can work together,” Bennett said. “We’re all the first responders.”

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