Bowling Green’s International Center is gaining momentum when it comes to resettling refugees.
Albert Mbanfu, the resettlement agency’s executive director, told community partners Friday he’s hopeful the center will resettle 400 refugees by the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. By the end of June, the center will have resettled at least 329 refugees this fiscal year.
“This quarter, the past three months, we’ve seen a high uptick,” Mbanfu said, adding that, for the third quarter of the current fiscal year, “we received more refugees than all of the other two quarters combined.”
The International Center of Kentucky isn’t the only refugee resettle agency feeling positive about this year’s arrivals, Mbanfu said. Agencies in general are optimistic about meeting this year’s cap of resettling 30,000 refugees, he said.
Mbanfu attributes the uptick in arrivals to the “good will” of the federal government.
Rebecca Ford, the state’s refugee health coordinator with the Kentucky Office for Refugees, noted that, as of the end of May, “Bowling Green is the sixth-largest city for refugee resettlement in the United States.”
At the national level, Ford said agencies have resettled more than 20,000 refugees this fiscal year, and the current pace would put the country on track to resettle about 27,000 before the end of the fiscal year.
Kentucky, by the end of May, had resettled 866 refugees, she said.
“Now we are the fifth-largest state for refugee resettlement in the country,” Ford said, adding the state is behind Texas, New York, California and Washington.
Both in Bowling Green and across Kentucky, the largest group of arrivals comes from central Africa.
In Bowling Green, 229 arrivals have come from the Democratic Republic of Congo this fiscal year, followed by 111 from Myanmar. The arrivals often come with large families, Ford noted, describing “one family of 10, four families of nine.”
According to data compiled by the Kentucky Office for Refugees, 96 percent of the refugees the center has resettled this year work full time, and are employed by 23 different employers at an average hourly wage of $11.88.
Field representatives for the offices of U.S. Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell attended the meeting, as did representatives from both local school districts, health clinics, city government and Community Action, among organizations.
Jon Crosby, an aide for Sen. Rand Paul, said he was encouraged by Ford’s attendance as an expert on refugee health issues. He added his office had fielded “fear-mongering calls” related to refugees spreading the Ebola virus from the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa.
Ford said that “while the clients are originally from the DRC, they are not leaving from the DRC,” adding those refugees have fled their homeland to seek aid in other countries.
Mbanfu added that refugees from that particular group would have been gone from the DRC “for at least 10 years.” Additionally, Ford said, refugees receive several health screenings both before and after coming to the U.S.
“If there’s anything that came up in that last minute, they would delay travel,” to the U.S., Ford said.
Ford said the common health issues refugees face before coming to the U.S. include anemia and malnutrition, hypertension and splenomegaly, or an enlarged spleen, thought to be related to malaria. Post-arrival, the issues are also anemia, dental issues and hepatitis B exposure, meaning they’ve encountered someone with the virus but don’t necessarily have it, Ford said.
Access to health care providers remains a big issue for refugees, Ford said, adding that most providers don’t recognize their obligation to provide interpreters, at no cost to the patient, under federal anti-discrimination law. Transportation to appointments is also a challenge, Ford said.
Every novel starts with an idea.
For Bowling Green’s David Bell, the idea for his 11th novel stems from an experience at Nashville International Airport.
He was at “one of those anonymous bars” in the concourse waiting for a flight when he spotted a couple “having an intimate conversation,” Bell said. “I assumed they were married.”
Eventually, the woman got up, kissed the man passionately and left. The man then told the bartender he had just met the woman that day at the airport.
“I thought, ‘There’s got to be a story behind that,’ ” Bell said.
The result is “Layover,” published by Penguin Books and being released Tuesday with a special launch event from 6 to 8 p.m. that night at the Warren County Public Library’s Bob Kirby Branch, 175 Iron Skillet Court. Penguin Books offers the following synopsis of the novel: “A chance meeting with a woman in an airport sends a man on a pulse-pounding quest for the truth.
Joshua Fields takes the same flight every week for work, his life is a series of departures and arrivals, hotels and airports. During yet another layover, he meets Morgan, a beautiful stranger with whom he feels an immediate connection. When it’s time for their respective flights, Morgan kisses Joshua passionately, lamenting that they’ll never see each other again.
As soon as Morgan disappears in the crowd, Joshua is shocked to see her face on a nearby TV. The reason: Morgan is a missing person.”
The book has received positive reviews, with Publishers Weekly calling it a “fast-paced thriller … Bell keeps the reader guessing whodunit until the end. Fans of romantic sentimental thrillers will find a lot to like.”
Bell said “Layover” has “a really great hook in the beginning,” with most people being able to relate to a chance meeting and captivating conversation with someone, “and then you never see this person again.”
Next week will be a milestone one for Bell, a Cincinnati native. Not only is “Layover” being released, he is being promoted to full English professor at Western Kentucky University.
Bell has been an associate professor at WKU, as well as director of the university’s MFA program.
He will also be embarking on a national tour to promote the book, with the first stop being Tuesday’s event at the library.
Bell has always launched his books locally and has donated book sale proceeds from the events to local charities. Tuesday’s recipient will be Hope Harbor, a sexual trauma recovery center in Bowling Green.
Bell said that while the touring can be tiring, it gives him an opportunity to make valuable connections to his readers.
“Writing is a thing you do alone. When I go to a book signing, I see there are people on the other end,” he said.
– Free tickets for Bell’s library appearance are available at warrenpl.org.
– Bell’s website is at davidbellnovels.com.
With severe storms assailing the region multiple times this month, local emergency warning systems have been put to frequent use.
Strong winds and heavy rains have caused power outages and other damage, and one person in Allen County was killed last week when a tree fell into a road and crushed the pickup truck he was driving.
On June 21, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for portions of Allen, Simpson and Warren counties.
In Warren County, this scenario would typically trigger the COWS – which stands for the Community Outdoor Warning System – to alert people, particularly those who are outdoors, that a tornado has been spotted or been indicated by radar.
When the tornado warning was issued last week, however, the COWS did not activate.
Warren County Emergency Management Director Ronnie Pearson said activation of the COWS is typically done by dispatchers at the Bowling Green Police Department. When dispatchers are notified of a tornado warning from the National Weather Service, one of them pushes a button that mechanically transmits a signal to activate the COWS.
The mechanical device that triggers the COWS did not work, and a backup trigger also failed, Pearson said.
“We have this week reinstituted several additional ways of activation to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Pearson said.
While no injuries were reported from that particular storm in Warren County, the unforeseen snag illustrates the need for people to turn to as many outlets as possible when preparing for severe weather.
Pearson said the COWS is tested audibly twice a year, once during Severe Weather Awareness Week in March and once in the fall to coincide with earthquake preparedness events.
Otherwise, the system is tested daily by sending a silent signal. The system worked when it was tested in the spring, Pearson said.
“The system was built for people standing outdoors for their protection,” Pearson said. “If I can move you from outside to inside, I can give you one level of protection.
Pearson said the COWS should be just one of several resources households rely on when preparing for severe weather.
“The ability to prepare is the ability to receive information so families can take some type of action,” Pearson said. “We try to push out what’s anticipated as soon as the National Weather Service lets us know, and then it falls to the individual and their families to determine what they need to do.”
Mobile weather apps, social and traditional media and NOAA weather radios, which broadcast weather information continuously from the nearest NWS office, should be used to supply people with important information during a storm, Pearson said.
Allen County Emergency Management Director Gary Petty said residents in his county can subscribe to a CodeRED Weather Alert system by contacting his office or Allen County Judge-Executive Dennis Harper.
The subscription-based system delivers advance notification of severe weather events to people by phone, text message and email.
“As long as our citizens sign up, I think the system does a good job,” Petty said. “It’s very reliable and gets the message out quickly. My office plus (Harper’s) office has always promoted it and tried to get people to realize how essential it is.”
The other primary warning system in Allen County is a siren atop the Allen County Justice Center, which is used in the event of a tornado warning, Petty said.
E-cigarettes have now surpassed alcohol as the most widely used substance among young people in Kentucky. Among 10th graders in southcentral Kentucky, use is as high as 29.2 percent.
Statewide, that percentage was 23.2 percent, putting southcentral Kentucky at the high-end in e-cigarette use among young people.
That’s according to the 2018 Kentucky Incentives for Prevention State and Regional report, which uses survey data from 128,759 sixth, eighth, tenth and 12th grade students.
What’s worse, many students underestimate the risk involved.
“A lot of students think that it’s just water vapor or flavoring,” said Lisa Johnson, a prevention specialist with LifeSkills. “That’s just not true.”
Participation in the KIP survey is voluntary, and the assessment gauges student use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, as well as a number of factors related to potential substance use and misuse.
Student responses are divided up based on region, and the LifeSkills region encompasses much of southcentral Kentucky. It includes schools in Allen, Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Metcalfe, Monroe and Simpson counties. Warren and Logan counties had zero participating school districts.
Although sales of traditional cigarettes and smokeless tobacco continue to decline, the sale and use of e-cigarettes, most notably the brand JUUL, has skyrocketed, according to the report.
The KIP survey notes that a 2016 report from the U.S. surgeon general declared “e-cigarette use among U.S. youth and young adults is now a major public health concern.”
Shaped like a USB flash drive, the JUUL brand in particular is smaller and more discreet than other e-cigarettes. The battery-powered device heats liquid containing nicotine to produce an aerosol that’s inhaled, the report said.
However, many young people don’t even realize they’re inhaling nicotine, a highly-addictive substance. The KIP survey notes that “across all grades, levels of perceived risk for vaping are the lowest of all substances addressed on the KIP survey.
That nicotine addiction sets young people up to start smoking traditional cigarettes when they otherwise wouldn’t, Johnson said.
“If students start out using e-cigarettes, they are more likely to go to traditional smoking as well,” she said.
Sheila Barnard, also a prevention specialist with LifeSkills, contends that it’s too easy for minors to illegally access e-cigarettes.
She sees a way forward in education of both young people and their parents. LifeSkills employees have visited schools and created brochures to be distributed at back-to-school festivals.
“I think the more that we can educate people that there’s a problem out there, the better off that we are,” Barnard said.
The full KIP survey is available with this story at bgdailynews.com.