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StepStone And Youth Services To Relocate A Boys Home

MURRAY – StepStone Family and Youth Services is on a quest to relocate a group home for boys it currently operates on Back Street; however, between zoning restrictions and pushback from the community, the company has not been successful in previous attempts to move the home to another location in town. Now, StepStone has set its sights on a property six miles outside of the city limits in Elm Grove. Monday night, the company held a public meeting at the Miller Courthouse Annex on the potential relocation.

StepStone specializes in providing services to youth in the foster care system, including qualified residential treatment programs (QRTPs). The for-profit company operates group homes for 10- to 17-year-olds nationwide; two of those homes, which can each house up to eight children, are located in Murray – a boys home on Back Street and a girls home on Robertson Road South.

In July, StepStone held a similar meeting to discuss relocating the Back Street home to a property in the Southwest Villa subdivision on Enix Drive. Chris Hempfling, vice president of service excellence and stakeholder relations for Louisville-based BrightSpring Health Services, StepStone’s parent company, said that, because of the comments made during that meeting, the company did not feel that the children would be in a “safe, loving and supportive community” at that location.

Around 40 residents from the Elm Grove and Faxon communities attended the meeting Monday night. Undoubtedly, the atmosphere was tense, and emotions were high; but overall, this meeting did not seem as contentious as the previous one. Several only voiced opposition to the move; however, in stark contrast to July, many acknowledged their reservations while also expressing empathy toward the plight of the children at the heart of the discussion and wanted to know more about how StepStone operates its group homes.

While Hempfling led the meeting, Jeff Hardin, StepStone’s regional director over Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee, answered most of the questions.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here for the last one,” Hardin said, referring to the July meeting. “I really hope that this meeting tonight doesn’t look anything like the last meeting we had because that was not good by any means.”

Before Hardin could continue, a man interrupted him to ask “what kind of kids” would be living in the home.

“I can’t give you a cut-and-dry answer for what kind of boys I would put in that home,” Hardin replied. “Generally, these are boys just like mine; unfortunately, they’ve lost their parents, and they don’t have a home to go to. So, I’ve got to give them one. So, yeah, do these boys have issues? Yeah.”

“I think we need to have an open discussion,” said Elm Grove resident Shanna Hodges. “I want to hear everything you have to say, but I want our questions answered. I just want it to be about transparency because our property is directly adjacent. When they run away, they’re gonna run right through those woods (to my house) or out on (KY) 94.”

The property in consideration – 169 Rockwood Road – is listed at $550,000 on The 3,245-square-foot home, which was built in 2015, sits on a 4.58-acre lot and boasts four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a bonus room.

“It would be perfect,” said Hodges, who built the home with her husband Ronald. “We had goats out there. There’s a barn. … Maybe they can get a garden out there, maybe they can ride their bikes up and down that driveway. We raised five kids in that house. … I would love to have those boys as my neighbor; but they need parenting, and you guys are restricted by law as to the discipline and the tactics that you use. That’s why, when they run away, all you can do is call the cops. So, I’m concerned (that if they run away), they can come over to our house, and I have a 14-year-old daughter.”

Hodges also made a point to note that she was not passing judgment on the children StepStone serves. “I can guarantee that y’all’s kids have a lot bigger hearts than the people that say (on Facebook) they’re all ready to help – but they’re not here,” she added, presumably referring to a well-circulated Facebook post by the Sentinel about the July meeting that received 34,298 engagements, including 1,500 comments.

A resident asked why StepStone was looking at a property in the county, Hardin noted the company faced many challenges during previous attempts to relocate to another property in the City of Murray, primarily with zoning restrictions. In the county, that is not an issue.

Remodeling the Back Street home was suggested. Hardin advised that idea was seriously considered, but the significant structural problems with the home were determined to be cost prohibitive to address.

“We were going to go big,” he said. “We were going to add a second story. We were going to completely remodel it, but it just wasn’t feasible.”

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