By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Emily Ridge, a 2014 graduate of Sacred Heart Academy, has been named a recipient of a WLKY Bell Awards Youth Service Honor.
The awards are sponsored by the WLKY Spirit of Louisville Foundation and will be presented at 6 p.m. tonight, Oct. 9, at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville.
The Bell Awards program “recognizes individuals who have demonstrated the true ‘spirit of Louisville’ through selfless volunteer efforts and seeks to inspire all residents to engage in community service,” a news release from the organization said.
For the past two years, Ridge has volunteered with Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services as a mentor for families who have sought refuge in the United States. For the first 18 months, she and several other Sacred Heart students befriended a family of five from Afghanistan. The girls helped the family adjust to life in the U.S. and served as a resource to them.
“I helped them shop for groceries and learn bus routes. They showed me their food and how to make it. And I gave them ideas on how to make food here,” Ridge said in an phone interview last week.
Ridge said she usually met with the Afghani family for about two to four hours on Saturdays. She helped them with their English and spent time just getting to know them.
“It was fun. We would talk and watch videos and listen to each other’s music,” she said.
The family eventually moved to Utah where there were more Afghani translators available, Ridge said.
But Ridge’s service didn’t end there. She continued her volunteer work with Catholic Charities and was paired with a Cuban family. She doesn’t meet with them as often because they live farther away, she said, but she does assist family members with homework and other issues as they arise.
“I’m minoring in Spanish. I can speak some, but I have limitations,” she noted.
Ridge said she initially immersed herself in her volunteer work with the refugee families because it gave her a sense of purpose after her grandmother passed away.
“Just before I met them, my grandmother got really sick. I spent a lot of time with her taking care of her,” Ridge said. “I felt like I needed purpose again and to help out other people because she passed away.”
Chris Clements, community resource developer for Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services, said Ridge’s commitment to service shows that she has an “open heart and mind.”
“It says a lot about a young lady who is very determined and doesn’t let barriers get in her way,” he said.
Ridge has also volunteered her time with the Louisville Skating Academy’s therapeutic ice-skating program for special needs youth. In the therapeutic program, Ridge, who has been skating for eight years, worked with young adults who have special needs.
“We typically try to get them out of their comfort zone. We get them moving. It’s healthy and also a socializing thing,” she said.
Ridge, who was nominated for the Bell Award by her neighbor, said she was overwhelmed by the recognition.
“I don’t feel like I really deserve it to be honest. I’m reading all the amazing things the other people have done. I feel honored to be with that group of people who have done so many amazing things that have impacted the community,” she said.
Ridge graduated from St. Patrick School and attends Epiphany Church. She is now a freshman at the University of Louisville, where she’s majoring in nursing and minoring in Spanish.
She is among 12 individuals who will be honored at the Bell Awards ceremony. Ten recipients will be presented the 2014 WLKY Bell Award and one other recipient will receive the WLKY Bell Awards Youth Service Honor. A one-hour telecast of the Bell Awards will air on WLKY Oct. 25 at 8 p.m.
The Migration and Refugee Services mentor program is currently in need of volunteers. Those interested are invited to attend a training session Oct. 14.