GO Center’s new CEO part of founding family

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By Kacie Goode

The Guthrie Opportunity Center Foundation’s newest member finds himself working with an organization his mother helped start years ago. Rick McKay is in his first month as CEO for the GO Center, which serves a special segment of the local community.

In 1974, Nelson County Industries was established by Communicare and in partnership with the Nelson County Association for the Handicapped with the purpose of providing training and employment opportunities to adults with special needs. NCI was born out of the efforts of Nancy Guthrie McKay and Virginia Denn, local mothers looking to battle a lack of resources for those in need. Their sons were aging out of special education programs in school and they needed the next step.

“It’s important to give those folks the same chances all of us get,” Rick McKay said, such as having a job, earning a paycheck and contributing to the community.

As NCI began to grow, a new facility was purchased on Nutter Drive in Bardstown to house the operation. In 2011, the Guthrie Opportunity Center Foundation was formed to help financially support and expand opportunities.

Rick McKay’s brother, Adam, has been a participant with NCI for more than 30 years, and many of their cousins have served in leadership roles with the foundation since it formed.

A few years ago while working with cousin Pat Guthrie, a Foundation board member, McKay made mention that he was looking to relocate to Bardstown.

“I have a special son with autism and my wife and I felt it would be wise to expand his support network,” McKay said, referencing the family he has in the area. Pat Guthrie approached him about an active role with the GO Center and McKay took him up on the offer this year. Having been in the energy business with Schneider Electric in Louisville for 12 years, he said, he was ready to move on. “It just worked out to be the right timing.”

Entering his new role as CEO, McKay said he has been learning a lot. Last week, he attended a two-day conference hosted by Arc of Kentucky, and he has been learning more about the disabilities community and how supportive employment works.

When it comes to the GO Center, McKay said his main goal is to expand outreach to the community.

“I would like to make sure that every family in Nelson County that has a member with special needs or developmental disabilities knows about this place,” he said. “It’s a tough decision sometimes for families on which way to go with special needs folks in the family. I think when people do come in and tour us, they get a great feeling that this is really a community.”

The center hosted an open house for families last week, which was attended by about 30 parents and students. It will host another event Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

A major focus of the GO Center and Nelson County Industries is the work opportunities for participants, and McKay said the Nelson County community provides a lot in terms of jobs, training and collaborative projects. He said something the GO Center is looking at is to find more “money-making” opportunities such as its food service program On-The-Go Foods and the possibility of a greenhouse operation in the future.

“If we can get enough revenue-generating business going, we can keep adding on” to programming, he said.

McKay added he has recently visited similar operations in Lexington and San Diego to look at some of the programs they offer.

“There’s a whole lot of things we could do here that we are not doing yet because we just don’t have the funds we need,” he said.

As the GO Center relies heavily on donations to stay up and running, its biggest fundraiser of the year is coming up next month. On April 21, the center will host its annual “Bourbon and Bubbles” gala, which includes dinner, live and silent auctions, and guest speakers. This year’s event will do something new with the introduction of online auction software, allowing guests to bid on items using a smartphone.

“It’s a good event, and it raises a lot of money,” McKay said of the gala.

Taking on an active role with the GO Center, McKay can now help promote what the center and Nelson County Industries can offer the community. Looking back, he has seen the impact it has had on his brother.

“It allowed Adam to be out in the community, to have friends and have gainful employment,” he said, which is something he better understands now. “I guess I maybe took it a bit for granted. I don’t anymore.”

More information about the GO Center and upcoming events can be found at www.guthrieopportunitycenter.org.