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April 15, 2009

Why she deserves it

Cathy Bailey was the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Latvia from 2005-2008. Now residing in Louisville with her husband Irving, Bailey is chair and founder of Operation Open Arms, an organization she and her husband founded in 2001 that places children whose mothers are in prison into foster families.

“Talk about the forgotten child,” Bailey says about her interest in starting this charity. “The initial conversation revolved around ‘How can we break the cycle?’ and ‘How can we give these children a chance?’”

Operation Open Arms is licensed by the state as a private child-placement agency, which allows the charity to provide foster care and adoption services for children throughout the commonwealth.

“We have the commitment of some of the most incredible, giving, selfless people you would ever meet,” she says of the foster family volunteers. “These people who sign on to be Operation Open Arms families — they’ve got to be willing to bring these children, from infancy most of the time, to their home. They have to care for them, emotionally give them the stability they need, transport them on occasion back and forth to the prison. And then be willing to give the child back over — you can imagine the attachment — should that mother get rehabilitated.”

Bailey points to the statistics for proof that there is a need for this in the country: According to her charity’s figures, the nation’s prisons held approximately 65,600 mothers at midyear 2007; those mothers reported having 147,400 children. Also, the number of children under age 18 with a mother in prison more than doubled since 1991, up 131 percent.

“There’s nothing we can do for that mother. Those were choices she made,” Bailey says. “But if we can take into the Operation Open Arms family this child and give him a chance to feel loved and cared for, that’s an opportunity he would have otherwise not been able to have.”

Bailey has also served on the board of The Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), Kentucky Opera, Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, Leadership Kentucky and the Ronald McDonald House (of Louisville).

Operation Open Arms is hosting a benefit party on Derby Day, May 2. The event, held at The Olmsted, features a performance by Academy Award-winning “Wicked” composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 493-4009 or visit www.oparms.org