A Decade of Change

Operation Open Arms celebrates 10 years of Silks in the Bluegrass

By Remy Sisk

Cathy and Irv Bailey, co-founders of Operation Open Arms. Photo by Tim Girton.

Cathy Bailey has spent her life helping children. A former teacher and co-founder of the Ronald McDonald House project, she knew that once she started her own charity, it would without question center on the needs of children.

In a true turn of fate at the Bailey residence on Derby night in 2000, the conversation among friends turned serious as a friend related that there were 100,000 children in the country who had a parent behind bars. Together with her husband Irv, Cathy Bailey launched Operation Open Arms, an organization dedicated to connecting children whose mothers are incarcerated with loving, nurturing homes.

“The likelihood of a child falling into a path of crime is dramatically increased if he or she has an incarcerated parent,” says Bailey. “Placing these children in a secure, safe and nurturing home environment increases the chance that they will not fall into this lifestyle, therefore breaking the cycle, which is vital.” Operation Open Arms is a critical cog in this endeavor and has seen astounding results over its nearly 20-year existence.

In its earlier years, the company functioned primarily on grants and donations, but in 2009, its greatest fundraiser was launched: Silks in the Bluegrass. Annually a hotly anticipated event, Silks in the Bluegrass takes place Derby weekend and is held to honor and celebrate the founding of the charity. “In 2009, we wanted to broaden the awareness in the community about what we do in Operation Open Arms,” Bailey recounts. “There was a decision to create a fundraiser the weekend of the Kentucky Derby since the concept of Operation Open Arms was founded the night of the Kentucky Derby in 2000.”

The growth of the event has mirrored the growth of the organization. In its first year, Silks in the Bluegrass was held at the Olmsted with 70 guests in attendance and featured entertainment and a gourmet dinner. In the years following, it took place at the Crowne Plaza and continued to add offerings throughout the night. In 2016, the Operation Open Arms Hero Award was established and the the decision to add dancing to a high-energy band was made, which enhanced the guests’ experience. Last year’s iteration saw approximately 300 individuals come out to celebrate the work of Operation Open Arms.

Coming up, 2018’s event looks to be the best yet. “As we celebrate on May 4 – our 10th anniversary – we are excited to announce this year’s event will be held at Historic Locust Grove, with dining and dancing under the stars!” Bailey exudes. “What could be a better Kentucky experience than the ambiance and backdrop of the circa 1792 Georgian mansion, the home of frontiersman George Rogers Clark?”

Special highlights this year again include the seated dinner and dancing to the renowned Perfect 10 Band from Atlanta. The official beer sponsor is Schlafly Beer, and sponsor Brown-Forman will be on hand to provide spirits and wine at the open bar. Guests can also get in on the fun by enjoying the Brown-Forman flavor wheel, and Bailey ensures attendees will adore the official bourbon cocktail, the Silks Smash.

No matter how much fun the event is, however, Bailey emphasizes that it is all for a truly worthy cause: helping children find the homes they deserve. “Children are our future,” she maintains. “It’s hard for me to fathom that in the United States of America we have children who go to bed hungry. That’s why our food programs in our schools are so very important because that may be the only decent meal they have all day. What keeps me up at night is the thought of a child living in an abusive environment and constantly being neglected. We have read one too many stories of extreme cases of children with no ability to defend themselves. These are scars that will stay with them for a lifetime. I liken it to the story of the starfish. I cannot solve all of the problems that the children face in America, but we can change the lives of some.”

Looking to the future, Bailey promises she and the Operation Open Arms team are constantly plowing ahead, striving to make more of a difference in this community and beyond than ever before. “Expanding outside of our state is the current goal,” she says. “We are licensed in the state of Florida; however, we have not opened shop there as of yet. We need to take our concept to other communities because our results are so very positive on behalf of kids.” VT

There’s still time to get in on the fun of Silks in the Bluegrass and support the efforts of Operation Open Arms by attending the Silks Derby Eve Bash on May 4. To become a team captain, purchase tickets or just find more information on the event, contact Sharon Neville at 502.777.6300 or email sharon@oparms.org. All the details are available on the company’s website, oparms.org, where you can also learn more about the differences being made every day by this incredibly benevolent organization.

Silks in the Bluegrass

8 p.m. May 4