- by Kristin Bednarski
It took only one fundraiser for Mary Lee-Butte to become a permanent fixture at the Blue Grass Farms Chaplaincy. After organizing the chaplaincy’s first fundraiser in 2003, she said they just couldn’t get rid of her.
Now, Lee-Butte is the executive director for the chaplaincy, which was created by a group of horsemen who wanted a program to assist local farm workers. For Lee-Butte, whose father was a horseman, their mission hit home.
Lee-Butte spent much of her childhood following her father around the Red Mile when he was racing Standardbreds. Watching her father work late into the night she gained an understanding of the hard work it takes to make a living in the horse industry.
“I have always been keenly aware of the needs of the folks that work on horse farms,” Lee-Butte said. “They are often in need of counseling, have health issues, and, for one reason or another, need an extra boost to get things done.”
The chaplaincy visits close to 20 farms a week, providing counseling, educational programs, health services, and other assistance to workers and their families. Lee-Butte oversees the day-to-day obligations in addition to fundraising, planning programs, and promoting the chaplaincy.
“Mary is focused on handling the resources,” said chaplain Claudio Toro. “Whenever we need to do something, she readily gets the resources together. She is always enjoying what she is doing.”
In addition to working with Toro and the ministry, Lee-Butte also plays a role in organizing and running the chaplaincy’s many programs, which include programs for women and families, English and Spanish classes, and the Festival of Christmas.
“The Festival of Christmas has just become huge,” Lee-Butte said. “I am sitting here now and I have goosebumps. Over 300 people came together at Keeneland, and we got donations from five dollars to several thousand dollars.”
The Festival of Christmas is a program designed to provide needy families the ingredients they need to create a special Christmas for their children. Every family receives toys, clothes, and a ham to cook for Christmas dinner. This year there were more than 400 donors for the festival.
“It is such a small thing to do to give a child a Christmas gift,” Lee-Butte said. “But it makes such a big difference. It just reinvigorates me every year at Christmas.”
Although Lee-Butte enjoys seeing the chaplaincy pay off on a personal level, she said she has also seen all of the programs pay off on a larger scale; in the productivity of the farms. Lee-Butte has gotten positive feedback from the farms where the chaplaincy has served. She said improved attitudes, working relationships, and better communication between staff and management have all been positive outcomes.
But even though Lee-Butte has seen all of these programs pay off, she is still not satisfied.
“I have a lot more goals I want to see reached,” she said. “One of my dreams is to have a computer lab and to bring in folks and teach them how to use the computer and bring that back to the work force.”
Lee-Butte’s passion for her job has helped make a difference at the chaplaincy and also in the lives of the local farm workers. Her presence will continue to be a permanent one because, for her, this job is different than any other.
“I think one of the things I love most is having a positive impact on the industry,” Lee-Butte said. “And that is something the industry needs right now.”