Check out our 21 Designs Store!! All art is made by the members of the Buddy House.
Stephanie Morton is an Allen County native who graduated with her Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Western Kentucky University in 2011. Prior to that, she obtained degrees in paralegal studies and accounting from Draughon’s Junior College. She is the wife of Zack Morton and mother to Courtney and Tyler. Before becoming the Executive Director, she was involved with the organization as a volunteer and a Board Member serving as Treasurer of the board for one year before becoming the Executive Director. Following in the footsteps of former DSSKY director, Jane Tichenor, Stephanie plans to continue the mission for DSSKY.
Mekinsey Ford-Conway was born in Glasgow, KY but has grown up in Bowling Green. She graduated from Greenwood High School in 2012 and received her Associate of Arts degree from SKYCTC. Mekinsey and her partner are both artists and love setting up their art at local community pop-up events. They also have used their talent to paint some murals on the walls inside the Buddy House. Mekinsey and Caleb recently became parents to a sweet little girl named Corrin Olivia and the best pup in the world, Obi. Through working at the Buddy House, Mekinsey has not only discovered her passion but has also found a forever family!
KINDERGARTEN READINESS FACILITATOR
McKenna Wilson is a Warren County native who graduated with her Bachelor’s in Music Education from WKU in 2011. She completed her music therapy equivalency in UK in 2018 and is currently completing her Master’s in music therapy. McKenna is board-certified by the Certification Board for Music Therapy and is an active member of the American Music Therapy Association, in addition to having completed training as a NICU-MT. Before becoming involved with DSSKY, she worked as a privately contracted music therapist in Lexington, KY with children and adults with disabilities. McKenna and her husband enjoy traveling, playing with their two animal babies, and volunteering with their church.
Hannah is from Allensville, KY. She just graduated from WKU and is pursuing a career in Human Resources. Hannah began volunteering at DSSKY working with the Jammerz in 2017. Her favorite thing about the Rockerz is their awesome moves and how dedicated they are to spreading positivity in our community.
Hi everyone! My name is Rachel Mergenthal & I’m so excited to coach the Jammerz! I currently work at WKU in the Office of Admissions and I’m the Head Coach for Special Olympics Cheerleading. I graduated from Georgetown College (where I also cheered for 4 years) in 2016 & then completed my Masters degree at WKU in 2019. I love to bake, read, & workout. I can’t wait to get this season started!
Scott was born in Colchester, Connecticut but relocated to Hardin County, Kentucky in 1985. After two years of community college, he transferred to Western Kentucky University in 1989. After studying for two years, Scott decided to enter the business world and worked as marketing director for two well-known Warren County companies, but went back to school and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Allied Language Arts in 2002. In 1998, he moved back to Hardin County (Elizabethtown) to work in sales for his father’s relocation company. While in Elizabethtown, he met his late wife, Danissa, who lived in Bowling Green, and returned to Bowling Green for good in 2001. Along with three children from her previous marriage, Scott and Danissa gave birth to Asher in 2010 and quickly became members of Down Syndrome of South Central Kentucky. Scott has been employed by Houchens Industries for many years, and he and Asher attend Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
Among Scott’s accomplishments are Eagle Scout, Boy Scout leader, SOKY Soccer coach, Warren County PeeWee coach, Board Member Big Brothers Big Sisters 12 years (Warren & Hardin Counties), volunteer for Junior Achievement, volunteer at St. Joseph School, St. Joseph Spaghetti Supper Chairman – three years, volunteer at Natcher Elementary, volunteer for Hospice of South Central Kentucky, Leadership Radcliff, Leadership Elizabethtown, volunteer for Association of the United States Army, and more.
Jamie Dobbs was born and raised in Harrisburg, Illinois. In 2004, she came to Bowling Green to attend Western Kentucky University, and has called the community home ever since. Jamie is a senior account executive at WNKY 40, sharing her marketing acumen with the Down Syndrome of South Central Kentucky board of directors.
After accepting an invitation from Scott Essler to sit in on a committee meeting for the Pre-Derby Gala in early 2019, Jamie began volunteering her time with DSSKY. Her board service began in November 2019, and most recently she was elected to serve as vice president. Jamie also oversees the organization’s junior board of directors.
Jamie’s servant heart does not stop at DSSKY. She has served as the marketing chair for the area’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s organization since 2019 and volunteer coaches for Warren County Girls Youth Softball and Basketball leagues. Jamie is a group fitness instructor at Bowling Green Athletic Club, specializing in Dance Fit. Annually, she uses this platform to raise money for breast cancer awareness with a special class offering.
Jamie is a loving mother to two daughters, Addie and Lexie, and a partner to Nathan Conner. When she has spare time, Jamie enjoys making crafts and spending time with her beloved pups, Romeo and Wrigley.
Eric joined the Bowling Green Hot Rods in October 2013 has been in the role of Chief Operating Officer and General Manager since April 2016. He has spent a total of 17 seasons working in professional sports and has been awarded South Atlantic League Sales Executive of the year in 2007, and Midwest League Executive of the Year in 2019.
Prior to joining the Hot Rods, Eric and his wife Sunshine spent that time working in non-profit charity work in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and United States. During their time they worked with groups helping to provide medical clinics, hot meals, education, and construction projects to those in need.
Originally from Omaha, Nebraska. Eric attended Grace University there and received his degree in business leadership. He also has earned his Masters of Business Administration from Keller School of Management. He enjoys all things Nebraska including Cornhusker football and Creighton basketball. In addition to sports, he likes to spend time with his two children, Colton & Jaxson. He currently serves on the Board of Directors as Treasurer for two non-profits, Down Syndrome of South Central Kentucky and Lafwa, Inc.
Dr. Janice Carter Smith, Ph.D., CCC-SLP has served as Clinical Supervisor for nine years, full-time Graduate Faculty Member for 11 years, and Research Coordinator for five years in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Western Kentucky University. Her clinical, teaching, and research areas include research methods, assessment of problem-solving in children, language assessment and intervention strategies for children with complex communication needs, and development of critical analysis skills in college students. Dr. Smith received her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky. Go CATS!
Early Literacy Training – Early literacy training curriculum was developed with an emphasis on a concept called “dialogic reading” which has been found to be an effective way in improving early literacy skills with preschoolers who have complex diagnoses like Down’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorders. Dialogic reading is simply strategically engaging children in question answering and commenting during story reading experiences. Our curriculum provides multiple response options like saying an answer, signing, or selecting a picture symbol to represent an answer choice. The curriculum builds early literacy skills such as attending and listening, understanding key points in a story, building vocabulary, and responsiveness to questions.
Scott moved to Bowling Green in July 1997 from Northeast Ohio. He completed his BS degree in Business Management and Administration in 2010. Scott is a Supervisor and Training Manager with Paul Burrell Management, a company that operates 14 McDonald’s in Bowling Green and surrounding areas. He has 4 children and 3 grandchildren. David, his third child, has Down syndrome and is 29 years old. Scott has been actively involved with Down Syndrome of South Central Kentucky since 2003, serving as President for 9 of those years. During Scott’s leadership, we have seen amazing growth in our organization, and the opening of a headquarters for Down syndrome in south-central KY, The Buddy House. As an advocate and spokesperson for Down syndrome, Scott has had many opportunities to speak to businesses and organizations in the area and as a result, we have formed many partnerships and garnered much support for our programs and positive public awareness for those with Down syndrome.
Michele Ayers was born and raised in Bowling Green, KY. In 1997 she graduated from Greenwood High School. She then married the love of her life, Wade Ayers, and had 4 beautiful children and one grandson. She has been a stay at home mom raising her children as well as keeping her grandchild. Her youngest son, Aiden, is 5 yrs old and has Down Syndrome. In 2016 when Aiden was born, Michele became involved with the Buddy House. Roughly a year later, she became a proud Board Member of Down Syndrome of South Central Kentucky. She helps organize fundraisers and events to help spread awareness for individuals with Down Syndrome. She is excited to work along side with the board as well as members of the community to help DSSKY to continue to thrive and grow in every way possible.
Lara Ellison hails from sunny South Florida and moved to Bowling Green with her husband and two children 15 years ago. Lara is a lifelong supporter of individuals with DS, starting with her own little brother, Bruce Westfall, who was born with DS in 1976. From a young age she volunteered with Special Olympics of South Florida and the Challenger Little League. She also spent her summers volunteering at Bruce's summer school programs. What began as a sisterly devotion grew into Lara's career of choice when she graduated with her Master's degree from WKU in Exceptional Education (2013). She currently teaches Special Education at Plano Elementary school and is a proud Panther.
Upon moving to Bowling Green, Lara and her family discovered The Buddy House while searching for local services and supports for her brother. "Bruce found his people when we found the Buddy House. There was an instant family of friends and other caretakers who welcomed us with open arms." As a member of the board of directors for DSSKY, Lara hopes to use her passion for serving individuals with DS to improve the lives of all our members.
Samantha O’Leary moved to Bowling Green with her family in 2001. She is a 2009 graduate of Greenwood High School where she then continued her education at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. In college, she was a member of Best Buddies and the College Buddy Director for two years. She has a B.A. in Elementary Education with a dual certification in Learning and Behavior Disorders and a MAEd from Eastern Kentucky University in Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education. Samantha is a Buddy House volunteer, helping in many capacities over the years, with her primary involvement being the children’s mini-camp every summer.
Kyle Wolz, the Director of Sales, with the Bowling Green Hot Rods oversees the Hot Rods sales team and the selling of season tickets, mini-plans, and planning of the large company and group outings. Kyle, a native from Louisville, Kentucky, holds a bachelor’s degree in sports management from Western Kentucky University. In his free time, you can find him on the golf course working on his golf game and cheering for his favorite sports teams, the Louisville Cardinals, WKU Hilltoppers, and Tennessee Titans. Kyle has been involved with DSSKY since joining the Hot Rods!
Sarah Hickerson is a graduate of Greenwood High School and Western Kentucky University majoring in finance and business administration with a minor in economics. In her years at Greenwood, Sarah was able to cultivate meaningful relationships with several peers with Down Syndrome, which have led to long-term friendships. While at Western Kentucky University, Sarah was a member of Best Buddies International and went on to become college buddy director during her final year. Sarah has been involved with the Buddy House since 2013, volunteering mainly through adult fitness classes and art classes, taught alongside Samantha O’Leary for almost two years. Sarah and her husband currently reside in Goodlettsville, TN, where she works for Dollar General as a senior analyst in the demand chain.
Kaelyn has grown up in Bowling Green, Kentucky and is proud to call it home. However, she is currently attending Eastern Kentucky University, with plans to graduate in May 2021 with her Bachelor’s in Occupational Science. She then plans to attend graduate school to pursue a degree in occupational therapy. She has always had a passionate heart for children, especially those with Down syndrome. After graduation, she plans to return to Bowling Green and begin working in pediatrics. Kaelyn joined the junior board of Down Syndrome of South Central Kentucky in 2020, and is very excited to get involved in her community through advocating and supporting an organization that aligns with her values.
Abby Minnicks is a senior in Western Kentucky University’s exercise science program. She is a Bowling Green native and graduated from South Warren High School. While at South Warren, Abby had the opportunity to volunteer in her mother’s special education classroom at Rockfield Elementary School. Following her graduation, she attended Lindsey Wilson College where she played soccer for the Lady Raiders. Abby is soon going to attend Lincoln Memorial University in Knoxville where she will be pursuing her doctorate in occupational therapy. She’s new to the Buddy House, but she is excited to be a part of such a great organization!
My name is Jared Brewster, I am currently a junior in Western Kentucky University’s civil engineering program pursuing my bachelor’s degree graduating in 2022. After graduation, I plan to attend graduate school to obtain my master’s in civil engineering from the University of Tennessee. I am a Billings, MT native, but I moved to Kentucky and graduated from Campbellsville High School in Campbellsville, KY. While at Campbellsville High School, I had the opportunity to volunteer in my high school’s special education classroom and with residents of a local rehabilitation center. After high school, I attended Lindsey Wilson College where I was a member of the Blue Raiders bowling team for two seasons. I am new to the Buddy House, but I am excited to be a part of such a great organization!
Monica Ramsey is a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she majored in news/editorial journalism and minored in creative writing. A native of Paducah, Monica is a planner at the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County, Kentucky and also runs a baking business on the side. Monica still dabbles in writing, having published two short stories and several magazine articles in recent years. In her spare time, she enjoys running, reading, and volunteering with her church youth group. Monica and her husband live with their dog Zuzu in Plano.
Maureen Maupin is a graduate of Western Kentucky University and currently works as an IT Category Manager with Humana, overseeing a large portion of IT spend across the company. Maureen, a native of Grand Rapids, MI, moved to Bowling Green in 2012. In her free time, she loves to go camping in her 1989 Volkswagen Vanagon, play with her dog Lola and spend time with family and friends. Maureen currently resides in Plano, KY with her husband and dog. She is new to the DSSKY Junior Board, becoming a member in July 2020, but is looking forward to helping out her community in any way she can!
In accordance with CDC recommendations, we ask that anyone (5 & under not required) entering The Buddy House must be wearing a mask.
We care about the safety of all of our participants so we ask that if you, or a member of your family, have been sick or running a fever within the last 24 hours to please not enter the building.