Donations In Action

FALL 2006

In 15-years of marriage Churchill Downs Chaplain had never once asked his wife to provide a speaking topic for his church service, but earlier this year he felt led to do just that. Natalie, who teaches school, reminded him it was back to school season and suggested he speak on “A New Beginning.”

Chaplain Ken prayed and studied the topic in the Bible then spoke at his usual Tuesday evening backstretch service that traditionally attracts over 100 workers. After the talk, he felt the Spirit leading him to ask all to close their eyes and raise their hand if they wanted a “new beginning in Christ.”

The next day a worker we’ll call John walked into his office after training hours. “He told me that I saved his life last night,” Boehm remembers. “I told him that Christ saved his life when he died on the cross for him 2,000 years ago.”

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June 2006

      When Hurricane Katrina slashed New Orleans, long time track worker August LaFrance, 65, decided to stay in his house in the city’s lower Ninth Ward. Known as “Meat” to his racetrack friends, he and his late brother Lester had worked on the track nearly all their lives. August grew up in the house and had lived there permanently since he began working on the Fair Ground Racetrack maintenance crew. With the hurricane bearing down, he could have left with his son Kevin, but he wanted to protect his family home.
      “I stayed in the house until the last minute,” he said. “But when the water got to 10-feet a friend came over in a boat to get me. I thank God I made it through.”

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Hurricane Katrina had hardly passed over Shreveport, Louisiana, when Louisiana Downs Chaplain, Jimmy Sistruck, knew he was about to lean on God in a new way.

The state’s racing community-his congregation-had been brutalized and his call would be to help resurrect their shattered lives.

In an act of faith, he delivered the backstretch thrift store contents to the local Red Cross. He rearranged the track chapel offices to make room for the state’s Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association staff, whose New Orleans office had been destroyed. He gave his own office to Dr. Fred Willis, who provided medical aid to the evacuees.

Gathering volunteers from the backstretch, his council and local churches, he helped set up and man a backstretch storage room. His team of volunteers unloaded and stored tractor-trailer shipments of horse related items and again loaded them onto smaller trucks for shipment into the devastated area. When track owner, Harrah’s, used the track’s Courtyard Sales Pavilion to house some 100   workers evacuated from their New Orleans Casino, he visited it daily to answer questions, make referrals, provide transportation, counsel, pray and offer hope.

As horse persons made their way to Shreveport, he and his team helped them find local shelters and fill out HBPA and FEMA paperwork. Evacuees seeking spiritual strength swelled his weekly trackside church services, which already attracted over 100 persons. “At one of the earlier services, one lady on our team had bought a lot of Walmart gift cards and gave them out,” he recalls. “It was a tough night and all of us wept and cried and we gathered around all the evacuees and prayed for them. That night I ministered on “You Can Dream Again” because the Lord had told me to speak into their heart that despite all that happened to them, they could dream again.”

One evening he led a team of track volunteers to Shreveport’s Hurst Coliseum where some 1,500 evacuees were taking shelter. They met a young boy who said he had lost contact with his mother and didn’t know if she were still alive. They hugged and prayed with the boy and during Chaplain Jimmy’s regular pre-race devotional in the Jockeys Room the next day, he enlisted the riders to pray daily that the boy would find his mother. “

When we went back to the coliseum the next Saturday night, the little boy told us his mother had been found,” he said. “When I told the jockeys, they were all fired up that God had answered their prayers. It was a faith building experience for us all.”

Officials at the track say Chaplain Jimmy’s help was invaluable.“ So many people are so confused about what their future looks like, they need a lot of help,” said Louisiana HBPA executive Director, Mona Romero. “He’s done a fabulous job of taking care of people.”

Ray Tromba, the track’s Vice President of Racing, said that tracks and chaplains deal with a lot of the same issues, especially during a crisis. “He was everything he needed to be and more in working with people who were despondent and those that needed time to grieve,” Tromba said. “I can’t say enough about the man.”