“Like mother, like daughter” is a saying that holds true for Shannan Rome.
Rome grew up in Berea where her mother, Judy Martin, ran a non-profit agency in called Appalachian Communities for Children.
“I chose a career in Social Work largely due to my mom’s influence,” Rome said. “I knew I wanted to spend my career doing something meaningful and impactful like she did.”
After graduating high school in 1993, Rome went to Berea College for two years, then finished up her degree in social work at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. She earned a master’s degree at the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work.
For the majority of her career, she has worked with children and families. Her career started with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program where she made matches between volunteers and children from single parent homes, as well as ran a school-based mentoring program.
After two years there, she came to Frankfort to be the first director of The King’s Center in 2000, a position she held for a year.
“We were very proud to develop programs that gave children in the community new experiences and extra support,” she said.
In 2001, her son Benjamin was born and she decided to be a stay-at-home mom to raise him and her daughter Leah. After a few years, she went back to work for the Friend of the Court, teaching divorce education classes. She also served as co-director at People Understanding Special Handicaps (PUSH), a developmental preschool, and with the Sunshine Center as a grant writer.
In 2008, she went to work for the Franklin County Health Department as a part time medical social worker in the Home Health Agency. In 2011, she began working for the departments Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS) program and four years ago she became full time when she became the HANDS program manager.
Rome is married to Nathan Rome. Their son Benjamin is a freshman at the University of Louisville and their daughter Leah is a junior at Frankfort High School.
FRANK.: What do you like about working with the HANDS program?
Rome: The HANDS program is a perfect fit for me. The program supports young families with weekly home visits during their prenatal period through their child’s second birthday. Home visitors give families information on child development milestones, bonding, brain growth and language development, as well as support with their goals for their children and their family.
We teach parents how to support their child’s emotional health and how play with their baby to teach them new skills and have fun together. The program is very positive and supportive, which are my favorite things about it. It is my strong opinion that investing our time and money into families at this stage in their lives is the most valuable and important thing with could do as a society.
I have seen first hand how encouragement and information helps families become stronger and more self-sufficient. Information is power, and families who have HANDS have children who are better prepared for their own futures.
FRANK.: Are you involved in any other organizations in Frankfort?
Rome: In addition to working in HANDS, I work at the health department’s needle exchange program one afternoon a week. I love this program as well. I think in general it is easy to misunderstand its purpose, but the program is evidence-based and shows clear results. We are able to actively prevent the spread of disease and protect our entire community from improperly disposed of needles.
It also gives us a chance to reach out to a disenfranchised population of drug users and help them to get into treatment programs when they are ready. Being a kind person to people who aren’t used to kindness makes me feel like I am doing something positive with my time.
I also volunteer on several community agency boards, including the Sunshine Center, Bluegrass Community Action Partnership and Franklin County ASAP (Agency on Substance Abuse Policy). Serving on a board of directors is satisfying because it keeps me fresh on referral sources in my community, helps me make connections to other professionals, and also lets me give back something to agencies that help so many people in Frankfort.
In addition to the boards that my work supports me in, I am involved with the Frankfort Interfaith Council, as a member of the Baha’i Faith. This council is made up of a diverse group of lay-people from varying religions represented in Frankfort. We meet monthly, have a guest speaker from the community at large, and plan for events that support interfaith principles. My favorite thing about the interfaith council is making friends with people from various backgrounds and learning about their faiths.
In a time where the 24-hour news cycle is beyond depressing, the council gives me a refreshing outlet for connection, unity and understanding.
FRANK.: If you had unlimited resources and could start any program in Frankfort that you could, what would it be and why?
Rome: I would want a program that would allow for all parents to have 6 months of paid maternity/paternity leave. I think giving parents, especially mothers, at least the first six months to bond with their new baby would have huge benefits to all. Of course some parents are ready to go back to work sooner than that and should definitely do what is the best fit for their family, but I think many parents want to stay home longer and can’t afford it. As a country, if we supported parents in having time to devote to getting to know their baby, having a more regular sleep schedule before having to return to work, encouraging longer periods of breastfeeding and having less stress in early parenting, we would be doing our citizens a huge service. Having a baby is wonderful and exciting. It’s also exhausting and can be very stressful. We should be supporting young families to have everything they need to raise happy, healthy children, starting with the earliest days of their lives.
FRANK.: What do you like about living in Frankfort?
Rome: I am so grateful to live in Frankfort. I live in South Frankfort and wouldn’t want to be any other place. I love it because it feels like a close-knit and diverse community.
I love being able to walk to restaurants, the library, my friends houses and just to be out in the beautiful combination of the river valley and downtown.
I am so glad my kids have been able to attend Frankfort Independent Schools. It has been the best place for both of them because the system supports their individual needs and gives them opportunities they probably wouldn’t have in a bigger system. It is a really unique place. My husband is an alum and that makes it even more special for us.
I also love that so many people in my family live here. Most of my husband’s siblings, his parents (when they aren’t serving as volunteers in Africa) and my mom all live in the same town and that is really a blessing.
FRANK.: What do you say to people to try encourage them to get involved with their community?
Rome: If someone new moved here and asked how they could get involved, I would have a lot to tell them. There are so many opportunities in Frankfort — given that it still has a small town feel. My mom moved to Frankfort from Berea several years ago and was able to immediately plug in to different interests and volunteer experiences, such as at the library and history center.
Because I work in the non-profit field, I would recommend getting connected to some of our wonderful social service agencies. There are ways to do this on big and small levels. For example, someone could volunteer at the thrift store that supports the Franklin County Humane Society once a week. Or, if time doesn’t allow, there are many events that take place just once a year, like the Thanksgiving Day Walk to support the men’s homeless shelter or the Blues Festival for the Sunshine Center.
FRANK.: When you’re not working or volunteering, what do you like to do? Any hobbies?
Rome: I love spending time with my kids but they don’t need me as much as when they were little. This gives me more time to do things that I enjoy, like, reading, working in my garden, being with friends and being with my husband Nathan. We still have lots of family activities that keep us busy, especially because Leah is an active teenager, but I think in the future we will step up our traveling game.
We both want to spend more time going places we haven’t been yet. This summer we went on a big trip to the Grand Canyon — a first for me and the kids. That was pretty amazing.
I also love going back to Berea. My father was a green builder there and built the house I grew up in. We lost him suddenly, several years ago, but still have that house, plus, another he built, and going there makes me really happy.
I get to see my sister and her kids there twice a year, as well as share the houses with friends other times, which I am truly grateful to be able to do. We run both of them as Airbnb rentals and Nathan does the lion’s share of the work on this, which makes it possible for us to keep these special places for our family.