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Paducah at its Best

story by Mountain Workshops

For one week in late October, more than 70 visual journalists descended on McCracken County taking an un-nerving look at the place and people that call this river community home.

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Heather Harrington, an employee at the McCracken County Humane Society, comforts a sedated dog before it's spayed. A nonprofit organization in Paducah that has been in operation for more than 60 years, the Humane Society spays and neuters all animals before putting them up for adoption.

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After three years living in Kentucky, Kalkidan receives her vaccines. Although initially excited for her shots, she shrieks in fear while her mother, Kelly Walden, attempts to comfort her while holding her arm in place.

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Rene Voss, 46, and her granddaughter, Aiyla Voss, 4, "Eskimo kiss" as they enjoy a sunny afternoon.

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Maddie Ybarzabal helps Nina Brown with her earrings before the halftime homecoming festivities at Paducah Tilghman High School. Nina and Maddie are both candidates for homecoming queen.

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Isaac Medley pulls a railroad spike from his forge. He is making it into a knife. Coal is hard to come by, so he is able to blacksmith only when his uncle brings some to him.

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"Go on now and sulk," Jean Thetford, 78, says to great-grandson Bentley Francis, 3, when he becomes frustrated during playtime outside her home in Paducah. "I don't actually need this," she said, gesturing to the wheelchair. "It's easy to roll out here to sit in." She watches Bentley most days of the week. "I'm the one who's always there," she says. "I'm pretty sure the influence he gets here is better than any of the other places."

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Tomago Wilks, 11, (far left), plays pickup basketball with friends while his sister, Johnice, 13, watches from the front stoop of the family's home on the north side of Paducah. The kids can often be found playing in the streets after school lets out.

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Jane and Manny Lanzos of Summit Hill, Pennsylvania, take in the sunset by the Paducah riverfront. Their trips usually involve flying to destinations in Europe. But this year they opted for a roadtrip through Kentucky so they could bring Chiclette, their chihuahua. "We promised her this vacation," Jane says.

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On a night like every other in their household, Raegan Cochran 6, her mother, Ashley Haney, her father, Matt Haney, and sister Landyn Haney, 3, pray before going to sleep. The family had just arrived back from a Wednesday night church service at Faith Baptist Church in Wickliffe. Matt dove into religion while in rehab for a methamphetamine addiction in 2007. "You can change no matter who you are or what you are," he says. "Your past doesn't define you."

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Avery Strayhorn, a sophomore at Paducah Tilghman High School, relaxes while receiving a pre-homecoming trim from Ron Brisbon in Big Mike's Barber Shop. With the football game and dance approaching the next night, students kept Big Mike's barbers working until long after dark. "You've got to look spiffy for your date," Avery says.

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Elder Billy Keeling (second from left) leads the Paducah chapter of Bikers for Christ in a prayer before Bible study. The group is meeting in the John Wesley Neighborhood Center, founded in 2015 by Sherry Golightly, that residents of the Littlefield area use for worship.

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Vaysa Burton, 55, a transgender woman living in Paducah, uses dish soap instead of shampoo. "It does the same thing," she says.

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Paducah Tilghman alumnus Kevin Pascal (left), a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Kurt pray for the school football team after practice.

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Sister Lucy Bonifas, 78, prepares a bouquet of flowers grown in her backyard before delivering them to the chapel of Lourdes Hospital in Paducah, where she worked from 1969 until April 2016. Though she recently retired, Sister Lucy, a member of Sisters of Saint Francis, still visits the hospital every week to deliver fresh flowers and talk to patients. "God speaks to me through flowers," says Sister Lucy. "He surprises me with his gifts, with the beauty and love he brings."

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Ajaya Jones, 4, offers a bite of cake to her friend, Jaiceeyon Ellison, 2, while eating with Jaiceeyon's mother, Alicia Ellison, in the Paducah Community Kitchen, a few blocks from Mikia's place. Alicia, 24, who grew up nearby, says the Community Kitchen, with its free meals, is one of her favorite places. "I live right here in this area," she says. "There's a lot of people who depend on it every day, and there's a lot of people who come to it for a social hour, too."

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Matt Soltys, 30, is a partial owner of Knuckle-Up Tattoo Co. and a piercer and tattoo artist at the business. "I occasionally get weird looks if I'm going out, but it doesn't affect me anymore," Matt says. "People in Paducah can be small-minded." He had "Foresaken" tattooed on his knuckles when he was going through a rough time in his life and wanted to take back control.

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Charlie Nichols interacts with customers through the kitchen window in Nichols' Worth Diner, which has been in his family for more than 35 years. He knows most of his customers by name.

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Jean and Tom Thetford try to calm their great-grandson during a Friday night dinner outing at Texas Roadhouse in Paducah. Jean says that the instability of the situation has been difficult for Bentley but that they have done everything in their power to try to raise him well. "I'm pretty sure the influence he gets here is better than any of the other places," Jean says.

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Bambi Fox ends a long day of taking care of racehorses, visiting clients and practicing for a Saturday banjo performance by reading. "If I could, I would spend all day reading," she says.

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Sandy Lipford, 59, watches as her students, from left, Kristin Kimmel, 14, Grace Burch, 14, Abbie Peck, 13, and Abbie Smith, 17, ride past after a short trail ride at Sandy Creek Stables. Sandy teaches girls from 7 to 16 how to ride horses in several different styles as well as how to care for the animals at her stables on the outskirts of Paducah.

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Howard, who didn't want to give his last name, is a regular at Nichols' Worth Diner and a good friend of the owner, Charlie Nichols.

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Kenji Hasegawa, 7, lies in his mother's lap as she reads him a book about Japanese artist Hokusai. When Kenji asked his mother how Hokusai became such a successful artist, she poked his cheek with her pencil and said, "Discipline, Kenji!"

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Michael Wray plays with his 1-year-old daughter, Kylee, after coming home from his jobs as a CrossFit trainer and a law enforcement officer. His time with Kylee is one of those moments "you try to hang on to," he says.