The “digital divide” is the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” – those children who have computers and broadband access at home, and those who do not. Computers and broadband internet access at home and is a matter of concern of educators who more and more are requiring students have internet access to be able to do their homework, and parents who simply cannot afford it.

It’s also a concern to us here at Americans Helping Americans®.

To remedy that situation in Beattyville, Kentucky Americans HelpingAmericans® has launched a pilot project in partnership with Beattyville Elementary School and AT&T to help bridge the digital divide which exists in the community.

Over the Christmas holiday, and in many cases on Christmas day, about two dozen students unwrapped a big box containing a brand-new HP 20 All-in-One PC. The school system is licensed to install grade appropriate educational software to compliment what is taught in the classroom and AT&T has agreed to provide high-speed internet for less than $20 per month based on the family’s income.

Sherry Lanham, director of the Lee County Family Resource Center located in the school, oversees the program and selected only responsible parents who are available to monitor their children when they are using the computer at home.

For these fortunate two dozen children and their parents who could never afford to purchase a computer on their own, no matter how basic or relatively inexpensive, it was a Christmas they will never forget.

Among them was Crystal, an honor roll student whose parents both work and try to provide for her. The are supportive of her attending every school event and give back to their community through volunteer work, but are often overlooked because they never ask for anything.

“The parents and children were both in shock and disbelief that they were receiving such a gift,” reported Sherry.

Sisters Helen and Anna haven’t had it easy since their father was killed while serving in the armed forces in Iraq and their mother lost her job of 10 years after the company she was working for closed its doors.

“Christmas was a very difficult time,” commented Sherry, but the new computer brought a bit of joy into their life. “The girls loved the computer and as you can see by their smiles they are very happy.”

And then there’s Taylor, an honor roll student who became very close to his grandfather after his father left him and his mother when he was only a baby. However, despite being an excellent student and always remains positive, the unexpected sudden death of his grandfather hit him very hard.

“His one wish on his Christmas list was a computer,” said Sherry. “So when the mom told me about this I made sure he received one. His mom said this gift made their Christmas.”

Bridging the digital divide and providing enhanced educational opportunities for bright children eager to learn was only made possible through the compassion and generosity of people like you – the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®. The fact that it also granted Christmas wishes is icing on the cake.
 

In 2016, 1,371 individuals in Georgia and Kentucky benefited from Americans Helping Americans® emergency utility assistance program.

Not only did it mean hundreds of senior citizens and families with young children down on their luck were able to stay warm in their home on the coldest days of winter without have to choose whether to pay their electric bill or put food on the table, it also meant that they would be able to continue to live in their homes.

What we have learned working with our partners over the years is that our emergency utility assistance program actually prevents homelessness.

They have told us of the critical importance of the program by explaining that even if the rent is paid in full, landlords will evict tenants who have their utilities cut off fearing that pipes on their properties could freeze and burst in unheated apartments, as well as the belief that if they could not pay their electric bill that month, they may not be able to pay their rent the next.

We have even also been informed that parents could lose temporary custody of their children as state human services agencies will not allow children to remain in a home without utilities, and will take them and put them in foster care until the situation is remedied.

For most Americans, the thought of losing their home, or worse, their children, because of an unpaid electric bill – frequently less than $100 – is unimaginable.

But it happens.

However, thanks to people like you, hundreds last year and thousands more over the past decade not only have been able to keep warm in winter, but had those fears eliminated as well.

Such is the case with Ellen.

For example last winter we heard Ellen’s tale of woe when Joe, her four-legged companion and best friend, got sick and she chose to take her dog to the vet and then couldn’t pay her power bill.

But thanks to emergency utility grant assistance provided by Americans Helping Americans® to our partner in Gainesville, Georgia, Caring Hands Ministries, she and her dog were saved from certain eviction.

Ellen knows what would’ve happened if she could not come up with the $37 to pay her bill in full.

“They’d put me out and stick me in a home someplace with my diabetes and my breathing,” she told us. “I know what would happen to Joe too – a sick old dog, they’d kill him. He would never be adopted.

“But me and Joe we need each other,” Ellen added. “He wakes me up mornings and he is the reason I do get up.

“You saved two lives when you helped me with that power bill,” she said. “Somebody does care ‘bout an old woman and her dog.”

And Ellen, and her best friend, Joe, are just one example of how people like you who support Americans Helping Americans® makes a difference in the lives of many less fortunate every single day.

2016 has been a year to remember! Because of friends like you, so many smiled with joy.

  • In West Virginia, 412 veterans received food support; 85 children attended a summer enrichment camp; 34 children attended an afterschool program where they received one-on-one tutoring; and more.
  • In Georgia, 217 were warmed with our utility assistance program; 414 benefited from a food bank support program; 47 youth learned at a summer enrichment camp; and more.
  • In Tennessee, 14,459 meals were delivered to hungry children living in rural areas while school was out for the summer; 2,240 individuals benefited from food bank support and the “Neighborly Meals” program for the elderly and disabled, and more.
  • In Kentucky, 456 children received new pairs of shoes through our Barefeet Program; 23 youth participated in a Youth Leadership Training Program, and more.
  • Throughout Appalachia, 15,714 children and adults benefited from in-kind donations including backpacks filled with school supplies, winter coats and accessories, blankets, and holiday and summer food distributions.

Watch the video to see all this, and more, that you have helped make possible.

At Americans Helping Americans® we understand the great need for preventative dental care for children, beginning when they are able to hold a toothbrush and brush their teeth themselves.

In Appalachia, that’s too often not the case.

Now, we are proud to announce that we will be implementing our “Mighty Molars” program this fall, providing children and youth with dental kits, complete with toothbrushes, a three-month supply of toothpaste and dental floss picks to thousands of children throughout Appalachia in the coming year.

The statistics regarding oral health in Appalachia are staggering: in Kentucky, almost half of children ages 2 to 4 years old already have untreated cavities caused by drinking large quantities of sugary soft drinks and no preventative dental care.

In October, the Lexington, KY Herald-Leader newspaper reported that “Half of Eastern Kentucky children have untreated tooth decay,” and the problem is getting worse, not better.

In Eastern Kentucky, 53 percent of the third and sixth graders examined in 2016 had at least one untreated cavity amounting to about 15,100 children in immediate need of a filling.mighty-molar-kit-29-copy

And barely half of Kentucky children entering a public kindergarten during the 2014-15 school year had a documented dental screening or exam, although that’s supposed to be a requirement for admission.

Kentucky also has the highest proportion of adults under 65 without teeth because they did not learn good dental hygiene and develop good dental habits beginning with when they were children and now they are paying the price.

At Americans Helping Americans® we know it doesn’t have to be that way and that’s why we initiated our Mighty Molars program which is designed to instill good dental practices in the youngest of children so that six decades from now they will still have all of their teeth.

Our first partner in the program will be the Lee Family Resource Center, located in the Beattyville Elementary School, in Lee County, Kentucky. The town of Beattyville has been dubbed by The New York Times as one of the “hardest” places to live in the country, while the county is defined as one of 84 out of 420 counties in Appalachia as “distressed” by Appalachian Regional Commission.

For the vast majority of parents in the U.S., tooth brushes, toothpaste and regular dental checkups are a basic necessity for their children – but they can afford it. For the parents of the thousands of children in Appalachia who have never been to a dentist, rarely if ever brush their teeth and drink sugary sodas on a daily basis, dental care is not a “basic necessity” but an “unaffordable luxury” when rent and utilities have to be paid and food put on the table.

We will be providing hundreds of “Mighty Molar” kits to the Family Resource Center, as well as to the our long-time partner in McDowell County, West Virginia, which operates an after-school program throughout the year and camps when school is out for the summer.

In fact, West Virginia fares no better than Kentucky as having the highest proportion of adults over 65 without teeth, as well having one of the lowest percentages of adults who visit a dentist at least once a year.

And other statistics are just as disturbing, with two-thirds of children having cavities by age 8, and by the same age, only 37 percent have received protective sealants. In addition, a third- of 15-year-olds have untreated decay.

For years, we have having been providing assistance to senior citizens who have already lost their teeth by working with our partners in Appalachia and compassionate dentists who charge deeply discounted prices for dentures.

Now we are pleased that we be able to offer preventative care for the children of Appalachia in our mission to help them keep their teeth for their lifetime by building a sound foundation of tooth care today.

At Americans Helping Americans® we understand the great need for preventative dental care for children, beginning when they are able to hold a toothbrush and brush their teeth themselves.

In Appalachia, that’s too often not the case.

Now, we are proud to announce that we will be implementing a ‘Smiles’ program, providing children and youth with dental kits, complete with toothbrushes, a three-month supply of toothpaste and dental floss picks to thousands of children throughout Appalachia in the coming year.

The statistics regarding oral health in Appalachia are staggering: in Kentucky, almost half of children ages 2 to 4 years old already have untreated cavities caused by drinking large quantities of sugary soft drinks and no preventative dental care.

Kentucky also has the highest proportion of adults under 65 without teeth.

West Virginia fares no better as having the highest proportion of adults over 65 without teeth, as well having one of the lowest percentages of adults who visit a dentist at least once a year.

And other statistics are just as disturbing, with two-thirds of children having cavities by age 8, and by the same age, only 37 percent have received protective sealants. In addition, a third- of 15-year-olds have untreated decay.

For years, we have having been providing assistance to senior citizens who have already lost their teeth by working with our partners in Appalachia and compassionate dentists who charge deeply discounted prices for dentures.

Now we are pleased that we be able to offer preventative care for the children of Appalachia in our mission to help them keep their teeth for their lifetime by building a sound foundation of tooth care today.

 

 

The Lee County, Kentucky, Family Resource Center (FRC) operates out of the Beattyville Elementary School, located in what The New York Times lists as one of the “hardest” places to live in the United States.

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This Lee County boy is very proud of his box of school supplies.

What that means is the unemployment and poverty rates are well above the national average, drug use is rampant and for children growing up in this county defined as “distressed” by the Appalachian Regional Commission, life is truly hard.

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Boys and girls and their parents crowded into the school to pick out their backpacks and school supplies.

But thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® and our partnership with the FRC hundreds of Beattyville students had big smiles on their faces at the school’s recent “Readifest” event and received backpacks filled with school supplies – everything they need to get off to a successful new school year.

The event is organized each year by FRC director Sherry Lanham, who told us that crowds were gathered early that day for the back-to-school event, with some lining up at 11 p.m. the night before and standing outside all night until the doors opened the next morning at 9 a.m.

Among the recipients of school supplies this year is Troy, a special needs boy being raised by his grandparents who are on a very limited income. “He was so thrilled to receive his school supplies,” said Sherry. “He told me and the school counsel that now he would have supplies ‘just like all the other kids.’”

Another family who benefited from receiving school supplies had just been hit by a drunk driver, leaving both parents out of work for at least several months and wheelchair-bound.

“This family had never asked for help in the past, but were so grateful this year,” Sherry reported. “They said the school kits were ‘a big blessing.’”

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These two grandmothers were almost in tears when they saw all that the children were getting.

LaShawna, a young girl with purple hair, wanted a backpack to match her hair color “and thanks to Americans Helping Americans® we were able to make sure that happened,” Sherry said.

Courtney was very happy because blue is her favorite color and she got exactly the color she wanted. “Her dad just lost his job and her family was very worried about school supplies,” Sherry told us. “The backpack was a major help to them.

FRC sends out a needs survey to parents at the beginning of the school year.

“We received over 500 responses and more than 75 percent mentioned the school kits and how wonderful they were. One little boy even said on Readifest day, the kit was the best thing he had ever received.”

For want of a pencil, the boy was unable take notes in class. For want of notes, the boy didn’t understand the lesson and couldn’t do his homework. For want of homework, he received a failing grade. For want a passing grade, the boy felt a failure and gave up on school.

All for the want of a pencil.

With acknowledgement to Benjamin Franklin who included the original proverb in his Poor Richard’s Almanac, the message is as true today as it was in the 1700s.

For a child, the seemingly smallest of things – such as the lack of a pencil and paper to be able to do their school work – is not insignificant, it can have a lasting impact on their life.

For thousands of children in Appalachia, it is tragic that they will go through a similar heartbreaking experience on their first day of school when they arrive in class without the supplies they need to be able to do their schoolwork.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Right now, we are working to distribute a total of 1,250 backpacks filled to the brim with school supplies for elementary school children and 500 junior high students so they are ready, willing, and ABLE to do their classwork on the very first day of the new school year.

 

Spring is in the Air: But Summer Camps Are Approaching Fast

It’s only April and flowers are just beginning to bloom and the first of the year’s leaves are appearing in the trees.

And it won’t be long before summer’s here, schools out and millions of American children will be spending carefree days playing in their yards, swimming in pools, going on family vacations and going to summer camp.

But for thousands of children in places such as War, West Virginia, Beattyville, Kentucky, Johnson City, Tennessee, and Cleveland and Gainesville, Georgia, the days are anything but carefree.

When school is out, these children aren’t guaranteed a nutritious breakfast and lunch like they get at school – they’re lucky if there’s some peanut butter, jelly and a loaf of bread in the house. The days can be filled with hunger and boredom.

But in these communities, thanks to supporters of Americans Helping Americans® there will hundreds of children who will be able to spend a week at a summer camp where they be sure of getting nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day, participate in some educational activities so they don’t forget in the summer what they learned in school – but, perhaps most importantly – simply have fun being a kid with, for a time at least, without a worry in the world.

Appalachian Outreach Kids Club

In Jefferson City, Appalachian Outreach (AO) has been able to provide a summer camp for children at the Cherokee Housing Authority where they attend a four-day-per-week summer camp where volunteers provide them with a safe environment and structured activities.

AO Executive Director Jean-Ann Washam says that as a result of funding received from Americans Helping Americans® they are able to provide a summer camp for the children in the low-income public housing project, as well as those living in Samaritan House, a shelter for homeless single women and families which serves an average of 55 families each year, totaling about 115 individuals.

Said one Kids Club volunteer, who had been doing Kids Club this summer with AO last summer, “Our last day was last week and it was a bittersweet time. I enjoyed building relationships with the kids and my coworkers.

“The kids enjoyed the summer and learned a lot. I hope I have the opportunity to do this again next summer. Thank you.”

 

Caring Hands Ministries

In Cleveland, Caring Hands Ministries was able to send some children in foster care to Camp Appalachia that transformed the life of one little girl – she made friends.

Prior to entering foster care, her mother would never let her go out and play.

“I always had to come in and take care of her children, clean the house, try to make supper – and get yelled at,” she says. “I was not allowed to talk to kids at school ‘cause she said I’d tell the stuff.

“Then I’d get in trouble and got detention because I didn’t talk and couldn’t do my homework if it asked about your family,” she added.

Her foster mother noted that the girl suffered physical abuse at home as well.

But being able to attend Camp Appalachia transformed this girl’s life.

“I never had a friend before,” she says.

Her foster mother says that the girl not only had fun at camp but the change has been lasting in that she is more open to talk to her and her social worker since talking to her new friends she made at camp and to the Caring Hands program director.

“She has continued at least one friendship with a girl from camp into the school year,” reported Caring Hands Executive Director Ann Fleming.

 

L.A.M.P. Ministries

In Gainesville, a 12-year-old boy was given the choice in juvenile court – juvenile detention or L.A.M.P. Ministries. The boy chose L.A.M.P. Ministries which was able to send him to camp.

“He needed the positive influence, the chance to learn new ways of living, make new friends who were not on the fringes of a gang, have good food, learn teamwork and cooperation and change the way he saw himself,” reported L.A.M.P. Ministries Executive Director Mary Mauricio.

Mary explained that the boy lives with his grandmother who “wants to do right by her grandchildren” but to support them she leaves home to be at work at a chicken plant at 6 a.m., then cleans stores after work so she is not with them much.

“The area in which they live has a lot of bullying, a lot of gang activity and gang ‘wanna-be’s’,” she said “His friend dared him to steal some CDs to prove he could be tough, or otherwise he would get beaten up.

“He did it, and got caught.”

The boy skipped school a lot last year, but since attending camp his attendance is good. He has also joined L.A.M.P. Ministries’ youth program where he has developed a much better attitude. In addition, he has become very concerned and protective about his younger sister.

“He wants her to avoid the problems he has given himself,” Mary said. “He recognizes that it was his choices, not something he had to do, and that is a very big realization.”

“He has not been in trouble again,” Mary added.

Spring is in the Air: But Summer Camps Are Approaching Fast

It’s only April and flowers are just beginning to bloom and the first of the year’s leaves are appearing in the trees.

And it won’t be long before summer’s here, schools out and millions of American children will be spending carefree days playing in their yards, swimming in pools, going on family vacations and going to summer camp.

But for thousands of children in places such as War, West Virginia, Beattyville, Kentucky, Johnson City, Tennessee, and Cleveland and Gainesville, Georgia, the days are anything but carefree.

When school is out, these children aren’t guaranteed a nutritious breakfast and lunch like they get at school – they’re lucky if there’s some peanut butter, jelly and a loaf of bread in the house. The days can be filled with hunger and boredom.

But in these communities, thanks to supporters of Americans Helping Americans® there will hundreds of children who will be able to spend a week at a summer camp where they be sure of getting nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day, participate in some educational activities so they don’t forget in the summer what they learned in school – but, perhaps most importantly – simply have fun being a kid with, for a time at least, without a worry in the world.

 

Big Creek People in Action “Super WHY” Literacy Camps

In War, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA) operates “Super WHY” literacy camps co-sponsored with the West Virginia Public Broadcasting System based on the educational PBS kids’ show “Super WHY”. In 2015, Americans Helping Americans® financially supported four one-week camps in four different communities in McDowell County, serving a total of 57 different children, according to BCPIA co-executive director Marsha Timpson.

For those unfamiliar with the TV program, each character in the show has their own special reading powers: Alpha Pig has alphabet power; Princess Presto has spelling power; Wonder Red has word power; and Super Why has the power to read – putting together all the other powers to create sentences.

At the camps, children watch one episode daily with each day focusing on a specific “Super Reader” and their superpower. Activities, crafts and fun learning games are done that day that each relate to the character of the day.

“On Thursday, toward the end of the camp, I would let each child take a turn telling the group who their favorite super reader was and pick one favorite activity or game from the whole week of activities,” said Marsha. “On Friday, after watching the episode, the children chose which super reader they would transform into and the activities, crafts and games varied because they were chosen by the children from their favorites of that week’s camp.”

And then, the highlight of many of the camp, “One of the four characters also makes an appearance on Fridays.”

 

R.J.’s Story

Among the 57 children who attended BCPIA’s) four summer reading and literacy camps last summer, a four year-old little boy named R.J. stands out.

R.J. was among the children who attended the first week of camp.

“He was so excited and had such a thirst for knowledge that you can’t help but notice how eager he is to learn,” said Marsha. “His participation was outstanding on every activity and his mom said he was always rushing her out the door to make sure he was not going to be late and miss anything going on.”

R.J. is a bright young man who knew most of his alphabet letters, but was so excited to be learning the sounds that went with each of the ten specific letters they worked on that week, said Marsha.

“His mother told me how he would go home every day and practice the sounds and activities we had done that day and explain everything to the family in detail,” she said.

On the last day of camp, R.J. heard Marsha tell his mom the locations of the three camps to follow to which “with a huge smile on his face, and in his eyes, he informed his mother that he would be attending all of the reading camps until they were finished for the year.”

She told him that the others were too far away, but assured him that he would be able to come back next year.

“He let her know that he REALLY wanted to go, no matter how far they to go to get there,” Marsha said.

But, it was not to be. R.J. understood that if his mother had taken him to the other camps, she would not have been able to make it to work on time.

“Now, every time I see R.J. out at the grocery store or convenience store where his mom works, he is sure to ask me I am still sure that we will have a Super Why camp next year,” Marsha said. “Then he tells me how sorry he is that he did not make it to the other three camps of this year.

“Then I get a big ‘Bear Hug’ and he tells me he can’t wait until camp next year.”