Summer time comes and students get a break to turn back into kids and explore their world around them. We remember when we were children, spending a few weeks at summer camp, making new friends, staying active, continue learning in a nontraditional classroom, one that is outside with life being the teacher.

Here are some of our summer days, and some of those summer days for the children of Appalachia that you help to create.

Many children in Appalachia don’t have summers filled with carefree bike riding or playing with their friends. It’s usually a time of boredom, isolation, and loneliness.
 
In McDowell County, West Virginia our partner, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA), run free literacy and math camps throughout the summer.
 
 
Fun activities for children are important, but children lose some of what they learned in school during the summer break.
 
For example, Sarah attended a BCPIA summer literacy camp last year. According to Rosy Moore, a summer camp assistant, when Sarah arrived the Monday first day of camp, she hardly knew any of the alphabets. By the end of the week, Sarah knew all the letters, make the sounds, and sing the songs with the letters.
 
We are proud to be a part of Sarah’s education, and hundreds of others like her by being able to support summer camp programs like BCPIA’s literacy camp.
 
You helped make it possible for Sarah to learn her ABCs and even before her first day of school develop what will become a life-long love of learning.
 
 

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.
 

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.

 

Beattyville, Kentucky has the dubious distinction of being the poorest “white” town in the United States, according to a recent report in The Guardian newspaper.

Of communities of more than 1,000 people, Beattyville is among the four lowest income towns in the country, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of 2008-2012, the latest statistics available.

Beattyville’s median household income is just $12,361, placing it as the third lowest income town in the US, according to the Census Bureau survey.

To help address the needs of impoverished children in this hard-hit community, described by The New York Times as one of the “hardest” places to live in America, Americans Helping Americans® has been partnering with the Lee County Family Resource Center to provide shoes to children who show up at the Beattyville Elementary School with worn out shoes many sizes too big, or wearing flip flops in the dead of winter.

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This year, Americans Helping Americans® is planning to take on another project in partnership with the Family Resource Center – ensuring children don’t go hungry over the weekend during the school year.

Family Resource Center director Sherry Lanham explained that within the past two years, two of the community’s largest employers – a factory and a prison – have closed resulting in hundreds of people being put out of work, in addition to the high unemployment rate which had already existed before the closings.

More than 80 percent of the children at the school qualify for free lunch, with another 10 percent qualifying for reduced-price lunch, according to Lanham.

“Many of our children come to school hungry in the mornings and on Monday several ask for extra food,” she said.

Through its weekend food program, the Family Resource Center serves between 50 and 75 children depending on need, which varies as families move in and out of the country.

Each Friday afternoon, sacks are filled with items that students can open themselves, are non-perishable and don’t require cooking such as Pop Tarts, Vienna sausages, chips, cereal bars, graham crackers, cereal bowls, Rice Krispies treats, cheese and crackers, snack cakes, Jell-O cups and other items.

In addition, Lanham said they also try to send home left over cereal, milk, juice, etc., from the school lunchroom.

“If the children do not get the food items, they will have limited food for the weekend or holiday breaks,” Lanham said. “Also, during bad weather and snow days students need extra food.

“The end of the month is especially hard because families do not have food stamps left and food runs out,” she added.

Children who are hungry obviously cannot do well in school.

“If children do not have enough food, their brains cannot function and they cannot learn,” Lanham said. “Also, if they are hungry they look for a way to relieve that including stealing and lying to get the food they need.

“Children who are hungry cannot learn in class and are often disruptive to the entire school,” she commented.

Lanham noted that children who are hungry either at school or at home are not worried about homework or school work.

“They are worried about their next meal and everything else is unimportant.”

Lanham said she frequently has children coming to her Friday morning and asking “Do I get food this weekend?”

Children are also anxious to see how much food is in their bag so they can prepare it for the weekend.

“We have children who say they put their food under the bed and share it with siblings and make it last the entire weekend,” she said. “We had one small boy who would try and save part of his school lunch to take home to his sister. We gave him extra food for his sister and he was very happy.”

She also has children who are leaving elementary school to attend middle school expressing concern about what will happen to them and wondering if they will still get food to take home for the weekend.

The short term goal of the weekend food program is to get food in the hands of children in need for that weekend.

“The long term goal is to show the families that we care and want to help and encourage them to come to us for help,” she said. “We also want to hook them up with any resources we can find for food.

“The primary and long term goal is to make sure children are not HUNGRY!”

 

For many children in Appalachia, the summer break is not a fun-filled vacation with trips to Disneyland and hanging out with friends at the local swimming pool every day.

For too many, it’s weeks of not getting the nutritious meals they receive when school is in session, and boredom with nothing to do on the long summer days, and perhaps even loneliness and isolation in their rural home with no opportunity to play with school friends.

But thanks to Americans Helping Americans® partners in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and elsewhere there were hundreds of children for whom this summer was a different story.

These children attended free summer camps held by our partners, and supported by Americans Helping Americans®, so they didn’t have to worry about when their next meal would be, or how they would occupy their time all day.

They played educational games (having fun and learning without even realizing it) so that what they learned in the classroom last spring would not be forgotten by the time fall rolls around. They went on field trips to places they would never be able to visit without the camps.

But perhaps most importantly, they made new friends, learned from mentors and role models that there are adults who care deeply about their well-being, and forged memories that will last a lifetime.

Before the Fourth of July, many parents in Rogersville, Tennessee were already thinking about the upcoming school year. Not that they would be glad to have their kids back in class and no longer underfoot at home, but worrying how they would outfit them for school, according to Americans Helping Americans® partner there, Sheldon Livesay of Of One Accord.

“Since the first of July, families began coming to our front desk or office letting us know they were under crisis conditions this summer and really needed help with school supplies,” Sheldon told us. That prompted him to plan what he called a “Back to School Bash” on Saturday, August 8, to provide clients, their families and children with the supplies they would need to be prepared on the very first day of school. “We are, in our opinion, seeing greater needs in low income Appalachia families than ever before,” said Sheldon, who incorporated Of One Accord in 1990.

But Sheldon wanted to do much more that simply distribute much-needed school supplies – he wanted it to be a “bash” in the truest sense of the word. And that it was.

“The event was not just promoted as a back-pack distribution, but a summer fun time to say thanks to those clients who with interact with all year,” he said. “Everyone that participated and those that attended chimed in saying this was a great event and they greatly and deeply thankful to Americans Helping Americans® for your help and investments in Appalachia,” Sheldon told us.

And we are greatly and deeply thankful to you, generous supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, who made the “Back to School Bash” possible. We are also grateful to Sheldon for providing us with some wonderful photographs of the event, which we are happy to be able to share with you.

“These photos don’t properly convey the facts when looking at the families as a whole,” Sheldon says. “It is very evident both from the cars they arrive in to the clothing they wear, that they are in financial struggle every day.” That may be so, but what these photos do convey is the joy, pride and hope in the hearts of these young people who know that there are Americans helping Americans across the country who truly care about them, and are willing to invest in their future.

Watch our slideshow below to see what you helped make possible!

 

In recent years, in summer camps organized by Big Creek People in Action in War, West Virginia elementary school children have taken “trips” around the world to places such as Hawaii, Australia, Ireland, and New York City – all without leaving the state!
Through its T.R.A.V.E.L. (Traditions, Research, Arts, Voices, Education and Learning) project, Big Creek People in Action provides the children in its summer camp program the chance to learn about different cultures and traditions. For many of these kids, any ‘trip’ beyond the edge of town is a rare and special treat!
Big Creek People in Action co-Executive Director Marsha Timpson explained that during the summer they have more free time with the students who do not have homework, and she did not want that extra time to be “wasted”.
But she also didn’t want the children to feel like they were in school the whole summer. “I wanted them to continue learning and gaining knowledge during this time.”
Timpson’s enthusiasm for this program, supported by friends of Americans Helping Americans® like you, is inspirational. She’s making learning fun for these kids…and we can only guess who enjoys these “trips” around the world more, the children, or Timpson herself. We wish a Bon Voyage to all … and know that these days in summer camp will only improve the lives of children in need.