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.
 

“Thank you for my coat. It is very warm,” says young Daniel, who added a drawing himself wearing a big, puffy coat and the words “happy and warm.”

“Thank you for my coat. It will be very warm for school,” reported “Carlos T.”

“Thank you for the warm coat. It was very nice of you to give me one,” little Kaleigh told us.

And as for Thalia, she sent us a self-portrait also wearing a big, puffy coat with a big smile on her face and one word – “coat.”

These children were all grateful for coats provided to them by Americans Helping Americans® Coats for Americans program last year.

This year, we are planning on shipping out 1,500 coats to children in Appalachian counties in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia where winter is fast approaching.

In fact, as of December 1 the weather forecast in War, West Virginia where Americans Helping Americans® partner Big Creek People in Action(BCPIA) is located, calls for showers and a low temperature of 22 degrees.

That’s cold!

Imagine being a child standing at a bus stop waiting to be picked up to go to school in a threadbare, hand-me-down coat – or perhaps even no coat at all.

In Beattyville, Kentucky where our partner there, the Lee County Family Resource Center is located in the town’s elementary school and serves hundreds of students, the conditions for that day are not predicted to be much better – showers with a low temperature of 25 degrees.

And these forecasts are predicted actual temperatures – not including wind chill factors.

Also because we realize that there are adults, some homeless living in the woods and under bridges, also who need to be warm in winter we will be providing our partners with 425 adult size winter coats.

As we were told by BCPIA co-executive director Marsha Timpson who was gratified to be able to provide the children and adults BCPCIA serves after a coat distribution:

We recently had a free giveaway and were able to offer coats, shoes and hats. I am sure many people would not think of this as a big thing – but it is a big thing in our community.

This was a very harsh winter for people across our nation this year and we struggled through some rough weather conditions here. To know that we were able to offer a warm coat to someone in need was especially gratifying during a winter such as this one.

This week begins the home repair season for Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA) in McDowell County, West Virginia.

Americans Helping Americans® has recently sent seed funding to BCPIA towards the initial purchase of the building supplies they would need such as lumber, drywall, paint, roofing materials and more. But the need is great, and we are hoping to send $10,000 in the coming weeks.

Beginning March 5, and continuing into October, 25 groups of volunteers from colleges and universities such as the University of Notre Dame, the University of Richmond, Emory & Henry College, Ryder University, Mars Hill College, Centre College as well as numerous church groups will descend into the tiny community of War for a week at time doing repairs for homeowners in need.

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An estimated 350 people will be volunteering this year to work on about 40 homes benefiting more than 200 people.

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BCPIA co-executive director Marsha Timpson said the average cost of repairs to a house is between $500 and $700 with on some occasions allocating up to $3,000 for a single job.

“We do not necessarily limit what can be spent on one home,” Timpson said. “We try to complete any projects to correct health and safety hazards on a home, dependent on volunteers and funding. Sometimes, we may not do every project that a homeowner wants so that we can serve other people that need the services also. We have the lowest quality of housing in the state, so the need is tremendous.”

She also explained that in addition to giving of their time, the volunteers also contribute for their own lodging and supplies — $250 per person per week for church groups and $25 per person per night for college groups.

“The supply budget really varies with each group and what they can come up with,” she said. “It can be anywhere from $200 to $2,000.”

Timpson said some groups, especially the college groups, bring plenty of volunteers – as many as two dozen or so – but not enough funds to keep all the members of the group busy. Funding from Americans Helping Americans® helps to supplement the cost for materials and alleviate the problem of someone having a half-finished bathroom for several weeks while waiting for another group to come in to finish the project.

BCPIA headquarters is located in a former high school with the third floor dedicated to dormitories where the volunteers stay during their week there.

“Much of this fee goes toward the upkeep of the dormitories,” Timpson said. “There is a tremendous amount of laundry and cleaning to do when the groups are here. The majority of them cook their own meals, but sometimes there is a group that asks that we cook the evening meal for them. They pay us $10 to $12 per person for this meal.”

Some of the projects identified by BCPIA that they will be working on this season are:

  • a house in Welch with five 5 adults, 3 who are disabled, and 2 children, 1 of whom is disabled. BCPIA will be installing sheetrock in a bedroom and painting the walls;
  • a house in Warriormines with 2 adults and 2 children, 1 of the adults and 1 of the children are disabled. BCPIA will be installing sheetrock in the home and doing repairs on some floors; and,
  • replacing a bathroom floor at a home in Johns Branch lived in by two disabled adults and four children.

Even averaging repairing 40 homes each year still leaves many remaining on a waiting list of at least 100 more, according to Timpson.

Those whose homes have been repaired are grateful for the assistance.

“I want to say thank you to Big Creek People In Action and Sidwell Friends for all their hard work. You have truly been a blessing. We are very pleased with how everything looks. You have done a wonderful job. Greatly appreciated the young people and the respect they showed by my husband and I. We were blessed to have been able to get to know these people, so a BIG thank you.”

“I greatly appreciate the ramp you all built for me. You really did a great job. Everyone was really great. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

”I want to thank the Big Creek People In Action for sending the Christ United Methodist Church people from Yorkana, Pennsylvania to my house in Berwind, West Virginia. They put shingles on my roof and built me a whole new porch so I will be able to take my husband outside. My husband had a massive stroke and a aneurism in December, 2010, which left him paralyzed on his left side. I am so pleased with the work they did, they were all so nice and sweet and friendly. I can’t begin to say how much I appreciate these good people. I hope the Lord Blesses each and every one of them as much as he has Blessed us. Once again, thanks for all the help.”

And on behalf of the thousands supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who have new roofs, floors and handicap ramps, and the hundreds more who will receive assistance this year, we thank you for making it possible.

Tom isn’t yet into his teenage years but, being homeless without strong parental authority, he was already on the fringes of gang activity. But thanks to Americans Helping Americans® partner L.A.M.P. Ministries in Gainesville, Georgia, Tom is on the right path today.

Before he was able to get into any serious trouble, he entered L.A.M.P.’s youth delinquency prevention/intervention program and, according to Executive Director Mary Mauricio, he has already made major changes.

“He is not hanging out with gang members,” says Mary. “He has had no new offenses since starting the program.” On top of that, his school attendance and grades are better

And we couldn’t be more pleased to hear this from Mary:

“Tom’s Juvenile Justice probation officer says this program is the best thing that’s ever happened to Tom and the other young people in his caseload who participate.”

And we couldn’t help but share this wonderful news with you, supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, who played such an important role in showing him that it is not gang members who truly care about him, but people like you.

 

The Robert family in Laurel County, Kentucky has long been a familiar and popular one in the community, says Linda Gilreath, Executive Director of Come-Unity Cooperative Care.

For several years, Mr. Robert operated a successful mom-and-pop grocery store in their small part of the county. He didn’t make a fortune, but he was able to provide for his family and to keep overhead expenses low. His wife and children also worked in the store. It would be an understatement to say that the store had been a huge part of their lives.

But that was before the rise of franchise stores nearby, which took business away from this local grocery store and eventually forced Mr. Robert to close the store. After years of being self-sufficient, Mr. Robert now had to look for a job to support his family. His wife is now working at a local call center, but her income doesn’t come close to meeting their financial obligations and they have been forced to live on what savings they had.

This past winter was harsh throughout the country, particularly in the part of Kentucky where the Robert family lived, and when they couldn’t pay their electric bill – double what they expected – they received a disconnect notice.

When Mr. Robert went to the electric company to see what arrangements could be made for payment, it was suggested that he come see Linda at Come-Unity Cooperative Care.

“Fortunately, the funds from Americans Helping Americans® for utility assistance were available,” Linda told us.

And as for Mr. Robert, he was very grateful for the help and remains hopeful that their situation will improve soon.

We are more than glad to assist the Robert family and grateful to you that we were able to be there in their time of need.

 

“Sam” lives alone in his home in Bean Station, Tennessee on a fixed income and the deck and steps to his front and side door were unstable and unsafe and he doesn’t have the resources to hire someone to do the repairs.

In addition, Sam has health issues and while he may at one time been able to make the necessary repairs to his home himself, that time has passed.

For Sam, trying to get in and out of his house alone was an accident just waiting to happen.

But thanks to you, supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, and our partner in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Appalachian Outreach, it’s a potential accident that has now been prevented.

Appalachian Outreach executive director Jean-Ann Washam told us that last fall, through their home repair program funded in part with a grant from Americans Helping Americans®, the necessary repairs to the steps and front porch have been done, so that come spring he will be able to enjoy the beautiful Tennessee evenings just rockin’ away on that porch.

“The goal of our program is to make homes safer for the homeowners so they can continue to live in their homes,” Jean-Ann told us. “We would not have been able to do this repair this year without the support from Americans Helping Americans®.”

And we would not have been able to provide that support without you.

Four young children and their baby brother were living in an unheated basement with no electricity or running water with their mother, struggling with an illness, and their father who is disabled.

When Americans Helping Americans® partner Caring Hands Ministries in Cleveland, Georgia and its executive director Ann Fleming heard of their plight, they took action.

“These are the sweetest children, and very polite,” Ann told us, this despite the fact that their shoes and clothes had been ruined in bad weather.

Funding from Americans Helping Americans®  which supports Caring Hands’ Neighbors Helping Neighbors program, helped pay for a safe place for them to stay – a motel as no shelter space was available – and provided them with food pantry assistance so they would have something to eat for the first time in two days. The children were also provided with new shoes and winter coats.

Thanks to your support of Americans Helping Americans® and our partnership with Caring Hands, our efforts together has resulted in work which the mother described with one word – “lifesaving.”

“I just prayed and prayed and called everyone, even if I couldn’t see them helping – and then all this happened,” the mother told Ann. “We will be okay.”

Ann cited the family’s story as just one example of “so much of what Americans Helping Americans® has helped us to do” and explained how this sad tale with a happy ending has resulted in much more good work in her community.

“Because we were able to help, thanks to Americans Helping Americans®, we were able to share their story with caring people who have helped further with more motel time and clothes and more food,” she said.

The mother was grateful for all the assistance for the family and that her prayers had been answered – but she had one more request of Ann.

“You find those people who fixed it so you could help and you tell them ‘thank you’ and you keep on telling them.”

Ann, who was more than happy to oblige, passed along her thanks to Americans Helping Americans® and today we pass that thanks on to you – our supporters who are the ones who are actually most deserving of her gratitude.

Without you, who knows what this family would’ve done with no other place to turn. And, thanks to you, we don’t have to wonder.

“Denny,” says Big Creek People in Action Extra Cool Afterschool program teacher Maria Frazier, is a fourth-grader who is “a joy to teach and always has a smile on his face.”

But he has had his ups and downs when it came to the quality of his school work. Denny is one of four children from “a decent but poor family” and it’s hard for his parents to give each of them the individual encouragement they need, Maria told us.

Denny in particular had trouble with spelling when he first entered the afterschool program, but with that one-on-one attention he went from failing tests to making perfect scores.

“We made a big deal over it and took his picture with his test and put it on the wall,” she said. “He was so proud.”

However, after that success, he began to show up saying he didn’t have any homework (which Maria knew was not true). So Maria had an idea – she began offering him a small prize or piece of candy when he would bring in his homework.

“Believe it or not, this worked!” Maria said. “Now Denny’s grades have improved and he usually has his homework out and ready before I even ask. Small things like this make my job rewarding.”

At Americans Helping Americans®, we believe it’s the small things such as finding an innovative way to provide youngsters with that tiny bit of encouragement to help them succeed that makes for much bigger and better things – and that makes our job so rewarding as well.

Thanks to your support, we are able to provide assistance to BCPIA’s Extra Cool Afterschool program and help to being there for “Denny” and so many others just like him.

Appalachian Outreach

Appalachian OutreachSince 1987, Appalachian Outreach in Jefferson, Tennessee, has been operating Samaritan House, dubbed “A Home with a Heart,” where those in need can find shelter, counseling, social services and encouragement to build a better life. Since that time, hundreds of families have had a safe place to live while they locate a permanent home and learn new skills for living on their own upon completion of the program. In addition, there are several programs available for children at the Samaritan House, including “Homework Helpers” which provides tutors for both children residing the shelter and those from the community.

Recently, Samaritan House Ministries was able to move from a home which it had occupied for more than 20 years, to a brand new facility designed specifically for the use as a temporary family shelter with a large kitchen and multi-purpose/dining area, a family room with a large screen TV, and a kid’s play area filled with books and toys. Americans Helping Americans® is proud to partner with Appalachia Outreach to sponsor a dwelling unit for the shelter.

This spring, Americans Helping Americans® staff visited Samaritan House to go on a tour of the facility led by executive director Jean-Ann Washam. There we met “Janice”, a fast-food worker who had been sick and lost her apartment. Thanks to Appalachian Outreach, she was able to get back on her feet, save some money, and was looking forward to moving into her new home shortly. “Keep up the good work,” she told us.

Please support our important program helping fellow Americans in need! donate-now

ramp

The pride of ownership was evident as we stepped through the front door of Mrs. Lund’s* home in Sneedville, Tennessee. Where last year the floor was buckling in, the roof was leaking, and the kitchen unusable, today the widowed mother and her ailing daughter could safely cook meals again and relax in their tiny living room – adorned with pictures from generations of coal mining relatives. Her eyes welled with tears as she said “Thank You.”

GardenIn War, West Virginia, Miss Lucy* wanted to give us some greens from her own garden as thanks. This remarkable 58-year-old woman, using the pole of a vacuum cleaner as a cane, could now tend her garden a bit – and grow an amazing array of vegetables on a compact and steeply-sloped garden – because of the handicap ramp built with funds from American Helping Americans®. The new ramp and stairs extend from her back door to the plot, and for the first time in a long time, Miss Lucy, who lives alone, could step outside and tend to her greens.

As we drove the many miles between Mrs. Lund’s and Miss Lucy’s humble homes, we saw so much devastating poverty. Around each corner stood homes in tremendous states of disrepair.

Former coal miners’ homes – some nearly 100 years old – all wood framed and poorly insulated…and most still “in the family” as the families have no alternate housing options.

For most of us, a roof repair is simply a matter of calling a contractor, or making a trip to the local lumber store. But for hundreds, if not thousands, of families in rural West Virginia, Tennessee and elsewhere in Appalachia, it is a matter of months, or even years for help to arrive.
We asked our local partners what was needed. Supplies! Funding for supplies! So, in response, in the coming months, we will be working to fund the repair and rebuilding of hundreds of homes.

*names have been changed to protect privacy.