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.”
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.”
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.
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!”
Americans Helping Americans® supports gardening programs in Appalachia so that families with even just a small plot of land for a garden can make the best use of what they have.
Of course, the direct benefit is the fresh fruits and vegetables they are able to enjoy all summer long plucked right from their own backyard, but the sense of pride and accomplishment, especially among children, cannot be understated.
However, as August draws to a close and the gardening season is winding down, that doesn’t mean they will no longer be able to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of their labors.
Many of the gardening programs, such as the one operated by Cumberland Mountain Outreach in Beattyville, Kentucky includes a component which teaches participants how to properly can vegetables and make jams and jellies, thereby preserving their bounty long into the fall and winter months.
In fact, in Beattyville, the University of Kentucky Agriculture Extension Office even provides access to a certified commercial grade kitchen for those who might wish to sell their products at a farmers market to earn a little extra income, if they can bear to part with the delicious bounty they produced.
Summer is here, and for many high school and college age students, part of their vacation is spent helping needy homeowners in Appalachia by volunteering to work during the sweltering months of June, July and August repairing homes. The nails they hammer, the paint they roll, the wooden floor planks they cut to size, the roof shingles they staple on…are provided by you. Thanks!
Generally, working in groups of two dozen or so organized by their school or church groups, the young people spread out to West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, working with our partner organizations, to assist in the renovations of homes in need of repair, but with the homeowner having no means to pay to fix leaking roofs, sagging porches or to build a handicap ramp.
To make this happen requires partnership – the grassroots organizations who select and vet the recipients, who must own the home; the dedicated volunteers giving of their time and efforts; Americans Helping Americans® which provides grant funding for the purchase of materials such as shingles, drywall and lumber; and, of course, you, who make that funding available.
None of us could do it alone, it takes all of us with a common mission to transform unsafe and unliveable housing, with possibly even life-threating deficiencies – such as no way for residents to exit in case of a fire or structural collapse – into a home the owner can be proud of.
Trickle-down economics – from the haves to the have nots – as political theory may have its skeptics, but at Americans Helping Americans® as a moral imperative it’s a founding principle.
We saw it in action this August in Kentucky thanks to our compassionate supporters who were able to share a bit of their wealth so that Americans Helping Americans® through its partners, Come-Unity Cooperative Care and Cumberland Mountain Outreach were able to “trickle-down” resources to those most in need.
People like 89-year-old Eloise who lives in 30-year-old trailer on a rural road outside of London who without a handicap ramp constructed by Come-Unity volunteers and funded by a cash grant from Americans Helping Americans® would be unable to get in out of her own home benefitted this summer by that “trickle-down.”
So did numerous school children who attended Cumberland Mountain Outreach’s vacation summer camp, received shoes and school supplies from Americans Helping Americans® through Cumberland Mountain Outreach , as did hundreds of children and families, seniors and veterans who received food boxes on a regular basis from Come-Unity due to the “trickle-down” from you, to us, to them.
Americans Helping Americans® was created with the “trickle-down” concept in mind – connecting those with resources with those in need in the most poverty-stricken areas of the country.
Our Mission is to join communities, build and strengthen neighbor relations, and work side by side with residents to address community-wide concerns linking resources supportive of a healthy, safe and economically vibrant standard of living.
Our goal is to ease unnecessary and chronic suffering by creating long-term solutions to the problems of hunger, limited education, substandard housing and insufficient medical care.