It’s mid-April and across the country temperatures are rising. Millions of children are counting the weeks and days left until the last day of school and fun-filled weeks of playing outside, swimming pools and vacations to the beach, or maybe even Disney World . But for many children in Appalachia, they are dreading the last day of school and  filled with uncertainty, unsure of when , or even if, their next meal is coming. When school is in session these low-income children, literally living in poverty way below the federal  poverty level, are guaranteed a nutritious breakfast and lunch on school days.However, when school is out there is no such guarantee. In many cases, their parents are doing the best they can to feed their children, but tragically in other cases, they simply don’t care.Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is that these children go hungry for days, weeks, on end.

 

In urban and suburban areas, the federal government supports the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) which provides free lunches to children in schools and community centers.But in rural areas, such as Appalachian east Tennessee, children live miles and miles away from their school, and even if there was a SFSP operating, they couldn’t get there anyway.

So what’s the solution?

Americans Helping Americans® partnered with Sheldon Livesay, Of One Accord‘s executive director,  decided that if the children can’t get to the food, they’ll bring the food to the children.

 

 

 

The program, known as the Lunch Box bus – former school buses converted into mobile cafeterias – bring lunch to hundreds of children each weekday while school is out for the summer.

What began with a single bus has grown to a fleet of four which last year delivered a total of 14,459 meals to hungry children in Hawkins County during the months of June and July, up from 11,732 in 2015.

Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, we are able to provide cash grant funding for expenses including fuel, insurance and drivers’ salaries to help keep the wheels on the Lunch Box buses rolling all summer long.

 

 

Thursday, May 25, is the last day of school for Hawkins County school students and on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, the Lunch Box buses will begin their daily journey providing nutritious meals to hundreds of children living in rural communities scattered throughout the county.

Why Does Appalachia Need the Lunch Box Bus Program? Find out why here 

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.
 

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.

Summer means vacation, outdoor time, swimming, extra time at home or maybe camp, notes Americans Helping Americans® partner in Cleveland, Georgia, Ann Fleming of Caring Hands Ministries.

“But for some families in our area summer means a very hard time,” Ann told us.

The Georgia Mountain Food Bank, located in nearby Gainesville, reports that even with summer programs more than 80 percent of the children and teens who get a free breakfast and lunch during the school year do not have that help in the summer and are in need of food help.

And that’s where Americans Helping Americans® and our supporters come in.

“Each year for the past four years Americans Helping Americans® has reached out to these families through Caring Hands Ministries,” said Ann. “This year, Americans Helping Americans® send Caring Hands Ministries boxes of food to share with families who need extra food help and cannot go regularly to the feeding sites.”

More than 180 boxes of non-perishable food items, containing enough food to feed a family of four for a week, have already been provided to families served by Caring Hands Ministries in seven northeast Georgia counties.

Although Americans Helping Americans® has provided frozen sandwiches in the past for families, we have come to learn that some families don’t have refrigeration in their homes and cannot use them, even though their children are hungry.

“I gave them to a neighbor, but my girls were hungry,” reported one mother after her refrigerator broke.

“This year’s boxes will prevent that kind of problem and will also be better for families who may be homeless,” commented Caring Hands President Charles Fleming, adding that since the food is canned and packaged it does not require refrigeration and can be used by a family any time during the month where there is a need.

 

 

 

One day a few years back, Sheldon Livesay, founder and executive director of Americans Helping Americans® partner Of One Accord in Rogersville, Tennessee had a brilliant idea.

Livesay, a long-time partner of Americans Helping Americans®, was well aware that hundreds, if not thousands of children would go hungry again the next summer when school was out if he didn’t come up with an answer.

In Hancock and Hawkins counties served by Of One Accord in northeast Tennessee there is a very high percentage of school-age children who are on free and reduced lunch programs and can be assured of receiving a healthy, filling lunch on weekdays throughout the school year.

But what about in the summer?

While it’s relatively easy in metro and suburban areas to establish summer lunch programs at community centers children in the neighborhood can walk to, that’s not possible for children who live in rural areas where their only option would be to walk miles on two-lane dangerous highways.

Sheldon’s solution?

To purchase a used school bus, but not to bring the children to lunch – but to bring lunch to the children.

So, after identifying the best bus he could acquire from a local school system at the best possible price he set about converting it into a sort of rolling cafeteria on wheels – seats were refitted to face each other with a table in the middle, and space was dedicated to carry the hundreds of meals that would be delivered each weekday.

Thus, Of One Accord’s “Lunch Box Bus” was born.

The program was so successful that not long after that he acquired a second bus and by 2014 two buses were each making 10 stops and each serving 200 children each day in the communities of Rogersville and Church Hill. In 2015, the numbers jumped to over18 stops with over 13,500 meals served.

In a typical week, the children will receive hot meals of what practically all children love for lunch – hot dogs, pizza, hamburgers – along with fruit and cold vegetables four days a week, and a cold meal, perhaps a bologna sandwich, once a week.

“In our area of Appalachia, we see a change where children are having to skip meals simply because the cost of living compared to incomes of families doesn’t allow parents to provide regular meals to their children,” says Sheldon.

“Unfortunately, we often hear, ‘This is the first meal I’ve had since yesterday.’”

Americans Helping Americans® funding helps the buses roll through the miles of Tennessee roads to reach hungry children.

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.”

 

 

Alexandria, Virginia – Americans Helping Americans® has awarded a $10,000 grant to Big Creek People in Action in McDowell County, West Virginia to support its home rehabilitation program.

Each year for the past several years, Americans Helping Americans® has partnered with Big Creek People in Action to provide necessary repairs to the homes of elderly and disabled homeowners who don’t have the means to pay for the repairs themselves.

Projects include repairing leaking roofs, fixing floors, porches and steps, replacing drywall and sheetrock, and building handicap ramps.

Generator roof

University of Richmond students working on a generator roof.

In many cases, without these repairs and ramps, the homeowner would not be able to remain in their home due to safety and/or access issues, according to Marsha Timpson, co-executive director of Big Creek People in Action.

To bring these repairs to fruition takes a three-way partnership: Big Creek People in Action vets and selects the beneficiaries and organizes the projects; groups from colleges and schools come to McDowell County for a week where they volunteer to put in long hours helping someone else in need; and Americans Helping Americans® which provides funding to purchase lumber, shingles and other material and supplies.

Beth Tessema, interim executive director of Americans Helping Americans®, noted that her organization cannot presume to identify the needs in communities such as McDowell County and relies on grassroots organizations such as Big Creek People in Action to determine best how to use grant funding provided by Americans Helping Americans®.

University of Richmond students tearing out old floor at the old cabin at Berwind Lake.

University of Richmond students tearing out old floor at the old cabin at Berwind Lake.

The mission of Americans Helping Americans® is to join communities, build and strengthen neighbor relations and work side-by-side with residents to address community-wide concerns and to link resources supportive of a healthy, safe and economically comparable standard of living.

“Our philosophy is to nurture inclusive communities, unite to create support networks and determine the necessary strategic actions to address chronic, but preventable, problems,” said Tessema.

This past March, dozens of students from colleges and universities such as the University of Notre Dame, the University of Richmond, Emory & Henry College, Rider University and Mars Hill University gave up a spring break on the beach to work long hours, at no pay, helping their fellow Americans in need.

They spent a week getting up early in the morning, and working all day painting homes, installing drywall, repairing floors, porches and stairs, and installing handicap ramps allowing the elderly and disabled residents the ability to enter and exit their house on their own.

Instead of sleeping in a beachfront hotel and eating in expensive restaurants, they slept in a bunk bed in dormitory room with their classmates, and had their supper cafeteria-style at the headquarters of Big Creek People In Action.

University of Richmond students installing sheetrock in Brandi Wright's old cabin at Berwind Lake. The cabin was built in 1856

University of Richmond students installing sheetrock in Brandi Wright’s old cabin at Berwind Lake. The cabin was built in 1856.

Specifically, these students tackled big jobs such as installing sheetrock in Brandi’s cabin at Berwind Lake – built in 1856 – and tore out the old floor. The University of Richmond students spent a week working on the cabin, and when the Emory & Henry students arrived they picked up where the University of Richmond students left off.

Notre Dame students sealed off a trailer roof with cool seal for Nathan, one of our nation’s veterans, in the community of Coalwood.

In the town of Bradshaw, homeowner Wallace was so grateful for the work the students from Notre Dame were doing on his house that he treated them all to pizza for lunch.

Meanwhile, another group of students from Notre Dame repaired a bathroom floor for Mike, another U.S. military veteran, and his wife, Donna, in John’s Branch, where they are raising four of their grandchildren.

Americans Helping Americans® is proud to be part of this team of students dedicated to helping others, and BCPIA, which organizes the volunteer groups, by providing funding to purchase the supplies and materials necessary to make the repairs.

For more information about Americans Helping Americans® please visit www.helpingamericans.org.