For the past nearly 15 years Americans Helping Americans® has been helping people throughout Appalachia see, eat and smile better through our eyeglasses and dental programs, as well as providing them with emergency medical assistance for necessary prescriptions in times of extreme need.
For example, in 2006 we provided funding for a denture assistance program serving the residents of Martin County, Kentucky and Mingo County, West Virginia, for which we received dozens of letters with stories and thanks from those who experienced dramatic improvements in their self-confidence and quality of life.
Our emergency medical assistance program acted as a safety net for people of Appalachia who were working hard just to get by and had nothing left over after paying their bills and putting food on the table to cover the costs related to an emergency illness.
For example, one man in West Virginia told us in 2008 that he had gone without teeth for 30 years before Americans Helping Americans® provided him with a set of dentures.
“I couldn’t ever get enough ahead to get a set of false teeth,” he said.
A woman who received a set of dentures, exclaimed “Praise the Lord! I haven’t had a salad for 15 years.”
But not all of the recipients were elderly.
“I had my teeth taken out when I was 19,” one young man who had had gum disease told us.
“I hadn’t smiled since.”
Throughout the years our emergency medical assistance program provided help to those at among the lowest points in their lives – when they didn’t know how they would pay for the medicines they needed to ease their suffering and make them well.
More recently our focus has been on preventing dental disease in children through our Mighty Molars program helping to ensure they will have their own teeth throughout their lifetimes and never need dentures.
This year alone, we plan on providing 4,000 children in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia with Mighty Molar dental kits which includes six toothbrushes, two tubes of toothpaste and 60 dental floss picks.
In many of the cases, the kits will be distributed by elementary schools which will have dental hygienists give a presentation on the importance of good oral hygiene and instruct them on how to properly brush and floss their teeth.
“Many of our students have told us they do not own a toothbrush,” reported our partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, the Lee County Family Resource Center, located in the town’s elementary school.
Our focus has also shifted to providing adults and seniors with eyeglasses as we have found while states such as Tennessee will provide low-income children with eye exams and prescription glasses, such is not the case for adults.
In Tennessee, working with our partner there, Of One Accord, we found out that while Medicaid covers the cost of an eye exam, it does not cover the cost of a pair of prescription eyeglasses.
We have heard instances where men and women were in jeopardy of losing their jobs because they could not pass the eye exam at the Department of Motor Vehicles without the pair of glasses they could not afford.
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® over the years we were able to help thousands of our fellow Americans return to health, see clearly and eat the foods they love and no longer be shy about having a big, broad smile for everyone they meet.
Winter has arrived in the mountains and hollows of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and Tennessee, and elsewhere throughout Appalachia. Thanks to the loyal supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, thousands of children, families, and seniors are prepared. Because of our emergency utility assistance program, hundreds of households who have fallen on hard times this year will receive the extra “hand-up” they need to keep the heat and lights on. In some cases, with families who live in public housing, the program not only prevents them from having their power disconnected, but it saves them from being automatically evicted and becoming homeless. Also this winter, there are homeowners who are safe and warm in the homes they love because of Americans Helping Americans’® home rehabilitation program.
Working with small grassroots charities who organize volunteers of church and school groups, dozens of roofs are repaired, and drywall and siding are installed. In the case of the elderly and disabled, handicap ramps are built, which allow these individuals, many of whom are veterans, to get in and out of their house no matter the weather outside.
And then there are the children. We can’t bear to think of them standing out at bus stops on cold dark mornings in threadbare hand-me-down coats, or worse, only ragged sweaters and sweatshirts. Because of your generosity, this winter, 4,000 children have received heavy winter coats in their choice of a multitude of colors, which for many of them is their very first brand-new coat. In addition, to help ensure these children are snug in their beds at night, we have also distributed thousands of heavy winter blankets to families so that they will be warm during the harsh winter months.
The distribution of winter coats at the headquarters of our partnerCome-Unity Cooperative Care (CCC) in Laurel County, Kentucky was orderly and efficient.
That’s not an easy thing to accomplish when there are 276 coats to be distributed to children in need.
First off, before any of their clients arrived, staff and volunteers arranged the coats by size on a rack and then posted a notice that the coats were available. As clients’ requests came in, they were each registered by name, address, age, sex and size, and each child was able to try one of for size to ensure the right fit.
Just as we count on our supporters to help us fulfill the need for thousands of coats throughout Appalachia, those in this rural region of Kentucky rely on Americans Helping Americans® to provide these coats to CCC for distribution in its service area.
“Our community knows that our agency is a place of help for them when they have nowhere else to turn,” stated CCC executive director Linda Lipps.
Among those with “nowhere else to turn” was Rose who took in three of her grandchildren into her home “and they did not have coats to wear.
“CCC gave us all nice new coats,” Rose told us. “The kids are so proud to wear these pretty coats. I thank you for providing them for us.
“There was no possible way that I could have bought coats for them.”
In Beattyville, Kentucky Sherry Lanham, director of the Lee County Family Resource Center, stated it matter-of-factly, “The coats provided by Americans Helping Americans® made sure all the children were warm throughout the winter.”
Lee County has among the highest poverty rates in the country, and the need for coats is great there as many families struggle just to put food on the table, much less new coats for their children.
“Many of our families are single-parent families with one income and they are often overlooked – and the children suffer,” says Sherry. “Through this program, all children were able to come and get coats without the stigma of being ‘poor.’
“They know that we are here to help and they can come to us without fear of being made fun of or being labeled as a ‘poor’ family,” she added. “Many of our parents are from the generation that finds it difficult to ask for help and they are often embarrassed to ask for help for themselves…but they will ask for help for their children.”
Thanks to our supporters, we are able to be there to assist Sherry in her mission to ensure that they can provide EVERY SINGLE CHILD they serve with a winter coat so that not one of them has to be turned away and told the heartbreaking words that the very last coat was just given out.
Sherry recounted “one of my favorite quotes” was from a little third-grade girl as she tried on her brand new coat, after always only getting worn out hand-me-downs from her older siblings, or used coats from the local thrift shop.
“I have my very own new coat for the first time ever!” she exclaimed with glee.
And this from Sherry to our supporters expressing her gratitude on behalf of the children and families she serves for the coats:
“Americans Helping Americans® has gone beyond our wildest dreams in the way they have helped our community.
“We are so very grateful for all that Americans Helping Americans® has done for our families and our children. You have truly made a lasting impact on our families and our school.
“Without the help that we received from Americans Helping Americans® many of our children would not have had appropriate coats for the winter.
“It is wonderful to have your support.”
Hancock County has some of the best people in Tennessee, notes Brian Greene, principal of Hancock County Elementary School in the small town of Sneedville, who adds, however, “we are also a highly depressed area when it comes to jobs.”
“Because there are few jobs in the county, we have a high degree of poverty,” says Principal Greene who sees firsthand every day the strain that places on his students and their parents.
“What we think of as essentials, these families see as luxuries – like having toothbrushes and toothpaste at home.”
But thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, many of his students today have “Mighty Molars” dental kits containing toothbrushes, a six-month supply of toothpaste and dental floss to help them keep their young teeth clean and strong – before it’s too late.
“We see students who have severe toothaches who suffer through the pain because their families don’t have money for dental care,” he reported. “I see a large number of moms and dads who have either rotten or missing teeth.”
Sneedville Elementary students received the Americans Helping Americans® “Mighty Molars” dental kits at a recent back-to-school event, but we know that throughout the school year the need will continue as new students transfer into the school, also in need of basic necessities including toothbrushes and toothpaste.
“Your idea to combat dental problems and improve self-esteem through dental hygiene is one of the best ideas we’ve seen in a long time,” said Principal Greene, adding that all of the school’s teachers have agreed to reinforce good dental hygiene habits to go along with the distribution of the dental kits.