For many Appalachian parents, being able to support the educational efforts of their children can be challenging.
Now, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to plague the communities you help us serve, the topic that is on most parents’ minds is what they’re going to do when school is in session.
Thanks to supporters like you, we’re helping to give these children options. From providing school supplies to helping create online opportunities so that teens are safe, we believe in the youth of Appalachia and their educational endeavors.
Along with providing teens in Beattyville, Kentucky with Coronavirus Learning Pods, we also want to make sure elementary school children will be able to continue their studies even if they have computers at home, but not internet access.
That’s why Americans Helping Americans® is providing 200 flash drives to them.
This is part of the digital divide, or simply, families who have access to computers and broadband internet at home and those that do not. Many school children in Appalachia live with no computer and broadband internet access at home. That means that low-income students without computers cannot do their homework. They cannot conduct research for school projects. They cannot email their teachers if they have a question or need guidance. They cannot do their assignments when school isn’t in session.
For years, we’ve worked with our partner, Lee County Family Resource Center (LCFRC), in Beattyville to provide a computer to needy children at Beattyville Elementary School.
With the flash drives, students will be able to receive their assignments from their teachers, complete their classwork and upload it onto the flash drive and return the flash drive to their teachers.
With your help, we can help hundreds of children in Beattyville are able to adapt to the educational challenges facing the community.
Our partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, Cumberland Mountain Outreach (CMO) each summer (with the exception of this one) hosts a summer camp for elementary and middle school-age children.
After spending many years at the camp, CMO executive director Cindy Evanoff selects the most promising youth to join its Teens In Leadership Program (TILP) where they serve as counselors and mentors to the young campers and provide community service projects in the local area.
CMO, says Cindy, “assists in feeding the hungry, clothing the less fortunate, offering part-time jobs, assisting with home repairs for those who cannot afford it, and hosting the kids’ camps.”
Now she is on a new mission, one she could have never imagined at the beginning of the year.
“Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we are opening an online classroom setting for four or five families, no more than eight children, who cannot, or will not send their children to public school, but do not have the financial resources or educational skills to teach them at home,” she told us.
So Cindy turned to Americans Helping Americans® with a request for $5,000 to provide students with a safe, clean learning station with broadband internet (something many in the community lack at home) for each child, hire a part-time retired school teacher and a room monitor, purchase a ultraviolet air purification system, as well as provide the children with breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day.
Cindy said the goal of the learning pod is to address the individual needs of children with emotional or physical issues who will not or cannot attend public school because of COVID-19.
Cindy knows the need for such a facility is real as when schools there closed in the spring and online classes were offered it was a struggle for some to participate in their own education at their homes.
She explained that the program will be designed for low-income families and children of special needs or low-immune systems who will arrive there at 9 a.m. where they will have their temperature taken and recorded.
“If the program were not funded, some of the youth would try at-home schooling and fail this school year as they did last year,” says Cindy. Some would try to go to school with high anxiety and fear of getting sick because of their low immune system response.”
And the overarching goal “is to prevent eight at-risk children from coming down with the coronavirus as they learn and interact until this pandemic is over.”
Our longtime partner in McDowell County, West Virginia, Big Creek People in Action, has for several years been collaborating with the McDowell County Career & Technology Center on a tutoring program for students who need additional help in specific academic areas.
With support from Americans Helping Americans, BCPIA provides one of its AmeriCorps members and one of its own staff members to work with students four days a week at the vocational school.
The CTE provides the only vocational training available in the county where tutors work in the school with high school students who must complete National Occupational Competency Testing Institute workforce competency testing, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10 training as well as pass a WIN career readiness program test to graduate from a CTE program.
“Performance on these tests is indicative of a student’s competency of basic skills and there are some students who require individual attention to bring their skills up to an average level,” explained BCPIA co-executive director Dyanne Spriggs.
Students who are in the tutoring program are chosen by the teachers as a result of the assessment of their basic skills. In addition, the tutoring program also works with students on credit recovery so they can graduate on time.
“The problem this year was when the school closed on March 13
due to COVID-19,” said Dyanne.
However, that didn’t put a halt to the vocational tutoring program.
“Schools remained closed until the end of the school year, but our tutors helped develop ways for the the students to work on their OSHA and WIN career readiness program from home,” Dyanne told us.
Among those students was Nicholas who remained in contact through Facebook as he was continuing his studies online who told them “I will miss you guys so much. Thank you for everything.”
Another was Alex, a criminal justice student who stayed in contact almost every day. “You are my best friends and I thank you for all you’ve done for me.”
And as for Adam, who is a computer technology program student, approached Dyanne in a local restaurant to express his gratitude for the tutoring he received. “Thank you guys so much for helping me with my credit recovery. There is no way I could have gotten it done on my own.”
Dyanne went on to report that with the highest illiteracy rate in the state and 40 percent of students not graduating from high school, “it is crucial that students get the help and support they need to reach their full potential and become successful adults.
“The kids who we work with are aware of the needs in their communities and how people view our area,” she continued. “Their self-esteem and self-confidence is very low.
“Our tutors are mentors as well and encourage and push the students to always feel and do well. They have been amazing in making students feel more comfortable and confident.”
And to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans, Dyanne wanted them to know:
“We really appreciate Americans Helping Americans choosing to support vocational training. Many kids in our area will never go to college and the training they receive can help them get a job.
“We appreciate your support in allowing us the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the kids that we serve.
In places like War, West Virginia, Gainesville, Georgia, Cleveland, Tennessee, Cleveland, Georgia and Beattyville, Kentucky there are hundreds of families in need of basic hygiene items including soap, hand sanitizer, dental kits and for those with infants and toddlers, diapers.
In these times of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, these items can literally be lifesavers, but many of these things are unavailable on store shelves right now, and unaffordable for parents who have lost their jobs and are struggling just to put food on the table.
At Americans Helping Americans, we are able to purchase these items in large quantities directly from a wholesaler and ship them to our longtime partners who have requested them for their clients — Big Creek People in Action in War, LAMP Ministries in Gainesville, Ocoee Outreach in Cleveland, TN, Caring Hands Ministries in Cleveland, GA and Cumberland Mountain Outreach in Beattyville.
And thanks to our supporters, we are shipping 5 pallets boxes containing 2,000 diapers, 200 bars of soap, 160 dental kits and 16 32-ounce bottles of hand sanitizers which they will receive by the end of the week. Our hope is to be able to do a similar shipment for nearly a dozen more partners in the coming weeks.
At Americans Helping Americans, our partners throughout Appalachia strive to project what the most pressing needs will be for those most in need in their communities in terms of food, basic needs, education and more, for the year ahead.
But no one could have anticipated the hardships that would be imposed on those families and seniors already struggling to get by in these times of the coronavirus pandemic.
Our grassroots partners have limited means, few staff, and we’re already stretched to their limits in operating their programs, and we understand that even the best-laid plans can go awry.
Within the past week, we have been hearing from many of them as they have been forced to cancel well-established programs for the foreseeable future as other dire needs have emerged.
In these extraordinary times, they must adapt, and we are giving them the flexibility to use their grant funding to adjust the services they offer to put these resources to best use.
For our partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, Cumberland Mountain Outreach, which has for many years operated a popular free summer camp for children and youth, the tough, but necessary, decision to cancel camp this summer had to be made.
Among the benefits of the summer camp program for the older youth is its Teens in a Leadership program in which the youth who had attended the camp for several years as children are put into mentorship roles providing the younger children a positive role model to look up to.
Instead, this year, these promising teens will be contributing to their community through service projects, such as delivering food boxes door-to-door to senior citizens and the disabled this summer.
When a partner inquired as to whether we had much-in-demand face masks, it turned out that we had a few thousand on hand which we could provide them.
While non-perishable food boxes will always be in demand, we are also receiving numerous requests from our partners for soap and other personal hygiene items, as well as disposable diapers. So, we have adjusted our focus as well and will soon be shipping thousands of bars of soap, diapers and other items in the knowledge that sadly, this is likely just the beginning of a long, difficult summer.
None of what we do, and a lot of what our partners do, would be possible without the generosity of Americans Helping Americans whose support we, and our partners and their clients, rely on month after month, year after year.
These are uncharted waters, but with your help, we are helping thousands of our fellow Americans steer their way through the storm and make it the calmer waters we have faith are coming in the months to follow.