Thursday, August 15, was the exciting start of a new school year for the children who attend Southside K-8 school in McDowell County, West Virginia.
An equally exciting day was Tuesday, August 20, for about two dozen or so Southside students who are fortunate enough to be able to attend the “Extra Cool Afterschool” program hosted by Americans Helping Americans® partner there, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA) for the past 10 years.
Without this afterschool program, many of these elementary school children would “go home to a house with limited food and a parent who isn’t concerned about making them a hot meal for supper,” reports BCPIA co-executive director Dyanne Spriggs.
For the children who live in the area of the tiny community of Caretta, they are able to ride their school bus and get dropped off at BCPIA’s headquarters where the afterschool program is held. For children who do not live nearby, BCPIA staff goes to the school to pick up the students.
The students who attend the afterschool program have a busy schedule every Monday through Thursday beginning when they arrive at 3:45 p.m. for a computer lab until 4:20 p.m. when they have a break to go wash up for supper.
And what a supper it is as the children receive a healthy full course meal with typical menus being baked pork chops, green beans, mac and cheese, mixed fruit, roll and milk one day, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and applesauce the next, Italian chicken, potatoes, green beans and applesauce, the following day, and what is likely their favorite; pizza, with salad, corn and pears.
Following their meal, it’s time to brush their teeth (perhaps using their Mighty Molars dental kits provided by Americans Helping Americans®) and then time to do their homework for a half hour with the help of tutors who are there to answer questions and give them the individualized attention they may need but do not get in a classroom with 29 classmates.
Then, depending on the weather, the children get another half hour to play outside or exercise indoors, get a light snack such as graham crackers and peanut butter, or maybe even “ants on a log” (a.k.a celery with peanut butter and raisins).
While most of the kids in the afterschool program attend school nearby, a few, such as Karla are home schooled.
Last year, 10-year-old Karla was out on the playground at the same time as the children in the afterschool program and expressed an interest in signing up to join them and her mother signed her up for the summer program offered by BCPIA.
“At first she was very shy because she didn’t really know the kids,” said Dyanne. “But eventually she made friends and started the enjoying program.”
Another little girl told of how much she especially enjoys the tutoring she receives in the program because “her parents never help her with her homework,” said Dyanne.
“I really like the way you all help me with my homework and give me my spelling words,” she told one of her tutors. “I’ve been doing better in school since I’ve been here.”
Several of them also really appreciate the help they receive with special projects, such as for the science fair and social studies fair where they are provided with the presentation boards, computers to do their research, and help with printing out the information and putting it on their boards.
“I would have not been able to do my project without your help,” said one student.
And all of the kids express their gratitude “every day about the good food they eat here,” added Dyanne.
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® we are able to support BCPIA after school feeding program, at a cost of $5 per child per day.
“One of our most rewarding programs is our afterschool program,” says Dyanne. “Many of our parents do not place literacy or education as a high priority for their children.
“They majority of our kids have parents who are on some kind of public assistance and don’t work. Feeding these kids a good supper and snack and helping them with their homework are our greatest priorities.
“We face many challenges when it comes to educating our children, but with the support from Americans Helping Americans®, we are able to extend the reach of our education and afterschool program so that more young people receive the best opportunity to succeed.
“With support from Americans Helping Americans®, we can provide access to resources and networks that will, over time, make a large, significant difference in our community.”
Among Americans Helping Americans® newest partners is Sprouting Hope, located in Marion, Virginia in the rural southwest region of the state.
Sprouting Hope’s mission is to feed the community by growing and sharing healthy produce, with the vision of everyone having access to healthy food.
“With a focus on serving and empowering low-income individuals, we not only give a fish, but also teach how to fish by making the program accessible for participants to work and learn in the garden,” states the organization.
Everything grown is distributed to volunteers, food pantries, soup kitchens and a local free clinic. In addition, Sprouting Hope offers youth education and therapeutic gardening programs for people in the mental health community.
It’s 13,800 square foot garden serves more than 300 families with approximately three tons of fresh produce annually.
Sprouting Hope is located in Smyth County, which as a population of less than 6,000 and a median household income of $38,900, much lower than the statewide average of $68,114. Indeed, the services of Sprouting Hope are much needed.
Fresh produce provided to households by Sprouting Hope is key to healthier diets, particularly for growing children in a county where 55 percent of them qualify for free and reduced-price meals and one-third are expected to develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime and are at risk becoming seriously obese.
Low-income rural Appalachian communities are at an even greater risk than the general population, so access to nutritious food is vital to their health.
With funding from Americans Helping Americans, Sprouting Hope will be able to restart their Homegrown project which allows applicants to participate in a multi-year education course teaching them how to start a farm in their own backyard.
In the first year, they will learn the basics of farming including proper ways to ward off insect pests and diseases and learn more about the options and benefits of organic gardening. In the second year of the curriculum, participants will be instructed on how to qualify for food certifications and sell their produce at local farmers markets.
Fresh food and self-sustainability will work wonders for this community and this project can be emulated across America.
Our friends at Big Creek People in Action in War, West Virginia, one of the groups Americans Helping Americans has been supporting for nearly 20 years, has made a big impact on their community.
With our help, they have repaired what seems to be every other house on the streets of War. Together, we are also making sure as many students as possible are able to have school supplies.
But what truly impresses me is the community they are building, and how we have been a part of that in War and towns across Appalachia.
Like many other coal towns today, War has had a hard time trying to find a new identity as coal companies downsized their work force. But Big Creek People in Action is taking on the heroic task of ensuring there is a sense of community in their town.
They’ve used surplus supplies to build a community gathering outside their office, which is a renovated elementary school that has been closed down for years. They’ve planted a garden, built a gazebo, and even constructed a stage in the parking lot that has been used for bands to play during their Mountain Music Festival, free for everyone at the town! Eight bands played and the whole town showed up in support!
The memories that the children will keep are priceless and the joy the community can share is simply amazing. I believe the architects behind festivals like these are the unsung heroes of Appalachia, and I’m glad to say they are our partners.
I see providing basic needs, home repairs, education and more as our main goal at Americans Helping Americans. At the same time, we also want to create a sense of community throughout Appalachia that has been lost over the years. This is why we support grassroots organizations like Big Creek People in Action. Your support doesn’t only make you a hero for Appalachia – it creates a sense of community for our American neighbors.
Parents and their children who attend Lee County Elementary School in rural eastern Kentucky were up long before sunrise on Friday, August 2, to take part in the school’s annual “Readifest” event, a tradition there for 26 years to ensure students are ready for the first day of school.
“This year we had 52 agencies participating in the event and it was our biggest event to date,” reported Sherry Lanham, director of our partner organization, the Lee County Family Resource Center.
“Parents and children were in line by 3 a.m. and doors didn’t open until 8:30 a.m.,” said Sherry
“Once again, Americans Helping Americans® provided school supplies.”
Every one of the more than 400 children who registered for Readifest are living in what The New York Times has described as one of the “hardest” places to live in the country, and thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans they will have everything they need today, Wednesday, August 7, when they arrive for class on the first day of a new school year.
But these children are the fortunate ones.
Throughout Appalachia a new school year will be beginning for thousands more in the coming weeks and many of their parents are worrying about how they will pay for the supplies they know their children need.
$11 is all it costs to ensure that an elementary school student has everything they need to be prepared from day 1 of the first day of school, and eliminate the shame and embarrassment they would feel (through no fault of their own) when their teacher inevitable tells them to take out a pencil and a piece of paper, and they have neither.
Your gift of $110, $55, $222, or even just $11 will provide 10, 5, 2 or one child with the “tools for school” they need to get off to a successful school year.
(Pictured: Rosy Moore, second from left, and Aimee Mutter, left, with McDowell County Career and Technology Center students, from left, Christina, Seth, Amanda and Adam)
For nearly 10 years, Rosy Moore has been helping high school students in West Virginia get off to a good start as they enter adulthood through her role as a tutor at the McDowell County Career and Technology Center (CTC).
Rosy specializes in tutoring students in math and reading, enabling them to successfully apply for classes at the CTC where they can take courses in fields such as business, finance and information technology, health sciences, technology engineering and design, trade and industrial education, and more.
Rosy and AmeriCorps member Aimee Mutter help students who may have fallen behind their peers over the years and who just need that little hand up. They provide them with the encouragement they need to say “I can do it.”
Rosy assists wit the NOTCI (National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) exams which measure what a student knows coming into vocational school, as well as what they have learned throughout the year in their particular program.
“In working with their teachers, along with the tutoring program, I am proud to say that testing went smoothly, and there were some very high scores from many of the students,” she reported.
And, thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who provide the funding to help operate the program, “We have helped the students to be where they need to be. I am very excited about all of our accomplishments.”
In many respects Juan was a typical middle school boy, but he also suffered from isolation. He had no friends and was shy because he could not speak clearly with his classmates.
“He often felt alone and afraid, so he mostly kept to himself,” we were told by Mary Mauricio, founder and director of our longtime partner in Gainesville, Georgia, L.A.M.P. Ministries, which operates an afterschool program designed exactly for children and youth like Juan.
But all it took for Juan to come out of his shell and not feel so self-conscious was a few days of attending LAMP’s program and reassurances from Mary.
“Being a part of the afterschool program has helped him overcome his fears,” she reported. “He is thriving in school and by the end of the school year, he made several friends and is now very outgoing.”
In fact, Juan now acts as a mentor and role model for his peers and looks forward to coming to the LAMP program after school every day.
And Mary tells us his biggest “concern” today with the school year coming to a close is if LAMP is going to have a summer program he can attend.
“Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® for making a big difference in the life of this bright, confident young man, and the lives of so many other young men and women.”