These supplies really make a world of difference to these children

These supplies really make a world of difference to these children

Among our partners throughout Appalachia who receive hundreds of backpacks filled with school supplies for elementary and middle school students each year is Caring Hands Ministries in Gainesville, Georgia.

Our partners know who in their communities need the limited supply of school kits we can provide so they strive to ensure that they go to families who are the least able to afford the basic and essential necessities they are required by their school to have.

Following last year’s distribution, Caring Hands executive director Lafaye Murphy told us of one homeless family who were having trouble just trying to keep a roof over their heads and their five young school-age fed, much less paying for school supplies.

“The family is living in a hotel and cannot afford to buy the necessary supplies for their five children to go to school,” said Lafaye, noting that “children who don’t have proper and ample supplies to start school are less likely to get a good education because they don’t have what is required. They are also subjected to being bullied for being in a bad situation.

Lafaye also told of the excitement and the joy on the faces when they receive their backpacks filled to the brim with pencils, paper and all of the other items required by the school system.

This year, as years past, we are confident that our supporters will once again step up to the plate and help ensure that thousands of children in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and elsewhere will be ready for the first day of school and prepared for a successful school year.

Your gift of $35 will do just that for a child in need seeking an education and the ability to do his homework, without imposing a financial burden on his or her parents, especially for families with several children such as that one in Georgia.

“All the children were very happy with their school supplies,” she said, even one 8-year-old girl who told her she was “gonna be a doctor so she could fix her mommy (who had just been diagnosed with cancer).

“These supplies really make a world of difference to these children and helped ease the minds of many a mama and daddy. Thankfully, we were able to help all the children with the necessities needed to start the school year off on the right foot.

Whether in-person or virtual, kids throughout Appalachia are in need of school supplies

Whether in-person or virtual, kids throughout Appalachia are in need of school supplies

About this time every year, children throughout the United States begin looking forward to returning to school where they receive free meals every day, reunite with the friends who they may not have seen all summer long and participate in the joy of learning.

For parents in Appalachia struggling to keep food on the table, pay rent and keep the bills paid, however, it’s a time of worry and stress about how they are going to be able to pay for all the school supplies required by the school by the time classes start.

And, right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic making inroads into small, remote Appalachian communities, there is uncertainty as to whether schools will be open to students and teachers, or if learning will take place virtually.

Regardless, whether in class or at home, students will need pencils, paper and all the other items necessary to enable them to do their schoolwork.

Among our partners who count on the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® for school supplies for needy children in Appalachia is Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA) in McDowell County, West Virginia; among the poorest in the state.

BCPIA co-executive director Dyanne Spriggs notes that while the county is a place of startling natural beauty and is rich in history and culture, “it is also a place burdened by poverty, illiteracy, poor housing and poor infrastructure” where nearly half the county’s children live in poverty.

“There are very few jobs available in our area, so the majority of our people are on public assistance, Social Security, or unemployment,” says Dyanne. “When families struggle to pay their normal monthly bills, they usually don’t have money left to buy their children a bookbag and school supplies.

“Children deserve to have school supplies.”

This year, as years past, we are confident that our supporters will once again step up to the plate and help ensure that thousands of children in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and elsewhere will be ready for the first day of school and prepared for a successful school year.

BCPIA is the only organization in the area that offers a wide array of support programs to families – distributing school supplies, winter coats, dental kits and more provided by Americans Helping Americans®, as well as operating afterschool and summer camp programs supported by Americans Helping Americans®.

Dyanne explained that BCPIA simply would not have the funding available to purchase school supplies for hundreds of elementary and middle school children in the community.

“These people would go without school supplies if we didn’t receive support from Americans Helping Americans®,” says Dyanne. “Many of their needs would go unmet if we didn’t partner with Americans Helping Americans® and its supporters who are dedicated to helping those in need.”

Our Garden Programs ‘teach children and teens how to provide for themselves

Our Garden Programs ‘teach children and teens how to provide for themselves

Refresh Appalachia is among the newest partners of Americans Helping Americans®, and thanks to our supporters, and despite the challenges posed by the global coronavirus pandemic was able to carry out its mission of creating a garden in the community of Fairfield in Huntington, West Virginia.

Last August, Refresh Appalachia contacted us requesting grant funding for its Food Access Resources & Employment (FARE) program which would enable them to create a community garden and youth nutritional literacy program, in addition to providing employment for residents in the low-income urban community.

“Fairfield is a low-wealth neighborhood with a high minority population,” Adam Hudson, director of Refresh Appalachia, told us. “It is also a food desert characterized by an overlap between low vehicle access and is more than ½ mile (urban) from the nearest supermarket.”

With the grant funding, Adam proposed that Refresh Appalachia would be able to plan and implement an educational community garden on the grounds of a local community center and hire unemployed area residents to construct the garden which would ultimately provide convenient and affordable access to fresh produce for local residents.

Although work on the garden had to be paused in March and April, they were able to resume work in late May to construct three raised garden beds 2.5 feet wide and 10 feet in length just in time for the start of the community center’s inaugural garden season as part of Refresh Appalachia’s pilot program, explained Adam.

“In addition to early childhood gardening and education, we have been able to bolster workforce development as a result of Americans Helping Americans® funding,” Adam reported in June, adding that the work will continue through the summer, “as the hiring process has been delayed due to COVID-19.”

Adam outlined the major accomplishments of the program as being the completion of the community garden, increased interest in the garden and gardening within the community, the training and employing of formerly unemployed residents and developing partnerships such as with the Vest Virginia State University Extension Office and Marshall University.

“So far, the most effective part of the program has been the enthusiasm of the team…persevering through hardship while continuing to envision a bountiful growing season, full of joy and learning for kids (and staff!) in the neighborhood we are serving,” Adam told us.

And to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, Adam wants them to know:

“This community garden, made possible by the Americans Helping Americans® donors, has been a beacon of hope for neighborhood children and has provided some sense of normalcy for the staff involved during the COVID-19 outbreak – so we thank you for your support.

“The happiness of the children who were around to see and help with the build was enough to make the hard work worth it. This work is only the beginning of a series of community projects that are starting to take off in the Fairfield community, which we have been delighted to be able to participate alongside and work with as a result of Americans Helping Americans® funding.”

And this from, Sheryl, a beneficiary of the community garden program who added:

“I think that it’s a great way to teach and reach children and teens how to economically provide for themselves. It also creates relationships within the community. I would hope that the garden will give the children confidence in themselves that no matter their circumstances they have the ability to grow and learn how to be self-sufficient.

“I would like Americans Helping Americans® to know about their impact on a community; that they have given the children the opportunity to achieve and master a life-sustaining ability that they may have had no other opportunity to do.”

Samantha trains to become a nurse thanks to our vocational training program and her perseverance

Samantha trains to become a nurse thanks to our vocational training program and her perseverance

In Cleveland, Georgia, there is an 18-year-old woman, who we’ll call Samantha, who was working a dead-end, minimum-wage job with no hopes of advancement.

Among the missions of Americans Helping Americans is enabling people, such as Samantha, through vocational assistance programs and small financial grants, generally no more than $100, to give them that little extra “hand up” to get them over the hurdle.

Our partner there, Caring Hands Ministries, helped her find a better job…but much more than that – an opportunity that provided Samantha with the first step in the career field of her choice.

Her new employer is paying for her to earn her certified nursing assistant license, but she had just one hurdle still to overcome — the job required that in order to begin working, she would have to buy her own nurses scrubs and a new pair of nice tennis shoes.

“Thanks to this grant, we were able to purchase her three sets of scrubs and a pair of shoes to help her jump-start her new career,” reported Caring Hands, which added that among the many benefits of the Americans Helping Americans vocational training grant program is that it gives the grassroots non-profit organization the ability to help people obtain the training or items needed to find employment.

“This young lady is working hard and studying for her exam to become a CNA. Once she earns her CNA license she will get a raise at work.”

Today, Samantha has realized her dream of beginning a career in nursing, with likely many more to come as she advances in her new profession, all thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans.

Introducing our newest partner: Refresh Appalachia

Introducing our newest partner: Refresh Appalachia

(Pictured: 11-year-old Ailesi, seated left, a member of Refresh Appalachia community garden planning committee, listens as various aspects and options of the proposed garden are presented.)

Among Americans Helping Americans® newest partners is Coalfield Development Corporation, which supports a family of social enterprises, including Refresh Appalachia, “that inspire the courage to grow, the creativity to transform perceived liabilities into assets, and the community needed to cultivate real opportunity in Appalachia through mentorship, education and employment.”

“Our vision is Appalachian places and people unlocking their full potential, power and purpose, Together, we are rebuilding the Appalachian economy from the ground up.”

Refresh Appalachia is its agriculture-focused social enterprise that currently works in Wayne, Mingo and Lincoln counties in southern West Virginia.

“By providing training in farm and food entrepreneurship, we aim to transform the lives of young people and those displaced from the coal mining industry,” says Refresh Appalachia director Adam Hudson. “Refresh Appalachia operates like a business but also provides goods and services in places that aren’t being served by the private sector.

“To this end, as we work to build our own thriving food and farm business, we are also focused on strengthening other farm-based businesses – and communities – throughout the region.

“We do this by providing workforce training, market access and distribution services for farmers while also increasing healthy food access by creating new market outlets serving low- and middle-income people.”

Refresh Appalachia directly employs low-wealth, low-skill individuals who receiving on-the-job training which includes six hours per week of coursework towards an Associate’s Degree at an institute of higher learning. It makes a three-year employment commitment to its employees so they have the time and support they need to obtain their degree, accumulate work experience, and move from financial vulnerability toward financial resiliency.

The community center where the Refresh Appalachia community garden will be located.

Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® we were able to provide a $15,000 grant to its Food Access Resources & Employment (FARE) program which is working to create a community garden in the Fairfield neighborhood of Huntington, a low-wealth neighborhood with a high minority population and located in a food desert.

With the funding from Americans Helping Americans®, Refresh Appalachia will be able to plan and implement an educational community garden program at a community center and hire unemployed people from the community which will be used for nutrition education program.

Among the community members involved in the planning process for the garden is 11-year-old Aikesi, the only child from a female-led household in Fairfield.

Aikesi was studying at the community center before the start of Refresh Appalachia’s first community-based planning meeting where neighborhood residents were invited to take part in deciding what they would like to see.

Although Aikesi had not planned on attending the meeting, Aikesi was intrigued by the discussion, joined the meeting and became an active member of the decision-making team.

“Her voice is an important one, as the youth program being built in the Fairfield community is undoubtedly strengthened by the input of the children it will affect,” reported a Refresh Appalachia AmeriCorps volunteer. “The individuals living in Fairfield, including but not limited to Aikesi, will have access to food grown in their own community.”

She and her friends helped determine what lessons would be taught, what food will be grown, and even what the garden will be named, putting in a strong foundation in place to build an inclusive and lasting program to abate the issue of food insecurity in Fairfield.

“There is not an ag-based effort in play in the Fairfield community,” says Adam. “Through this community garden project, we will provide people with unemployment and other resources to improve their lives and wellbeing.”

And as Refresh Appalachia noted in its recent program update:

“Funding provided by Americans Helping Americans® is enriching the Fairfield Community by bringing the members together, young and old, to learn about food production. In an area characterized by lack of access, these skills provide an invaluable tool for conquering food insecurity in their neighborhood.”

An Update on Bridging the Digital Divide in Lee County, Kentucky

An Update on Bridging the Digital Divide in Lee County, Kentucky

Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, during this past holiday season, 30 low-income students at Lee County Elementary School in Beattyville, Kentucky, received brand-new laptop computers that they were able to take home, enabling them to do their homework, conduct research for papers, and communicate with their teachers when school is closed due to inclement weather.

Sherry Lanham, director of the Lee County Family Resource Center in partnership with teachers, selected the students most in need of a computer to have at home.

In February, Executive Director Cameron Krizek visited the school to speak with a few of the students who received computers and asked them how they are being put to good use.

One girl told Cameron she uses educational websites such as Prodigy, a math learning program, as well as using her new computer to write papers for her science and social studies classes.

“It’s really helping me,” she told Cameron.

 

A young boy told Cameron that he did research on cicadas and learned all about their 17-year life cycles. He reported that they are slated to reappear in West Virginia this year.

 

 

And another boy used his new computer to start a campaign to provide socks for residents of a nearby nursing home. The fundraising campaign was so successful that they had enough pairs left over to distribute to residents of a half dozen more nearby nursing homes.

 

Sherry noted that many Lee County students and families need assistance in bridging the digital divide –  the difference between those who have computers at home with internet access, and those who do not.

“Lee County’s median income is $18,000 with approximately 50 percent of our population living below the poverty level, and 30 percent living in extreme poverty,” she reported. “Twenty-eight percent of parents indicate that they do not have enough food each month.

“With this type of poverty in our county, it is impossible for families to meet their basic needs and educational supplies are not considered a priority.”

Sherry explained that students had to write an essay as to why they needed a computer and how it would help them in their schoolwork. In addition, parents also had to demonstrate how they would be able to provide internet services for the family.

“Our program is unique in that we try to identify non-academic barriers in the school,” said Sherry. “While every child may be at school during the day, not every child is prepared for school. Once families are identified as a family to receive a computer they will be offered computer classes by our technology staff.

“Many of our students are simply being left behind because they do not have the means to purchase a computer or the ability to use one properly.”

100 Lee County elementary students have received computers since we began our partnership with the family resource center to help bridge the digital divide. These students, their siblings, parents, extended families and even neighbors have also been putting them to good use.

The program helps students do their homework, improve their grades, participate in social media, and connect with other family members (at least one child used their new computer to Skype with their father when he was deployed overseas).

“Children are more aware of the programs and services they can access and are able to do work on non-traditional instruction days (when classes are cancelled due to inclement weather), and keep up with their classmates at school,” said Sherry.