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.
(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.”
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.
In 2017, Americans Helping Americans® initiated a pilot program to help bridge the digital divide for students attending Beattyville Elementary School, in hard hit Lee County, Kentucky, providing 30 of those most in need with all-in-one desktop computers.
With the overwhelming success of the program, and the great need for children to be able to access the internet at home to do their homework and communicate with their teachers when school is closed due to inclement weather, thanks to our supporters, we have been able to continue the program each year.
This December, instead of desktop computers, 35 students who were selected by our partner, Sherry Lanham, director of the Lee County Family Resource Center located in the school, in consultation with the schools’ faculty, to receive laptop computers.
In addition, all the school’s fourth and fifth graders wrote letters explaining why they needed a computer at home and how they would use it to help them with their school work and in everyday life.
“Today, Principal Carol Napier and I presented 30 students with new computers,” reported Sherry. “These students and parents worked very hard and were very excited to get their new computers.
“I wish every student could have gotten a computer because all of them did a great job on their letters and request. The grant has been provided to the Family Resource Center by Americans Helping Americans® and over the past few years and we have been able to give out approximately 100 computers.”
“A big shout out and “Thank You” to Americans Helping Americans® Executive Director Cameron Krizek and the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® for once again approving our Digital Divide grant.
“This makes several years that I have been able to get this grant and I know it has made many children very happy.”
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® our partner in West Virginia, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA), is able to provide tutors to students at the McDowell County Career and Technology Center (MCCTC).
Students have a wide variety of programs to choose from, including automotive technology, building maintenance, coding apps and game design, computer systems/hardware support, early childhood education, law and public safety, licensed practical nursing, small engine repair, welding, and more.
In 2010, MCCTC school counselor Katie Linkous noticed that some of the students at the career and technology center were deficient in basic math and reading skills. After reaching out to BCPIA, together, they arranged a partnership to fill the need for remedial courses.
This led individual career and technical course assistance, pre-preparation for pre- and post- National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) testing, assistance with OSHA-10 (offering 10 hours of training for all construction and general industry professionals) and WIN online learning for earning a ready-to-work credential for jobs across occupations and industries.
In 2018-2019, 99 percent of student scores increased from pre-NOCTI benchmark tests in the fall, followed by an audit post-test in the spring prior to the student completing the program. Five of these students received a Governor’s Workforce Credential for meeting such high standards.
Among the success stories is the MCCTC’s graduation speaker in 2019, Jennifer Shelton. Jennifer completed the practical nursing program and went on to become an RN then earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) which are typically given more responsibility, supervisory roles and higher salaries.
Jennifer is currently completing classes to become a nurse practitioner and has chosen to stay in McDowell County now working at a local health clinic in a supervisory position.
“She is just one of many success stories.”