Their power was off. Now, “the children are thriving on their online schooling.”

Their power was off. Now, “the children are thriving on their online schooling.”

Among the greatest needs our partner in Cleveland, Georgia, Caring Hands Ministries, sees is families requesting help in paying their utility bills when they are down on their luck.

“Utility help assists clients with verifiable needs and no other resources are available for the payment of power, gas, or water bills to prevent shut offs and loss of services,” reported Caring Hands executive director Erica Hernandez. “Need is verified with the utility company and payments are made directly to the utility company.

“One of our biggest assistance requests throughout the year is for power. water, or natural gas. These things are important for health and comfort, and we consider them basic human necessity. Water is even more essential for life itself as well as for hygiene,” she said.

“For people living in public housing and some private housing loss of utilities is also grounds for eviction,” she noted.

Erica explained that for many low-income families, she encourages them to use prepaid power programs which work like prepaid cell phones. But when their deposit is used up the service is immediately turned off.

However, for as little as $20 (about three days of average billing) the company will reactivate service without any reconnection fee.

“We can almost always help with at least $20 to prevent shutoff and give the client time to get paid or find another source,” she said. “We also encourage clients to pay a little ahead when they do have the money to prevent emergencies. In doing this, they also tangibly learn the value of saving for emergencies and develop more self-sufficiency.”

Among the households helped this fall with utility assistance was “Mary,” a mother of two young children who had decided to have her children do their schooling online for fear of them catching the coronavirus from the other students.

She was struggling to keep the power on consistently using prepaid power and could not afford to put much money on it very often as most of her money went towards paying rent and her water bill.

“When her lights were shut off, her kids were without power for cooking, school, and just daily activities,” Erica told us. “We were able to help to have the electricity be put back on so that she would have time to put some aside in order to keep a decent amount on her prepaid account.

“With having this grant from Americans Helping Americans® we are able to assist people who are facing difficult times or are in financial binds where they are forced to go without basic needs. We were able to provide them with the chance to keep their homes, have electricity and water, and have the support they need to just get back on their feet.

And Erica wants the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who make our utility assistance program possible and help families like Mary’s know that – “The children are thriving on their online schooling and their mother has managed to keep enough money on her prepaid power.”

This fall, we’re doubling our efforts to ensure 750 families have their lights on, the water they need, and the electricity to ensure education is still taking place.

Whether in school or virtual learning, these kids need new shoes

Whether in school or virtual learning, these kids need new shoes

Throughout Appalachia, it not uncommon, in fact, it’s more likely the norm, that children show up for school wearing worn out, hand-me-down shoes, often with more “hole” than “soul,” or even worse, arriving for class wearing nothing but flip-flops on the coldest days of winter.

That’s why many years ago, Americans Helping Americans® initiated our Barefeet program, either shipping thousands of pairs of shoes to our partner organizations just before the start of the new school year for distribution, along with thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies, to ensure students appropriate footwear to keep their feet warm and dry all winter long, or by providing our partners with cash grants enabling children to go into a shoe store and pick out their very own pair of brand-new shoes, for many for the very first time.

Despite the fact that so far this year most schools have not yet resumed in-class learning, that does not mean these children do not need – and deserve – a new pair of shoes as the cold winter days will be here be for we know it.

In Beattyville, Kentucky, our partner there,  the Lee District Family Resource Center (FRC) located in the Lee County Elementary School, works with children in grades K-5 and their parents, children, grandparents, and guardians to reduce non-academic barriers for them, explained coordinator Paige Denniston.

“We work to provide shoes, clothes, school supplies, food, housing, counseling, and other forms of service,” says Paige. “It is the mission of the FRC to make sure that all parents and students have the items the child needs to succeed in school and feel good about themselves and meet their goals. We strive to ensure all children are treated equally and have every opportunity to succeed in school.”

Pages notes that a New York Times report from a few years ago, that Lee County is considered to be one of the “hardest” places to live in the country “based on poverty levels, college education, household income, joblessness, disability rates, and life expectancy.

“Due to these factors, many of our children don’t even have the basic needs and items such as warm clothes, shoes, and school supplies are not considered ‘needs,’ they are considered luxuries.”

Through the Barefeet cash grant program, Paige explained that “Students, who are deemed by the FRC and staff to be in dire need of new shoes and the boost in self-esteem that would accompany receiving this necessity, will be taken to a local business to purchase a pair of shoes that fit properly and are age-appropriate, allowing them to get long-term use.”

She also pointed out that there is no other local program where children are allowed to actively participate and select their very own brand-new shoes adding, “Often children are given whatever shoes are available, and often these do not fit properly.”

And without Americans Helping Americans® Barefeet program, “Most students would continue to go without properly fitting shoes that are in good condition, leading to foot conditions and mental worry, which takes their focus off their academics.”

The story is much the same in Gainesville and Cleveland, Georgia, were our both our long-time partner’s LAMP Ministries and Caring Hands Ministries, respectively, use the funding available to them through our Barefeet program to purchase shoes for the children most in need in their communities.

LAMP Ministries was founded in 1995 with the mission of changing the world by changing the lives of children, one child at a time.

“As the needs of our community has grown over the years, our mission has grown to include reaching out to children, parents, teenagers, and all in Hall and surrounding counties,” says LAMP executive director Mary Mauricio. “Due to COVID-19 this year the needs of those in the communities we serve are greater than ever.”

And with the Barefeet program cash grant, with a relatively small amount of money per child, Mary will be able accomplish the easily rectified problem of ensuring that “children who have worn out shoes, or shoes that are too small, will have shoes that fit to wear to school and out to play.”

Caring Hands Ministries was founded in 1995 and remains to this day a non-profit organization driven entirely by volunteers, most of whom who have experienced firsthand themselves what it means to be in need of assistance during the most difficult times of their lives, which executive director Lafaye Murphy notes “provides a new level of caring in what we do.”

Lafaye told us that in Cleveland and the surrounding area they serve “there’s a large impoverished community.

“Often only one pair of shoes is provided every few years and then is passed on to younger siblings afterwards, which means they become worn out quickly and become ragged. In some situations, such as during wintertime, a large know of students are known for wearing only sandals – even in the snow – as they were bought for just $1 during the summer.

“The lack of proper shoes often leads to bullying, suspensions from school due to ‘lack of proper appearance,’ and injuries to the children (including frostbite) from the elements and ill-fitting shoes (which can cause blisters and lead to infections).

“In our area, very few programs provide new shoes for children,” she added. “We’re one of the very few which serves as many children as possible with a pair of brand-new shoes. Thanks to Americans Helping Americans® we have been able to help many children and families each year.”

Flash Drives for Young Minds in Beattyville, Kentucky

Flash Drives for Young Minds in Beattyville, Kentucky

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.

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.”