Your support and Appalachian Outreach’s hard work saved this small house in rural Tennessee

Your support and Appalachian Outreach’s hard work saved this small house in rural Tennessee

This summer, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, our partner in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Appalachian Outreach (AO),was able to soldier on with its home rehabilitation program ensuring that local residents in need could continue living in the homes they love.

Among them was Mrs. Blackwell who lives in a sleepy neighborhood a few miles outside of the bustling town of Newport — an Appalachian woman through and through, born and raised in the shadow of the Smokey Mountains.

A widow, mother of two, and grandmother to several, she built her house some 60 years ago where she raised her family, providing them a loving home and a wonderful place for her children to grow up, noted AO executive director Jean-Ann Washam.

“If the walls of the house could see, they would have seen the trials of a burgeoning marriage, and also the joys,” commented Jean-Ann. “They would have seen the tears of newborn babes crying for their mother in the middle of the night, and sometimes a little too early in the morning.

“Those walls would have seen the promise of two young girls growing up into young women and the young love of a couple turn into a resilient love tempered by the rains and winds of life.

“And they would have seen the that grief of loss after death does not defeat love of two people.”

The small house on a rural Tennessee road nestled in the hills of the southern Appalachian Mountains has been the residence for Mrs. Blackwell’s entire adult life, but much more than that “It has been home.”

And today, thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who enabled us to provide AO with the grant funding necessary to purchase shingles and other materials, a group of volunteers this summer was able to repair her leaking roof.

“Her new roof will ensure that the many memories encapsulated in the walls of her home are preserved,” says Jean-Ann. “It will ensure she has the ability to make many more memories in the years to come in the twilight of her life.”

Another home AO was able to repair this summer belongs to Tonya who was reluctant to ask for help for herself because she felt that there were many others had greater needs.

“Yet there was no denying that Tonya’s home needed major repairs,” reported Jean-Ann.

Water had come in through a window over time and in addition to rotting away, there was a serious potential for mold as well as the worn floor coverings which were coming up in some places creating a hazard for tripping.

“However, one of the most critical problems was the lack of water in the bathroom,” Jean-Ann told us. “Tonya had been given a vanity but the plumbing was not functional.

“It would have been easy for her to become overwhelmed and give up, yet Tonya had not.”

Jean-Ann recruited a group of volunteers who were ready, willing, and able to give of their time and skills to help this woman in need, with the materials supplied with the funding provided by Americans Helping Americans®.

“The team got so excited that once they finished the job, they decided to paint as well. The home was transformed in a matter of days.”

But, Jean-Ann added, “more importantly, so was Tonya. The team of volunteers helped her to realize that she was worth someone helping.”

And to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, Jean-Ann wanted to express her sincere gratitude for making it all possible for both Tonya and Mrs. Blackwell.

“All of these families are very low income and could not afford to have had these much-needed repairs done on their own. Several of them have disabilities that prevent them from performing repairs on their homes.

“Through this grant, we were able to make their homes safe for them. We would not have been able to have done all these repairs — including roof and gutter repairs, painting, exterior deck construction and repairs, carpet removal, and new flooring installed — this year with without the support of Americans Helping Americans®.

“You are making a huge impact in East Tennessee.”

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.

Coronavirus Learning Pods will keep kids safe in Kentucky this school year

Coronavirus Learning Pods will keep kids safe in Kentucky this school year

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.”

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.”