Earlier this summer, I spent some time “being a kid” at summer camps in small towns throughout Appalachia.
In Kentucky and West Virginia at summer camps that are sponsored by Americans Helpings Americans, children find a place where they can be with friends and learn important skills. Educational activities in the summer are much more relaxed than those during the school year. Children can play and learn to be themselves at the same time.
The most moving thing I noticed though, was a child who learned self-confidence.
One of the campers I noticed was so shy; she had a hard time talking to anyone. After some time just playing with her, I was able to get her to open up. She told me she wanted to be police officer, just like her dad. I told her that she would be a great officer, and that one day, she would step up and be a hero just like her dad.
The next day, we were making volcanoes out of clay. Her volcano was gorgeous! After she was finished, she went around to help other campers with their volcanoes. I was blown away! Just a day earlier, she was so scared she couldn’t talk to anyone. Now she was not only talking to fellow campers; she was helping them learn!
I saw heroism in her that day. I was so moved. That confidence that she learned at summer camp will be with her as she goes into the new school year. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if she didn’t attend summer camp this year?
If you would like to go beyond the call of duty, a gift to Americans Helping Americans can help make more heroes!
In Jefferson City, Tennessee, Appalachian Outreach partners with the Jefferson City Housing Authority which provides a fully-equipped community room for an eight-week period, with Appalachia Outreach providing a four-day weekly program for children living in the city’s low-income housing units, as well as those homeless children living its Samaritan House family shelter.
The program is critical for the children living in these units and at the shelter, notes Appalachian Outreach Executive Director Jean-Ann Washam.
“The children attending this program would not be enrolled in a structured program this summer without our presence,” she told us. “As a result, some of these children would be left unattended.”
Appalachian Outreach is the only on-going program that serves the needs of these families at no cost. While are summer camps available, they charge a fee which would be unaffordable for these children’s parents.
In addition, transportation is an issue for these families so through its partnership with the housing authority, the summer camp site is within easy walking distance for the children and their parents.
In Beattyville, Kentucky life is hard for parents and children alike, as documented by an article in The New York Times describing it as one of the “hardest” places to live in the United States.
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® in the fall and winter, school children receive school supplies, winter coats and new shoes, and through our effort to bridge the digital divide in the distressed community, 30 deserving children are selected to receive all-in-one desktop computers to use at home to do their homework and communicate with their teacher when school is closed due to inclement weather.
Many actually dread the summer break, knowing it can mean long days alone at home alone with nothing to do.
But through our partnership with Cumberland Mountain Outreach in Lee County a projected 250 children and youth will attend its Kids’ Day Camp and Teen Leadership program.
The camp provides day care and proper nutrition for the children whose parents cannot afford to send their child to the only other camp operated in the county, which costs about $100 per week.
“While our families are struggling to eat, paying for camp is out of the question,” says Cumberland Mountain Outreach Executive Director Cindy Evanoff, who noted that without their camp during the summer, many of these children would simply sit at home while eating unhealthy food and get very little or even no exercise.
At Cumberland Mountain Outreach’s day camp, which runs for five weeks, three days per week, the children will get breakfast, lunch and healthy snacks throughout the day, participate in singing and other enjoyable activities and get at least two hours of physical activity.
In a county where nearly 90 percent of elementary school children qualify for the free lunch program and the median household income is less than $20,000 and about half the population below the federal poverty level, Cumberland Mountain Outreach’s day camp creates an opportunity of a lifetime for these children.
“With this type of poverty in our county it is impossible for families to meet their basic needs and summer camp and other summer activities are seen as a luxury only for those who have money,” said Cindy.
She cites several reasons why the day camp is so important to low-income children in the community: To make sure they are not home alone or in an environment of neglect, or even abuse; providing an opportunity for healthy outdoor physical activities; and the camp’s most important function – making sure children are fed and healthy during the summer.
“We want all of our children to know they are loved and that we will be here for them with food, clothing, counseling and another other services they may need,” says Cindy.
To be continued ….
This summer, as it has every year since 2010, Big Creek People in Action will once again be offering its Super Why Reading Camps and Odd Squad Math Camp in collaboration with West Virginia Public Broadcasting expected to serve about 60 children with educational fun for six weeks.
The Super Why camps are designed for children ages 3-7 providing five days of interactive learning adventures that show children the power of reading and motivate them to play with letters, sounds and words through a comprehensive curriculum.
We had heard from Big Creek People in Action co-executive directors Dyanne Spriggs and Marsha Timpson that there are been preschool children coming to camp on the first day not knowing their ABCs who by the end of the week know the entire alphabet and the sounds the letters make, and even spell their very own name before entering their first day of first grade.
The Odd Squad “Be the Agent” math camps are for slightly older children ages 5 – 10 where they use math, science and critical thinking in their quest to become agents following the format of the Emmy-winning PBS show.
The camps are made possible through a partnership with West Virginia Public Broadcasting which provides and program materials, resources and training, while Big Creek People in Action provides the staff to organize, advertise, recruit and run the camps, as well as ensuring the children receive a healthy lunch every day at each of the camps.
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® we are able to provide funding which pays for the food, drinks and snacks served to the children, books and literacy packets for them to take home, transportation costs, for the additional staffing required to run the program.
Without the funding from Americans Helping Americans®, Dyanne told us that they would not be able to serve as many children as they do each summer.
“If we didn’t have the funding to support this program, we wouldn’t be able to watch the young campers laugh and learn as they build literacy skills through classic fairytales with empowering superhero characters and their math skills through solving cases as ‘special agents,’” she said.
To be continued ….
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.”
On Saturday, March 9, the first of dozens of students from the University of Richmond, Notre Dame University and Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, will be descending on McDowell County, West Virginia for their spring breaks.
Instead on lounging on a beach in Florida or Mexico, these college students will be giving of their time volunteering for Americans Helping Americans® partner there, Big Creek People in Action, and working hard to help the nation’s least fortunate – the elderly and disabled living in one of the poorest counties in the country.
The first group to arrive, 24 students from the University of Richmond will be spending their week laying laminate flooring for Cynthia, a housewife with severe diabetes and other health issues and raising three children.
The will also be repairing a kitchen floor for Melinda who is caring for her very sick husband and a child with Asperger’s Syndrome.
When the group of Notre Dame students arrives the next day, they will be busy installing insulation and sheetrock in an old cabin.
While there the students will also take some time to work with elementary school students in BCPIA’s afterschool program with the boys going to a gym to play basketball while the girls will have a “spa day” receiving facials and manicures.
The Rider students who arrive on March 16 will be taking on the task of removing and replacing an old, rotting kitchen floor of an elderly cancer survivor in the small community of Caretta who is once again battling the disease.
While BCPIA co-executive director Marsha Timpson plans the home rehab program, sorting through the applications and vetting homeowners, and the volunteers are providing the free labor, it is up to us – Americans Helping Americans® and you – to make sure they have the shingles to repair roofs, the flooring for the kitchen, the lumber for handicap ramps, and more, to enable them to get the job done.
The home rehab season has just begun, and BCPIA has projects scheduled now through the fall. It would be a shame, and a great disappointment to Marsha and the homeowner, if the funding is not in place for the building supplies needed to do the job.
Many of these on the schedule this year have been waiting for years – please help us end their wait this year.