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.
For the past nearly 15 years Americans Helping Americans® has been helping people throughout Appalachia see, eat and smile better through our eyeglasses and dental programs, as well as providing them with emergency medical assistance for necessary prescriptions in times of extreme need.
For example, in 2006 we provided funding for a denture assistance program serving the residents of Martin County, Kentucky and Mingo County, West Virginia, for which we received dozens of letters with stories and thanks from those who experienced dramatic improvements in their self-confidence and quality of life.
Our emergency medical assistance program acted as a safety net for people of Appalachia who were working hard just to get by and had nothing left over after paying their bills and putting food on the table to cover the costs related to an emergency illness.
For example, one man in West Virginia told us in 2008 that he had gone without teeth for 30 years before Americans Helping Americans® provided him with a set of dentures.
“I couldn’t ever get enough ahead to get a set of false teeth,” he said.
A woman who received a set of dentures, exclaimed “Praise the Lord! I haven’t had a salad for 15 years.”
But not all of the recipients were elderly.
“I had my teeth taken out when I was 19,” one young man who had had gum disease told us.
“I hadn’t smiled since.”
Throughout the years our emergency medical assistance program provided help to those at among the lowest points in their lives – when they didn’t know how they would pay for the medicines they needed to ease their suffering and make them well.
More recently our focus has been on preventing dental disease in children through our Mighty Molars program helping to ensure they will have their own teeth throughout their lifetimes and never need dentures.
This year alone, we plan on providing 4,000 children in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia with Mighty Molar dental kits which includes six toothbrushes, two tubes of toothpaste and 60 dental floss picks.
In many of the cases, the kits will be distributed by elementary schools which will have dental hygienists give a presentation on the importance of good oral hygiene and instruct them on how to properly brush and floss their teeth.
“Many of our students have told us they do not own a toothbrush,” reported our partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, the Lee County Family Resource Center, located in the town’s elementary school.
Our focus has also shifted to providing adults and seniors with eyeglasses as we have found while states such as Tennessee will provide low-income children with eye exams and prescription glasses, such is not the case for adults.
In Tennessee, working with our partner there, Of One Accord, we found out that while Medicaid covers the cost of an eye exam, it does not cover the cost of a pair of prescription eyeglasses.
We have heard instances where men and women were in jeopardy of losing their jobs because they could not pass the eye exam at the Department of Motor Vehicles without the pair of glasses they could not afford.
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® over the years we were able to help thousands of our fellow Americans return to health, see clearly and eat the foods they love and no longer be shy about having a big, broad smile for everyone they meet.
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This Christmas, 30 students at Beattyville Elementary School in Lee County, Kentucky received the best Christmas present of their young lives – an all-in-one desktop computer – and that number does not take into account their school-age siblings who will also be putting their new computer to good use.
Among them is Lauren who one of the first things she did on her new computer was to write a thank you note to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®: “Thank you for my computer I love it very much. I can use it to do my school work and projects. I use it every day and I love it.”
Sherry Lanham, director of the Lee County Family Resource Center, worked with school staff to determine which of the students would benefit the most from having a computer in their home and told us that Lauren is an excellent student, but her mother could not afford to buy her a computer.
“Lauren will be one child who will probably still have this computer when she enters college,” said Sherry. “She is very thoughtful and caring and takes excellent care of her things.
“Her mom was so pleased to have this opportunity.”
Christopher was another of the fortunate recipients. He lives with his father, but his mother and sister live in another state.
“Christopher is an excellent student,” she told us. “He will be using this for classwork, as well as keeping up with his mom and sister.”
Johnny is a special needs child, his 5-year-old brother Tommy has a severe disability and their parents are the type of people “who are willing to do anything for kids in our community,” says Sherry.
“They are a wonderful family and were so happy with this computer because it will be a great help with the boys,” she told us.
For three years now, Americans Helping Americans® has been working to help bridge the digital divide in the rural, distressed small town of Beattyville.
Kids like Lauren, Christopher, Johnny and Tommy and many others are at a major disadvantage in comparison with their more well-off classmates who have computers and broadband access at home.
Before Christmas, these four children were out of luck when their school was closed during a winter storm and could not email their teacher for assignments and do their homework during what the school calls a NTI (non-traditional instruction) day.
But that was then. With the new year brings new opportunities for these 30 students, their siblings and even their parents who have finally truly arrived in the 21st century thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who are helping us bridge the digital divide one family at a time.
Putting on a warm winter coat before walking to the bus on a frigid December morning is something most children in the United States take for granted – in some cases they even have to be reminded by the moms or dads to put on a coat before heading out the door.
This year, with your help, we plan to distribute a total of 4,000 coats to children and adults in need across Appalachia.
Each coat costs $16 for children and $18 for an adult-size coat because we are able to buy the high-quality warm winter coats in bulk at a much cheaper price than individually at a big box discount store.
“I am sure many people would not think of this as a big thing,” reported Dyanne Spriggs, co-executive director of our longtime partner in McDowell County, West Virginia, Big Creek People in Action.
“But it is a BIG THING in our community.”
Dyanne went on to explain that the past winter was “very harsh” even for the hardy people of West Virginia who are used to the long cold winters in the mountains and hollows.
“We struggle through some rough weather conditions here,” she added. “To know that we are able to offer a warm coat to someone in need was especially gratifying.”
Because we realize that it is not only young children waiting at bus stops who need warm winter wear but also their parents – and especially their grandparents – we purchase them in all sizes from toddler to adult XXL.
“We were able to offer this service to all age groups in our community, and while working our gymnasium that I day I witnessed people from all walks of life being helped and grateful for the assistance they were receiving.
Among them that day was an elderly gentleman who had great difficulty walking and needed assistance just to get into the gym; and grandmother raising seven grandchildren on her own who not only needed coats for all of them, but one for herself as well; a young, frightened teenage girl pregnant with her first child; local veterans struggling to get by on meager fixed income, and “children who were so excited at receiving their first new coat.”
“Most of all, we were just thrilled to be able to help the people in the community we love,” says Dyanne. “Big Creek People in Action and Americans Helping Americans® – what a great team we make!”
This year, they are once again waiting for that new coat to get them through another harsh Appalachian winter.
This Giving Tuesday, our goal is to donate 4,000 coats. Help us give the gift of warm winter wear today:
Turkeys for Thanksgiving, Digital Divide Update, Giving Tuesday, and more!