At Americans Helping Americans, our partners throughout Appalachia strive to project what the most pressing needs will be for those most in need in their communities in terms of food, basic needs, education and more, for the year ahead.
But no one could have anticipated the hardships that would be imposed on those families and seniors already struggling to get by in these times of the coronavirus pandemic.
Our grassroots partners have limited means, few staff, and we’re already stretched to their limits in operating their programs, and we understand that even the best-laid plans can go awry.
Within the past week, we have been hearing from many of them as they have been forced to cancel well-established programs for the foreseeable future as other dire needs have emerged.
In these extraordinary times, they must adapt, and we are giving them the flexibility to use their grant funding to adjust the services they offer to put these resources to best use.
For our partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, Cumberland Mountain Outreach, which has for many years operated a popular free summer camp for children and youth, the tough, but necessary, decision to cancel camp this summer had to be made.
Among the benefits of the summer camp program for the older youth is its Teens in a Leadership program in which the youth who had attended the camp for several years as children are put into mentorship roles providing the younger children a positive role model to look up to.
Instead, this year, these promising teens will be contributing to their community through service projects, such as delivering food boxes door-to-door to senior citizens and the disabled this summer.
When a partner inquired as to whether we had much-in-demand face masks, it turned out that we had a few thousand on hand which we could provide them.
While non-perishable food boxes will always be in demand, we are also receiving numerous requests from our partners for soap and other personal hygiene items, as well as disposable diapers. So, we have adjusted our focus as well and will soon be shipping thousands of bars of soap, diapers and other items in the knowledge that sadly, this is likely just the beginning of a long, difficult summer.
None of what we do, and a lot of what our partners do, would be possible without the generosity of Americans Helping Americans whose support we, and our partners and their clients, rely on month after month, year after year.
These are uncharted waters, but with your help, we are helping thousands of our fellow Americans steer their way through the storm and make it the calmer waters we have faith are coming in the months to follow.
On any given day, 40 homeless children will be fed, cared for, educated and counseled through the Children’s New Life Plan (CNLP) operated by Americans Helping Americans® partner in North Carolina, the Raleigh Rescue Mission (RRM).
For parents entering the RRM’s homeless services program, among the hardest aspects had been addressing their children’s needs while focusing on their own at the same time.
RRM’s New Life Plan is a continuous program that provides the framework for men, women and children experiencing homelessness to achieve long term stability and break the cycle of poverty, explained RRM CEO John Luckett.
And its CNLP track provides children with social and emotional skills development, counseling to deal with adverse childhood experiences related to homelessness, and tutoring to enable a child to read at their grade level.
CNLP services include before and after-school care, nursery for infants through toddlers 2 ½ years old, preschool with an educational curriculum for children aged 2 ½ through 5, and off-site therapy and safe and fun activities while their mothers are in classes or counseling.
As any parent of young children can attest, one of the biggest challenges, particularly for single mothers, is childcare.
The CNLP allows parents to focus on vocational training, employment and addressing issues related to adverse experiences and traumas that may have led up to them experiencing homelessness, says John.
“The cost of quality childcare and before/after school care programs can be expensive and stressful for single mothers,” he said. “Without the CNLP this would be a barrier for mothers in the program to obtain and maintain employment and to be successful.
“The before and after school program gives parents peace of mind because they know their children are safe and engaged in fun learning opportunities.”
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, we are able to provide financial assistance to RRM for the operation of its life-changing CNLP that benefits not only the roughly 100 children served each year themselves, but their parents as well.
“Funds from Americans Helping Americans® are vital at this time to help support the needs of the children being served,” said John. “The Raleigh Rescue Mission is grateful for the support of Americans Helping Americans®. Your support has helped us to expand our children’s program to provide more comprehensive services for our children experiencing homelessness.
“Americans Helping Americans® donors’ support is helping our children build resiliency. The backpacks and school kits (also provided by Americans Helping Americans®) increase self-confidence and esteem,” he continued.
“The smile and excitement on a child’s face communicates how thankful they are for the gifts and opportunities experienced in the children’s program.
“Your gift lets them know they are valued, cared for and loved.”
Thursday, August 15, was the exciting start of a new school year for the children who attend Southside K-8 school in McDowell County, West Virginia.
An equally exciting day was Tuesday, August 20, for about two dozen or so Southside students who are fortunate enough to be able to attend the “Extra Cool Afterschool” program hosted by Americans Helping Americans® partner there, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA) for the past 10 years.
Without this afterschool program, many of these elementary school children would “go home to a house with limited food and a parent who isn’t concerned about making them a hot meal for supper,” reports BCPIA co-executive director Dyanne Spriggs.
For the children who live in the area of the tiny community of Caretta, they are able to ride their school bus and get dropped off at BCPIA’s headquarters where the afterschool program is held. For children who do not live nearby, BCPIA staff goes to the school to pick up the students.
The students who attend the afterschool program have a busy schedule every Monday through Thursday beginning when they arrive at 3:45 p.m. for a computer lab until 4:20 p.m. when they have a break to go wash up for supper.
And what a supper it is as the children receive a healthy full course meal with typical menus being baked pork chops, green beans, mac and cheese, mixed fruit, roll and milk one day, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and applesauce the next, Italian chicken, potatoes, green beans and applesauce, the following day, and what is likely their favorite; pizza, with salad, corn and pears.
Following their meal, it’s time to brush their teeth (perhaps using their Mighty Molars dental kits provided by Americans Helping Americans®) and then time to do their homework for a half hour with the help of tutors who are there to answer questions and give them the individualized attention they may need but do not get in a classroom with 29 classmates.
Then, depending on the weather, the children get another half hour to play outside or exercise indoors, get a light snack such as graham crackers and peanut butter, or maybe even “ants on a log” (a.k.a celery with peanut butter and raisins).
While most of the kids in the afterschool program attend school nearby, a few, such as Karla are home schooled.
Last year, 10-year-old Karla was out on the playground at the same time as the children in the afterschool program and expressed an interest in signing up to join them and her mother signed her up for the summer program offered by BCPIA.
“At first she was very shy because she didn’t really know the kids,” said Dyanne. “But eventually she made friends and started the enjoying program.”
Another little girl told of how much she especially enjoys the tutoring she receives in the program because “her parents never help her with her homework,” said Dyanne.
“I really like the way you all help me with my homework and give me my spelling words,” she told one of her tutors. “I’ve been doing better in school since I’ve been here.”
Several of them also really appreciate the help they receive with special projects, such as for the science fair and social studies fair where they are provided with the presentation boards, computers to do their research, and help with printing out the information and putting it on their boards.
“I would have not been able to do my project without your help,” said one student.
And all of the kids express their gratitude “every day about the good food they eat here,” added Dyanne.
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® we are able to support BCPIA after school feeding program, at a cost of $5 per child per day.
“One of our most rewarding programs is our afterschool program,” says Dyanne. “Many of our parents do not place literacy or education as a high priority for their children.
“They majority of our kids have parents who are on some kind of public assistance and don’t work. Feeding these kids a good supper and snack and helping them with their homework are our greatest priorities.
“We face many challenges when it comes to educating our children, but with the support from Americans Helping Americans®, we are able to extend the reach of our education and afterschool program so that more young people receive the best opportunity to succeed.
“With support from Americans Helping Americans®, we can provide access to resources and networks that will, over time, make a large, significant difference in our community.”
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!