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.”

The Coronavirus Can’t Stop This Vocational Tutoring Program

The Coronavirus Can’t Stop This Vocational Tutoring Program

Our longtime partner in McDowell County, West Virginia, Big Creek People in Action, has for several years been collaborating with the McDowell County Career & Technology Center on a tutoring program for students who need additional help in specific academic areas.

With support from Americans Helping Americans, BCPIA provides one of its AmeriCorps members and one of its own staff members to work with students four days a week at the vocational school.
The CTE provides the only vocational training available in the county where tutors work in the school with high school students who must complete National Occupational Competency Testing Institute workforce competency testing, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10 training as well as pass a WIN career readiness program test to graduate from a CTE program.
“Performance on these tests is indicative of a student’s competency of basic skills and there are some students who require individual attention to bring their skills up to an average level,” explained BCPIA co-executive director Dyanne Spriggs.
Students who are in the tutoring program are chosen by the teachers as a result of the assessment of their basic skills. In addition, the tutoring program also works with students on credit recovery so they can graduate on time.
“The problem this year was when the school closed on March 13 due to COVID-19,” said Dyanne.
However, that didn’t put a halt to the vocational tutoring program.
“Schools remained closed until the end of the school year, but our tutors helped develop ways for the the students to work on their OSHA and WIN career readiness program from home,” Dyanne told us.
Among those students was Nicholas who remained in contact through Facebook as he was continuing his studies online who told them “I will miss you guys so much. Thank you for everything.”
Another was Alex, a criminal justice student who stayed in contact almost every day. “You are my best friends and I thank you for all you’ve done for me.”
And as for Adam, who is a computer technology program student, approached Dyanne in a local restaurant to express his gratitude for the tutoring he received. “Thank you guys so much for helping me with my credit recovery. There is no way I could have gotten it done on my own.”
Dyanne went on to report that with the highest illiteracy rate in the state and 40 percent of students not graduating from high school, “it is crucial that students get the help and support they need to reach their full potential and become successful adults.
“The kids who we work with are aware of the needs in their communities and how people view our area,” she continued. “Their self-esteem and self-confidence is very low.
“Our tutors are mentors as well and encourage and push the students to always feel and do well. They have been amazing in making students feel more comfortable and confident.”
And to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans, Dyanne wanted them to know:
“We really appreciate Americans Helping Americans choosing to support vocational training. Many kids in our area will never go to college and the training they receive can help them get a job.

“We appreciate your support in allowing us the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the kids that we serve.

Home Repairs Continue Thanks To Our Supporters and Partner, Appalachian Outreach

Home Repairs Continue Thanks To Our Supporters and Partner, Appalachian Outreach

Appalachian Outreach, our longtime partner in Jefferson City, Tennessee, provides food, clothing, furniture and household items as well as providing temporary home shelter at its Samaritan House Family Shelter where mothers with children get assistance with housing, budget counseling, tutoring and more to help them get back on their feet.

Appalachian Outreach is also among our partners which provides home rehabilitation to elderly and disabled homeowners in need of a roof repair, flooring, drywall, siding and who may be in need of a handicap ramp to get in and out of their house.

“We provide home repairs to low-income families and the elderly,” says Appalachia Outreach Executive Director Jean-Ann Washam. “The goal of our program is to make the homes safer, enabling the families to remain in their homes and preventing homelessness.”

In 2019, with financial assistance from Americans Helping Americans® made possible by our generous supporters, Appalachian Outreach was able to complete a total of 16 home repairs in rural Tennessee communities such as Bean Station, Dandridge, Morristown and several others in four counties.

Through the home repair program a total of 25 people were served, the majority of them being seniors 55 and older. Among the beneficiaries were 11 senior adults in poor health or disabled and 10 more elderly adults with age-related issues.

For 2020, however in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it was a different story.

Jean-Ann reported that they were able to complete projects in last July, September and November and creating a safe home environment for these families by addressing safety issues with their homes.

“Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 outbreak most of our summer volunteer teams for June 2020 cancelled,” she said. “This left us with families that still desperately needed the repairs, but no volunteers to do the repairs.”

But she is not giving up.

“We are still working on solutions to our problems this year, some of them have been solved but not all of them,” she added. “We have become creative in our way at looking at the repairs that need done. We have prioritized the projects and are working with other agencies to partner together to complete these projects.

“We have had to contract out for some of the repairs, but we have had a few volunteer teams that are still willing to come and help.”

To our supporters, Jean-Ann wants them to know:

“Thank you for your continued partnership. It has made it possible for Appalachian Outreach to serve additional families. Please continue to remember us in your prayers and we seek to serve the families here in East Tennessee.”

And as for the beneficiaries, they were grateful for a new handicap ramp and a no more leaking roof.

“Thank you, now I can stay in my home!


Operation Feed Sneedville to serve low-income families in Hancock County, Tennessee

Operation Feed Sneedville to serve low-income families in Hancock County, Tennessee

Hancock County is one of six distressed counties in Tennessee and the home to the small, rural town of Sneedville, pop. 1,336, where our longtime partner, Of One Accord, operates a food pantry.

“Hancock County (Sneedville) is the lowest-income county in the state,” reported OOA executive director Sheldon Livesay.

One-third of the county’s residents are unemployed, one third of residents must drive long distances on winding country roads to adjoining counties for work as there are only enough jobs in the county for one third of its residents.

Sneedville has no Walmart or full service grocery stores, — there is only one small grocery store in the entire county — so many of people living there rely on the Shepherd’s Corner Food Pantry operated by OOA for emergency and supplemental food to get by month to month.

The Shepherd’s Corner serves elderly and disabled residents living on meager fixed incomes, families with children needing to make their monthly food budgets stretch, families, and individuals experiencing hardships.

Sheldon had been using an old cargo van to collect food donations from large businesses such as Walmart and Food Lion larger towns such as Rogersville (where OOA is headquartered) and Church Hill about an hour’s drive, one-way.

But when the used van purchased about 10 years ago gave up the ghost and had to be sold for parts.

In the meantime, one of OOA’s staff members has been using his own personal pickup truck and hauling a trailer to get the food for the isolated community.

Sheldon recently informed us that he has raised $15,000 towards the purchase of a newer used van he estimates will cost about $20,000 and asked Americans Helping Americans if we could provide the remaining $5,000 he needs.

Thanks to a generous supporter of Americans Helping Americans who has offered to match dollar for dollar up to $2,500 to help us help Sheldon get the cargo van within the next two weeks.

Our partnership with Sprouting Hope “brings a bright spot to the lives of nine families in a very dark time

Our partnership with Sprouting Hope “brings a bright spot to the lives of nine families in a very dark time

Among the newest partners of Americans Helping Americans® is Sprouting Hope located in the small town of Marion, Virginia, a community garden-based nonprofit organization dedicated to feeding people in their rural Appalachian community by growing and sharing healthy produce, with the vision of everyone having access to nutritious food.

Sprouting Hope operates a 14,000-square-foot community garden with 72 beds for annual production along with perennial crops such as blueberries and asparagus, along with two 40 foot by 12 foot hoophouses to extend the growing season.

“The garden has no private plots,” says program coordinator Mandy Hart. “Instead, the entire space is shared. All food is delivered free throughout the community including to USDA-certified food pantries and the local soup kitchen.

“We aim to reach people receiving food assistance, the offerings of which typically lack fresh, nutrient-dense produce. Our goal is to empower low-income members of our community by helping them get outside, eat healthier, and learn about how food is grown.”

Last summer, Mandy approached Americans Helping Americans® with a request for grant funding to implement its Homegrown program to provide financial and educational support for families to start and maintain their own home gardens for their own use and/or sale at local farmers markets.

And thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, through the program, this spring these budding gardeners were provided with tools, materials, tilling services, and technical support throughout the growing season to be able to successfully manage their gardens. In addition to monthly classes, Mandy told us she would make regular on-site consultations with participating families.

This June, Mandy reported on the success of the Homegrown program telling us that they have started vegetable gardens at the homes of nine families.

“Many of the participants have said that having a garden has offered them a sense of purpose during the pandemic, as well as the financial and emotional security of knowing they can provide for themselves,” said Mandy.

Among the major program accomplishments, this spring were the tilling and fencing of nine in-ground and raised garden beds, the distribution of tools, seeds and seedlings and other necessary gardening materials, the presentation of an in-person and three virtual classes on gardening topics and socially-distant home visits to help guide families through the gardening process.

She described the most effective part of the program was its personalization – “the size and flexibility of this program has allowed us to customize our support for each participating family to meet their specific needs and desires.”

But that doesn’t mean they had an easy time of it.

“COVID-19 and the weather were the two main challenges for the spring,” she reported. “For example, we all started seeds together at the high school greenhouse, but then weren’t able to meet again to transplant them, and the unusually cold, wet weather meant that they stayed in their trays longer than they should have before planting.”

However, “thankfully, we have still been able to accomplish everything we’ve planned,” she noted. “Classes moved online, garden visits have been from afar, and the weather has finally taken a turn for the better.

“For the seedlings, the horticulture teacher generously helped transplant them when the participants couldn’t, and we started prepping the gardens a bit early, so by the time we finished it still wasn’t too late.”

As for the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, Mandy would like them to know:

“The support of Americans Helping Americans® donors has allowed us to bring a bright spot to the lives of nine families in a very dark time. The gardens these families are starting this year will last them a very long time, and change their lives for the better.”

And Homegrown participant Tessa added: “I feel so fortunate to be a part of this wonderful garden program!

“I wanted my own garden for many years, but I just didn’t know how to tackle it. Mandy came right in and helped me get started. She has been an excellent guide, and has made sure I have everything I need to be successful.

“I can’t wait to see what the harvest has to offer!”