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.
“Wow, I have my own toothbrush,” one young girl exclaimed after receiving a Mighty Molars dental kit from Americans Helping Americans® partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, the Lee County Family Resource Center (LCFRC).
“Now, I don’t have to share with my brother and sister,” she told LCFRC director Sherry Lanham.
For this elementary school-age girl, it’s likely that that’s the brand-new toothbrush she’s ever received, and didn’t have to share.
Of course, we know of plenty of little brothers and sisters who receive hand-me-down clothes, shoes and coats – but a hand-me-down toothbrush, that’s a first!
“Some of our students have never had their own toothbrush,” Sherry told us, adding, “and they didn’t know how to floss.”
But thanks to our supporters, Beattyville Elementary School was able to sponsor a dental health day to explain to the students the importance of proper dental care, and how to take care of their teeth.
“The health department came to the school and presented a program,” she said, noting that the kids did not leave school that day empty-handed. “We gave all the kids a Mighty Molar dental kit.”
Each kit contains toothbrushes, a six-month supply of toothpaste, dental floss and even a 2-minute hourglass timer so they know exactly how long they need to brush for.
Children in rural Kentucky have among the highest incidences of cavities and poor oral hygiene in the country due to a variety of factors, beginning with a lack of simply having a toothbrush and toothpaste.
At Americans Helping Americans® we are working in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and elsewhere in Appalachia to provide children with the “tools for teeth” they need to prevent cavities and instill in them at an early age the importance of brushing and flossing daily to ensure they will have healthy smiles for a lifetime.