Americans Helping Americans Introduces our Garden Match Program

Americans Helping Americans Introduces our Garden Match Program

As the COVID-10 (coronavirus) pandemic continues, residents in Appalachia still need help and children still need to eat – particularly healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits that families are able to grow in their backyard or in neighborhood community gardens.

Among our newest partners are Sprouting Hope in Marion, Virginia and Refresh Appalachia in Huntington, West Virginia, which are soldiering on as best they can even in these most worrisome of times.

Knowing that they count on Americans Helping Americans and our loyal helpers, we will aid them to establish their gardens to help their communities.

That’s why, thanks to a supporter who wishes to remain anonymous, for the first time we are able to announce our “Garden Match” program in which every dollar contributed by people like you will be doubled by this generous donor.

Sprouting Hope’s mission is to feed the community by growing and sharing healthy produce, with the vision of everyone having access to healthy food. With the Homegrown program, 10 families will be able to learn how to operate a successful garden in their own backyard, benefiting the family and the neighborhood!

“With a focus on serving and empowering low-income individuals, we not only give a fish but also teach how to fish by making the program accessible for participants to work and learn in the garden,” states Sprouting Hope on its website.

Program coordinator Mandy Hart reported this week that the organization’s operations have not been affected by COVID 19 yet, although they are taking precautions including putting its Homegrowers course online making it available to residents in the community.

“The Homegrown program will continue,” says Mandy. “We just have to get a bit more creative.”

This month, participants began planting the seeds in trays at a local high school greenhouse so the seedlings will be ready for planting following the final frost of the season.

Upcoming classes focus on soil fertility, including soil tests, transplanting their seedlings from trays into bigger pots as they mature, basic gardening skills including demonstrations of the proper use of gardening tools, planting, hoeing and mulching, followed in June with learning about common gardening problems including pests, diseases and more.

In Huntington, Refresh Appalachia, with support from Americans Helping Americans, is working to create a garden on an unused tract at a community center in a low-income public housing community. This area is known as a “food desert” – the nearest actual grocery store is miles away and many residents don’t have access to transportation.

These projects are vital to the health and wellbeing of the residents in the communities, and they MUST go on!

And with your help, these communities will become more resilient with fresh local food, food security, with the potential to provide additional income to families and individuals.

Please, if you can, give today to our Garden Match and remember, every dollar you contribute is doubled!

Thank you, and be safe!

Introducing our newest partner: Refresh Appalachia

Introducing our newest partner: Refresh Appalachia

(Pictured: 11-year-old Ailesi, seated left, a member of Refresh Appalachia community garden planning committee, listens as various aspects and options of the proposed garden are presented.)

Among Americans Helping Americans® newest partners is Coalfield Development Corporation, which supports a family of social enterprises, including Refresh Appalachia, “that inspire the courage to grow, the creativity to transform perceived liabilities into assets, and the community needed to cultivate real opportunity in Appalachia through mentorship, education and employment.”

“Our vision is Appalachian places and people unlocking their full potential, power and purpose, Together, we are rebuilding the Appalachian economy from the ground up.”

Refresh Appalachia is its agriculture-focused social enterprise that currently works in Wayne, Mingo and Lincoln counties in southern West Virginia.

“By providing training in farm and food entrepreneurship, we aim to transform the lives of young people and those displaced from the coal mining industry,” says Refresh Appalachia director Adam Hudson. “Refresh Appalachia operates like a business but also provides goods and services in places that aren’t being served by the private sector.

“To this end, as we work to build our own thriving food and farm business, we are also focused on strengthening other farm-based businesses – and communities – throughout the region.

“We do this by providing workforce training, market access and distribution services for farmers while also increasing healthy food access by creating new market outlets serving low- and middle-income people.”

Refresh Appalachia directly employs low-wealth, low-skill individuals who receiving on-the-job training which includes six hours per week of coursework towards an Associate’s Degree at an institute of higher learning. It makes a three-year employment commitment to its employees so they have the time and support they need to obtain their degree, accumulate work experience, and move from financial vulnerability toward financial resiliency.

The community center where the Refresh Appalachia community garden will be located.

Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® we were able to provide a $15,000 grant to its Food Access Resources & Employment (FARE) program which is working to create a community garden in the Fairfield neighborhood of Huntington, a low-wealth neighborhood with a high minority population and located in a food desert.

With the funding from Americans Helping Americans®, Refresh Appalachia will be able to plan and implement an educational community garden program at a community center and hire unemployed people from the community which will be used for nutrition education program.

Among the community members involved in the planning process for the garden is 11-year-old Aikesi, the only child from a female-led household in Fairfield.

Aikesi was studying at the community center before the start of Refresh Appalachia’s first community-based planning meeting where neighborhood residents were invited to take part in deciding what they would like to see.

Although Aikesi had not planned on attending the meeting, Aikesi was intrigued by the discussion, joined the meeting and became an active member of the decision-making team.

“Her voice is an important one, as the youth program being built in the Fairfield community is undoubtedly strengthened by the input of the children it will affect,” reported a Refresh Appalachia AmeriCorps volunteer. “The individuals living in Fairfield, including but not limited to Aikesi, will have access to food grown in their own community.”

She and her friends helped determine what lessons would be taught, what food will be grown, and even what the garden will be named, putting in a strong foundation in place to build an inclusive and lasting program to abate the issue of food insecurity in Fairfield.

“There is not an ag-based effort in play in the Fairfield community,” says Adam. “Through this community garden project, we will provide people with unemployment and other resources to improve their lives and wellbeing.”

And as Refresh Appalachia noted in its recent program update:

“Funding provided by Americans Helping Americans® is enriching the Fairfield Community by bringing the members together, young and old, to learn about food production. In an area characterized by lack of access, these skills provide an invaluable tool for conquering food insecurity in their neighborhood.”

New Partner Spotlight: Sprouting Hope of Marion, Virginia

New Partner Spotlight: Sprouting Hope of Marion, Virginia

Among Americans Helping Americans® newest partners is Sprouting Hope, located in Marion, Virginia in the rural southwest region of the state.

Sprouting Hope’s mission is to feed the community by growing and sharing healthy produce, with the vision of everyone having access to healthy food.

“With a focus on serving and empowering low-income individuals, we not only give a fish, but also teach how to fish by making the program accessible for participants to work and learn in the garden,” states the organization.

Everything grown is distributed to volunteers, food pantries, soup kitchens and a local free clinic. In addition, Sprouting Hope offers youth education and therapeutic gardening programs for people in the mental health community.

It’s 13,800 square foot garden serves more than 300 families with approximately three tons of fresh produce annually.

Sprouting Hope is located in Smyth County, which as a population of less than 6,000 and a median household income of $38,900, much lower than the statewide average of $68,114. Indeed, the services of Sprouting Hope are much needed.

Fresh produce provided to households by Sprouting Hope is key to healthier diets, particularly for growing children in a county where 55 percent of them qualify for free and reduced-price meals and one-third are expected to develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime and are at risk becoming seriously obese.

Low-income rural Appalachian communities are at an even greater risk than the general population, so access to nutritious food is vital to their health.

With funding from Americans Helping Americans, Sprouting Hope will be able to restart their Homegrown project which allows applicants to participate in a multi-year education course teaching them how to start a farm in their own backyard.

In the first year, they will learn the basics of farming including proper ways to ward off insect pests and diseases and learn more about the options and benefits of organic gardening. In the second year of the curriculum, participants will be instructed on how to qualify for food certifications and sell their produce at local farmers markets.

Fresh food and self-sustainability will work wonders for this community and this project can be emulated across America.

Tutoring Program at West Virginia Vocational Center Ensures Students are Prepared for Success

Tutoring Program at West Virginia Vocational Center Ensures Students are Prepared for Success

(Pictured: Rosy Moore, second from left, and Aimee Mutter, left, with McDowell County Career and Technology Center students, from left, Christina, Seth, Amanda and Adam)

For nearly 10 years, Rosy Moore has been helping students vocational school in West Virginia get off to a good start as they enter adulthood through her role as a tutor at the McDowell County Career and Technology Center (CTC).

Rosy specializes in tutoring students in math and reading, enabling them to successfully apply for classes at the CTC where they can take courses in fields such as business, finance and information technology, health sciences, technology engineering and design, trade and industrial education, and more.

Rosy and AmeriCorps member Aimee Mutter help students who may have fallen behind their peers over the years and who just need that little hand up. They provide them with the encouragement they need to say “I can do it.”

Rosy assists with the NOTCI (National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) exams which measure what a student knows coming into vocational school, as well as what they have learned throughout the year in their particular program.

“In working with their teachers, along with the tutoring program, I am proud to say that testing went smoothly, and there were some very high scores from many of the students,” she reported.

And, thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who provide the funding to help operate the program, “We have helped the students to be where they need to be. I am very excited about all of our accomplishments.”

Big Creek People in Action to Again Offer Super Why and Odd Squad Educational Camps

Big Creek People in Action to Again Offer Super Why and Odd Squad Educational Camps

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 ….

Afterschool Program in Georgia Transforms Shy Teen into Successful Student

Afterschool Program in Georgia Transforms Shy Teen into Successful Student

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 afterschool program in Georgia 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.”