The unsung heroes of War, West Virginia

The unsung heroes of War, West Virginia

Our friends at Big Creek People in Action in War, West Virginia, one of the groups Americans Helping Americans has been supporting for nearly 20 years, has made a big impact on their community.

With our help, they have repaired what seems to be every other house on the streets of War. Together, we are also making sure as many students as possible are able to have school supplies.

But what truly impresses me is the community they are building, and how we have been a part of that in War and towns across Appalachia.

Like many other coal towns today, War has had a hard time trying to find a new identity as coal companies downsized their work force. But Big Creek People in Action is taking on the heroic task of ensuring there is a sense of community in their town.

They’ve used surplus supplies to build a community gathering outside their office, which is a renovated elementary school that has been closed down for years. They’ve planted a garden, built a gazebo, and even constructed a stage in the parking lot that has been used for bands to play during their Mountain Music Festival, free for everyone at the town! Eight bands played and the whole town showed up in support!

The memories that the children will keep are priceless and the joy the community can share is simply amazing. I believe the architects behind festivals like these are the unsung heroes of Appalachia, and I’m glad to say they are our partners.

I see providing basic needs, home repairs, education and more as our main goal at Americans Helping Americans. At the same time, we also want to create a sense of community throughout Appalachia that has been lost over the years. This is why we support grassroots organizations like Big Creek People in Action. Your support doesn’t only make you a hero for Appalachia – it creates a sense of community for our American neighbors.

Making more heroes through summer camp

Making more heroes through summer camp

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!

Repairing homes with my sidekick, Ko

Repairing homes with my sidekick, Ko

Every year, close to 100 home repair projects are sponsored by Americans Helping Americans and this year is no different. I participated on a few sites, making sure handicap ramps were built, roofs were patched, and kitchen floors were repaired. I met some interesting people along the way like my good friend from South Korea: Ko.

Ko travelled over 7,000 miles to help us fix American homes in Tennessee, which doesn’t happen a lot. He doesn’t speak a lot of English, but we bonded over hard work and completing tasks.

 

 

If Ko carried 6 two-by-fours, I had to carry 8. If I was hammering 10 nails a minute, Ko had to do 15. I thought how brave someone must be to go to a different country, immerse yourself in the language, and work on a construction project like ours.

 

Ko’s a hero.

 

He doesn’t know this country. He doesn’t know these communities. He doesn’t know these people he’s helping. All he knows is that it’s not right for someone to be unable to get into their own home due to financial reasons or for a child to be interrupted while studying in their room due to water leaking through the roofs because money is too tight to fix it.

Ko flew in like Superman to save a home and in a few weeks, he will fly back to what I’m assuming is his Fortress of Solitude.

To make more heroes like Ko, a gift to Americans Helping Americans can bring them to repair sites across Appalachia.

I can’t wait to fix homes with Ko again… and hopefully play more games.

School is almost in session. Will students in Appalachia be prepared?

School is almost in session. Will students in Appalachia be prepared?

Parents and their children who attend Lee County Elementary School in rural eastern Kentucky were up long before sunrise on Friday, August 2, to take part in the school’s annual “Readifest” event, a tradition there for 26 years to ensure students are ready for the first day of school.

“This year we had 52 agencies participating in the event and it was our biggest event to date,” reported Sherry Lanham, director of our partner organization, the Lee County Family Resource Center.

“Parents and children were in line by 3 a.m. and doors didn’t open until 8:30 a.m.,” said Sherry

“Once again, Americans Helping Americans® provided school supplies.”

Every one of the more than 400 children who registered for Readifest are living in what The New York Times has described as one of the “hardest” places to live in the country, and thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans they will have everything they need today, Wednesday, August 7, when they arrive for class on the first day of a new school year.

But these children are the fortunate ones.

Throughout Appalachia a new school year will be beginning for thousands more in the coming weeks and many of their parents are worrying about how they will pay for the supplies they know their children need.

$11 is all it costs to ensure that an elementary school student has everything they need to be prepared from day 1 of the first day of school, and eliminate the shame and embarrassment they would feel (through no fault of their own) when their teacher inevitable tells them to take out a pencil and a piece of paper, and they have neither.

Your gift of $110, $55, $222, or even just $11 will provide 10, 5, 2 or one child with the “tools for school” they need to get off to a successful school year.

We can all be heroes to the people of Appalachia

We can all be heroes to the people of Appalachia

My granddad has always been my superhero.

I’ve always been inspired by his experiences; growing up during the depression, serving in the Air Force during WWII, meeting presidents, working at the White House, getting a PhD, and starting Americans Helping Americans. Over the years, we would have family dinners, and granddad would share riveting, inspiring, and sometimes even sad stories of the folks he met in community after community throughout Appalachia. He was so committed to always making their lives a bit better, with a hand-up.

A few weeks ago, he ‘passed the torch’ of leading Americans Helping Americans to me…challenging me to help as many as I could in the years to come. I’m so honored, and humbled, and hope to be a superhero to as many as he has.

And, just maybe, I can feel that AHA superpower just a little.

Last week, I was lucky enough to ride on the Lunch Box Bus in Rodgesville, TN to help bring lunch to the hundreds that don’t have school lunch during the summer days. I sat on the school bus seat and asked the children being served lunch who their personal superhero was. A chorus of “Wonder Woman,” “Superman,” and “Captain America” filled the school bus!

But then one small, seven-year-old girl, quietly said, “Whoever brings me food for the day.”

I was crushed. I sat next to her and talked to her more but before I knew it, time was up. She finished eating and she hopped off the bus. The bus driver told me that she ate lunch on the bus everyday and each time she got off she would say, “Thanks for the food.” She got half way down the street and we were wondering if she was going to say it this time. We waited and waited, wondering if this would be the 1st time she didn’t say thanks. Then we heard her voice from down the street as she yelled for all to hear:

“THANKS FOR THE FOOD!”

I felt like a hero! Not just to her but to all the children we served lunch to that day. An immense feeling of pride swept over me. A feeling that can only be replicated from knowing I did a good deed. So shout out to all the amazing people out there who know exactly what I’m talking about. Shout out to my granddad!

And if you would like to be a hero to a child, a gift to Americans Helping Americans will go far!

We can all be superheroes, just like granddad.

Summer Food Program for Children in Appalachia

Summer Food Program for Children in Appalachia

It’s that time of year again that most schoolchildren throughout the United States eagerly anticipate each year, counting down the last weeks, days, hours and even minutes until that final bell rings marking the end of the school year – and the start of summer vacation.

The conventional wisdom is that all children cannot wait for that first day of summer break – sleeping in without an alarm clock, lazy fun-filled days hanging out with friends around a swimming pool on a hot sunny day, family vacations, summer camps, and more.

But that is sadly not the case for thousands of children in Hancock and Hawkins counties in rural, Appalachian Tennessee.

For these children, their summer days are filled with hunger, worry and wonder – when are they going to get their next meal with school closed for the next eight weeks or so?

Without the certainty of a meal or even two that comes with a school day, these children scrounge around their bare cupboards in an empty kitchen looking for something, anything edible.

And this is no exaggeration or hyperbole, but a simple and heartbreaking fact, even in the United States of America in 2019 there are children going hungry and their parents cannot afford to buy food for them.

That is why Rev. Sheldon Livesay, founder and director Of One Accord, Americans Helping Americans® partner serving these two counties, developed the idea of the Lunch Box bus.

While children in urban areas and small towns are able to walk to their school buildings and community centers in their neighborhoods for the free meals offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, that is not feasible for children who live 10 miles from their school.

So, Rev. Livesay figured that if the children cannot come to lunch, he will bring lunch to them.

For the past several years, Americans Helping Americans® has supported the operation of the Lunch Box bus program, covering the costs associated with operating the buses – “retired” school buses that are seeing new life reborn as mobile cafeterias on wheels.

This year, Of One Accord, plans on delivering about 270 meals each weekday for 40 days between Monday, June 3, and Friday, July 26, making for a total of 10,800 meals.

Among the restrictions of operating a summer food service program, the USDA, which provides the food for the program, requires that the children must eat their meal while at the school or community center, or in this case, on the bus, thereby ensuring that the children get the meal and it is not taken from them by an older sibling or even parent.