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!
(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.”
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, during this past holiday season, 30 low-income students at Lee County Elementary School in Beattyville, Kentucky, received brand-new laptop computers that they were able to take home, enabling them to do their homework, conduct research for papers, and communicate with their teachers when school is closed due to inclement weather.
Sherry Lanham, director of the Lee County Family Resource Center in partnership with teachers, selected the students most in need of a computer to have at home.
In February, Executive Director Cameron Krizek visited the school to speak with a few of the students who received computers and asked them how they are being put to good use.
One girl told Cameron she uses educational websites such as Prodigy, a math learning program, as well as using her new computer to write papers for her science and social studies classes.
“It’s really helping me,” she told Cameron.
A young boy told Cameron that he did research on cicadas and learned all about their 17-year life cycles. He reported that they are slated to reappear in West Virginia this year.
And another boy used his new computer to start a campaign to provide socks for residents of a nearby nursing home. The fundraising campaign was so successful that they had enough pairs left over to distribute to residents of a half dozen more nearby nursing homes.
Sherry noted that many Lee County students and families need assistance in bridging the digital divide – the difference between those who have computers at home with internet access, and those who do not.
“Lee County’s median income is $18,000 with approximately 50 percent of our population living below the poverty level, and 30 percent living in extreme poverty,” she reported. “Twenty-eight percent of parents indicate that they do not have enough food each month.
“With this type of poverty in our county, it is impossible for families to meet their basic needs and educational supplies are not considered a priority.”
Sherry explained that students had to write an essay as to why they needed a computer and how it would help them in their schoolwork. In addition, parents also had to demonstrate how they would be able to provide internet services for the family.
“Our program is unique in that we try to identify non-academic barriers in the school,” said Sherry. “While every child may be at school during the day, not every child is prepared for school. Once families are identified as a family to receive a computer they will be offered computer classes by our technology staff.
“Many of our students are simply being left behind because they do not have the means to purchase a computer or the ability to use one properly.”
100 Lee County elementary students have received computers since we began our partnership with the family resource center to help bridge the digital divide. These students, their siblings, parents, extended families and even neighbors have also been putting them to good use.
The program helps students do their homework, improve their grades, participate in social media, and connect with other family members (at least one child used their new computer to Skype with their father when he was deployed overseas).
“Children are more aware of the programs and services they can access and are able to do work on non-traditional instruction days (when classes are cancelled due to inclement weather), and keep up with their classmates at school,” said Sherry.
We would like to acknowledge Phyllis Delph as the recipient of the Americans Helping Americans® – Helper of the Month award for February! Congratulations, Phyllis!
Phyllis has volunteered with our partner, Of One Accord Ministry in Sneedville, Tennessee for over 20 years at their thrift store.
Phyllis serves her neighbors in every way she can. She has helped the local United Methodist Church ministry since 2000, called the Community Clothing Center. Children’s clothing is collected, sorted and parents are allowed to come weekly to find clothes for their children.
Phyllis has also been a member of Modern Woodmen Insurance Company for about the same period of time. Typically, non-profits in Appalachia struggle to find support for their work within their own communities. Phyllis has worked hard to find matching grants that help support a number of other non-profits in the area.
But the one volunteer effort that makes Phyllis shine most is working at the Shepherd’s Corner, the thrift store and food pantry headquarters for Of One Accord Ministry.
Phyllis came to volunteer with the ministry in 2000, putting in the same amount of hours as a full time employee. She began by sorting through clothing or giving away food. She helped plan events and it wasn’t long until she started to run the store; directing the other workers and volunteers.
Because of the dire poverty inside her county, outside churches often offer to come all and do distributions of new and used items. Phyllis has helped plan those events and has offered additional time to come and be a part of them. Some are done in the city park, some in the gym of the old high school or other places, but she has helped serve tens of thousands of people over the years with food, clothing, household items, backpacks, and other essentials.
Phyllis has given over 5,000 volunteer hours just with Of One Accord Ministry, which we believe makes her a hero and, according to Of One Accord’s director Rev. Sheldon Livesay, she is, “a champion in the Kingdom of God.”
The Helper of the Month Award is designed to show the amazing, wonderful, hard-working, and dedicated people in the Appalachian communities we serve every day. Each month, we’ll be sharing these stories with you in the hopes that you’ll walk away as inspired as we are to do good things in your community!