At Americans Helping Americans, our partners throughout Appalachia strive to project what the most pressing needs will be for those most in need in their communities in terms of food, basic needs, education and more, for the year ahead.
But no one could have anticipated the hardships that would be imposed on those families and seniors already struggling to get by in these times of the coronavirus pandemic.
Our grassroots partners have limited means, few staff, and we’re already stretched to their limits in operating their programs, and we understand that even the best-laid plans can go awry.
Within the past week, we have been hearing from many of them as they have been forced to cancel well-established programs for the foreseeable future as other dire needs have emerged.
In these extraordinary times, they must adapt, and we are giving them the flexibility to use their grant funding to adjust the services they offer to put these resources to best use.
For our partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, Cumberland Mountain Outreach, which has for many years operated a popular free summer camp for children and youth, the tough, but necessary, decision to cancel camp this summer had to be made.
Among the benefits of the summer camp program for the older youth is its Teens in a Leadership program in which the youth who had attended the camp for several years as children are put into mentorship roles providing the younger children a positive role model to look up to.
Instead, this year, these promising teens will be contributing to their community through service projects, such as delivering food boxes door-to-door to senior citizens and the disabled this summer.
When a partner inquired as to whether we had much-in-demand face masks, it turned out that we had a few thousand on hand which we could provide them.
While non-perishable food boxes will always be in demand, we are also receiving numerous requests from our partners for soap and other personal hygiene items, as well as disposable diapers. So, we have adjusted our focus as well and will soon be shipping thousands of bars of soap, diapers and other items in the knowledge that sadly, this is likely just the beginning of a long, difficult summer.
None of what we do, and a lot of what our partners do, would be possible without the generosity of Americans Helping Americans whose support we, and our partners and their clients, rely on month after month, year after year.
These are uncharted waters, but with your help, we are helping thousands of our fellow Americans steer their way through the storm and make it the calmer waters we have faith are coming in the months to follow.
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.
There’s plenty to smile about while living in Appalachia. Your friends and family are nearby and life slows down a bit as the mountains keep you protected from the hustle and bustle of city life. One thing that is no smiling matter, however, is the improper care of smiles caused by poverty.
According to Kentucky Health Facts, 43% of residents living in Lee County Kentucky have lost 6 or more teeth and 39% have not seen a dentist in the last 5 years. Families simply do not have the means to provide their little ones with proper dental care.
“It is important that we start hygiene habits early and at a young age, teaching our children about dental care, as it is a precursor to many other health problems,” says Lee County Family Resource Center Director, Sherry Lanham.
Americans Helping Americans has been supplying countless children with Mighty Molar dental kits for years now, ensuring as many as we can receive their own toothbrush, two tubes of toothpaste, floss, and a schedule to keep track of their brushing schedule. The price is only $7 per kit.
“We service families who all share one toothbrush. Five in a family, all using one toothbrush,” noticed L.A.M.P Executive Director, Mary Mauricio.
It is haunting to hear stories like this from our partners in central Appalachia, but the distribution of these dental kits has been a success! The kits are given to schools to hand out to their students and any remaining are sent to surrounding counties. Dental clinics at the Department of Health are also working harder to make sure oral care is met by performing demonstrations in schools.
“In our afterschool programs, we make sure all students brush their teeth after serving them a hot meal, right before getting down to their homework,” reports Big Creek People in Action’s Marsha Spriggs.
Many children have told us upon receiving their very own Mighty Molar dental kits that it was their first time having their own set of dental floss and toothbrushes.
One way of changing the public misconception of Appalachian oral care is by providing children living in Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia with the tools they need to attain proper dental hygiene. Mighty Molar dental kits create this lasting change that children can appreciate now and in the future.